The 19Js are going into recruitment season, the 19Ds are preparing for their internships, and the very air on campus is tense but buzzing. I feel this is the right time to write about asking for and offering help – a critical part of the essence of INSEAD.
“How do you randomly reach out to people and ask them for advice? It isn’t that easy after all, right?” a prospective candidate rhetorically asked me at a recent INSEAD admissions event. The thing is though, it is that easy; and INSEAD makes it easier still.
I grew up in India and if there is something almost all Indian students walk away with, it’s a compulsive drive to succeed – a success that is very much defined by your GPA and your profession. There is this utter need to achieve more than the next person and to succeed harder somehow lest you get left behind. Since I left India at the age of 20, I have lived and worked across 3 countries; and I can say with fair confidence that the world is indeed competitive, but success is not a one person show. INSEADers get this and build on it every day.
In the first week at INSEAD we run a reciprocity ring exercise – the idea being that you ask for something from your ‘community’ and anyone who can offer you what you seek steps forward and offers help. You in turn offer what you can to someone else from the community in response to their request. You end up building a many to many reciprocity network. By the end of the exercise everyone in the group walked away with at least 2-3 offers of help for their requests from thus far complete strangers, bound together by nothing more than the fact that we were all at INSEAD.
You may, like me, have thought that recruitment is where the competition gets rife and everyone fends for themselves. That could not be farther from the truth. Were you to walk onto the INSEAD campuses today, you would find little groups of students in every corner surrounded by whiteboards helping each other with case preparation, fine tuning their pitch and fit interview answers, sharing knowledge of various company and industry cultures or just bouncing off ideas about their new business venture plans. And it does not end at your own cohort. The Js (July graduating class) and Ds (December graduating class) and alumni – everyone asks for and offers help. Our calendars are as full of invites from each other to talk about stuff as they are with classes and formal course work (if not more).
And what about the world outside consulting? In the years to come I look forward to seeing the successful business ventures that have been born out of 19J discussions at Freddy’s or at BORs or at an Entrepreneurship class, much like the ventures from previous cohorts. Many students have found their co-founders or business partners at INSEAD or at the least a candid advisory board which is a rare find in the world outside B school. If you happened to be interested in a niche industry or specific company and wanted to know more about it, there is a very high likelihood that within 2 – 3 degrees of your direct INSEAD connections you would be able to reach someone who can help.
And then there are the exams. If you, like me, happen to find financial accounting daunting or like some of my friends struggle with languages, you can be assured that someone will be there willing to take time out even in the hours before the exam to help you get up to speed (as I write there is a French exam due in an hour). With over 90 nationalities on campus you will always have every opportunity to practice your broken French or learn enough Mandarin to get by or even pick up some Singlish.
The reciprocity and collaboration are a legacy you step into when you enter INSEAD and one you continue to build on long after you leave. I know that even as an alumnus if I ever need to reach out to an INSEADer in any part of the world, I would not have to think twice. I will also take with me the learning that asking for and offering help is at the core of success – even outside the INSEAD bubble.