Diversity at INSEAD and the People You Meet

When I was researching about MBA schools last year, I asked alumni what made INSEAD so special from others. Diversity, they said. You will not find more nationalities in a single location anywhere else than INSEAD. The international outlook it provides you is unrivaled. After listening to their stories and seeing the diversity statistics on the INSEAD website, I thought I understood what diversity meant. Or so I thought until I lived through it myself in the past two months.

INSEAD takes diversity to a brand new level. Experiencing diversity at INSEAD is not only about putting together 90 different nationalities in a single location. It is about actively embracing the differences in opinions and risk appetites when you have to scale a (virtual) Mt. Everest in Organisational Behaviour class under time pressure. It is about putting aside what you think you know about debits and credits from your vocation and learning from someone who is looking at accounting for the first time with a fresh pair of lenses.

It is about being open-minded when you put yourself in the shoes of another who holds a different view point on bribery - shaped by their own cultural norms and values - in Ethics class and yet, still able to entertain that thought in your mind without judgement. All these nuances of diversity cannot be described in a single paragraph. They have to be lived, through those in-the-moment conversations and micro decisions that your team makes with you.

And INSEAD does a great job in designing diverse teams. Since Day Zero, each of us is assigned to a study group of five to six people. My team of five comprises of Suruchi Anand, a quick-witted, sharp-minded R&D engineer from California who took a coronary stent device from concept to pre-launch; Andy Areitio, a big-picture risk-taking Spanish entrepreneur who has launched several successful startups and is on the look out for the next big venture; Saad Sayeed, an articulate British Banker who managed billions of corporate loans with tech, media & telcom companies and, by the way, also has an artistic streak (check out his lecture notes). Last but not least Alexis Roque, an exuberant French Consultant and ex-engineer of prefabricated apartments with a love for the automotive industries. Put us five opinionated individuals in a breakout room with a case and you have a long ensuing debate on whether you should invest in that NPV-negative project.

If there is one thing I'm learning about diversity at INSEAD, it is that diversity within teams - well leveraged - will challenge every member’s individual thinking and distill a collective decision far sharper than individual efforts. In Uncertainty, Data and Judgement class, you will learn that when your human mind encounters new opinions and experiences that have not been in your memory bank, you label them as ‘strange’.

But ‘strange’ experiences is what you need early in life to build up your memory bank so that your repository of experience can make you a well-balanced decision maker in the future. And what better way to experience ‘strange’ than to be with the incredibly diverse people here at INSEAD.