Learning the distribution of a desired variable in a random sample using M&Ms, hmmm….. seems to be a really interesting and colorful way to understand statistics. But it’s uncanny that how sometimes very simple experiences can lead to quite meaningful insights. The aim of the exercise shown in the cover photo is to see how many M&Ms of a certain color, say blue, you find in a random pack. I had 9 in mine but in my class of 66 students, there were some who didn’t have any blues. In this example, it might be a big deal for a 3-year old but for us, probably we don’t care much which color we get the most in a pack we’re going to eat.

Stepping back a little made me think of a relatively serious analogy to this experiment. Suppose selecting a pack of M&Ms is like selecting your b-school and the different colored beans represent the career options; the quantity of your desired color then represents the likelihood that you are going to find your desired career via the b-school you selected. Now if you don’t find blues in a pack of M&Ms, you simply buy a new one, but buying your way into a different b-school after realizing it too late can get unreasonably expensive at best and impossible at worst. So, you better choose carefully!

Of course, one may argue that while selecting the b-school, there’s a high degree of visibility and ease of access to market data, which will make it fairly straight forward for you to make the right choice. Well, I say fair enough! But what if the decision to make the right choice is much more complicated than that? What if, unlike the differently colored M&Ms, you can’t really tell how you will feel like hiking a career trajectory unless you actually do so? And that precisely is THE RIGHT QUESTION: how do I find out which color of M&Ms will I like the most and hence, which color do I want? Which brings me to one of my most valuable learnings since I started at INSEAD: never stop asking yourself, WHAT JUST HAPPENED? In simpler words, my point is to always be consciously critical of your experiences. As you experience different things, keep asking yourself: how did this impact me? What’s the value addition, if at all, of this experience to my short and long term goals? Eventually this kind of self-observation feedback loop will prompt you to ask yourself few even more pressing questions such as: am I CLEAR about what my goals are? If yes, then do they stem from the values which I regard highly as a person or did they just originate out of my tendency to comply or confirm with some standard which I found compelling at a certain, but brief, instance of time?

Defining clear goals is not easy but once you do so, you’ve already done 50% of the job. As you think about your life in 20 years from now, pay attention to what matters to you the most. Try your best to define where the career aspect lies amongst other things which matter to you and then select your target career and, if applicable, the right b-school which will set you on the right path. If you try to force-fit yourself into a certain framework which a certain career demands, you will mostly not be able to do so effectively; people are smart enough to tell the difference more often than not. Even more importantly, if you somehow break in, it’s only a matter of time that you will become very unhappy with what you’re doing and that will impact not just your career but also your life overall. After all, an average person spends 10 hours at work/day, which accounts for about 59% of your consciously spent time/day, assuming 7 hours of sleep time. 59% is a big number; big enough to merit a good degree of planning and deliberation to design it right!

Once you have the right goal, it is equally important to keep tracking your progress relative to that. The more you reach out to grow, the more challenging it becomes and the busier you get doing so. Making choices becomes increasingly difficult and complicated as the number of priorities conflicting with each other increases. One of the best things that INSEAD can teach you is exactly this: prioritize and choose! People find it very easy to weigh the choice between two options so long as the decision criterion is tangible such as money. But when it comes to more ambiguous real life problems, in which weighing between criteria is more subjective than objective, people either shy away from the situation at all or make wrong choices which, of course, they realize in the hindsight. However, if you keep this continuous process of reflecting back on your experiences and asking yourself continuously whether a certain choice/experience was value added and pushed you towards your vision, you are certain to see a remarkable improvement even in your short-term levels of satisfaction and happiness.

Until we virtually connect next time, I would like to leave you with some food for thought. Take 2 donkeys and assume that the first one can do a job in half the time the second one can do the same job. You would naturally conclude that the first one is twice as efficient as the first one and hence, is an efficient donkey. But the point is that he’s still a donkey! No matter how efficient or inefficient! That’s what an extremely busy routine can do to you i.e. take your focus off what you’re doing to how efficiently you’re doing it. Now if someone chooses to be a donkey, it’s a fair choice; not everything in life has to be a cut-throat competition. You need to give yourself some room to lay back in one thing or the other. All I am asking you to do is: think carefully about who and what you want to be, define your goals and be mindful enough, despite your busy schedules and deadlines, to keep focusing on what you’re doing and how it contributes to your long-term vision!