Finding your own way

It was a Tuesday afternoon at our office in Berlin. After a long call with our main provider in Latin America (a major bank) the message was clear: without a history of at least six months operating in the region, signing servicing contracts would be impossible. We had been trying to expand to a new country, hired the right people, even managed to sign new clients, but just when everything looked like a fairytale-like success, our biggest provider told us that we would need six months more to start processing locally. It was a hard pill to swallow; the business plan was falling apart and the possibility of arriving late to the market endangered our operations.

This problem has repeated in my life in numerous shapes and forms: you follow the plan and when you are in the middle of the execution, a brick wall stops you from reaching your goal. What to do on these occasions? The answer lies in making your own way, or if you indulge me, making your own rules. To solve the problem, we finally realized that the six months history requirement could be reached by other means than operating for six months in a region. We bought an empty purpose entity with a seniority higher than six months, and managed to deploy on time.

What allowed us to reach success was not our ability to follow a plan, but our understanding that there numerous solutions to every obstacle, and that the capacity to think outside the box and adapt has no limitations.

This blog is exactly about that, about finding your own way.

  • Make your own MBA

You might be wondering what MBA program fits your profile better, or which INSEAD campus is the right one for you. You would likely hear many stories, many theories, and myths; and you might even find the secret sauce to success. But you might be forgetting something important: that your plan needs to be adapted to your needs, and not the other way around.

In our third period at school, we get to choose the electives that we want to pursue. Whether it is Finance, Strategy, Entrepreneurship or Organizational Behavior, creating your own schedule impacts not only your experience at the program, but the way you think. Thoughts create actions, actions create habits, and habits create a destiny. Spending your time with what is right for you will not only make the experience more enjoyable, but will fill you with energy and motivation to work harder than before. The pressure to follow someone else’s path will always be there, but if you follow one that is not your own, you will most likely compete with a disadvantage and never reach your full potential.

  • Make your own recruiting

I know what you are thinking: wait a minute? No one can choose how a company decides to recruit you! What I have found in the MBA is that, even if you are not as flexible as you could be when approaching a company to get hired, individuals who stand out and play to their strengths find their way.

One of my favourite INSEAD alumni stories comes from someone who got hired at one of the most challenging and competitive financial companies in the world. We asked her about her approach to get the job, what motivation letter she wrote, how she prepared for the interview, how many thank-you notes she sent. Her answer was completely unexpected: she came to the interview with a plan for the company for the next five years, and specific actions on how to implement it, and how she was the woman for the job. She was the only one creative enough to present this, and it allowed her to show her dedication and long-term commitment to the future of the company. In other words, she made the application her own.

During our last career event at Google I was constantly reminded of the importance of seeing things differently, by playing the weirdest game of ping pong I have ever played (see photo). At the end of the game, one of the present Googlers told me that they had wondered how someone would play with that table since they had purchased it, and that she was happy that we showed her one way to do it. I hoped I would be remembered for more than my table tennis skills, but I can't help to reflect on that unique moment.

  • Make your own career

Choose a geography, an industry, and an area of expertise and you can define any job in the world. Career changes in any of the three dimensions prove difficult to sell to any company: why would someone be better at a job than the ones who never changed location, industry or function? Again, let me shed some light onto the matter.

An individual that is used to change has developed the skill set to adapt to new environments. This will be an asset to any company expanding to a new region, launching a new product, or reinventing a department. Many international companies (Microsoft, Google, Amazon) rotate their employees through the three described dimensions. Their take? Innovation drives the company, if you stay still you get obsolete.

The last story I would like to share with you is what most of the INSEAD alumni told me: several years after graduation, most of them have changed jobs more than once in the last five years. Try to look where your skills are needed, and don’t be afraid to start from zero, the rewards can be unlimited. And if you're scared? Guess what, one can only be brave when one is scared.

So as you read these last lines, remember: if you want to win, you need to find your own way. Making yourself distinguishable from the crowd and speaking with your own voice will open more doors for you than you can ever imagine.