How to Not Plan for INSEAD

Natasha Saini

Fairly early at INSEAD, I realised that B-school is like entering a secret place – Gondolin of sorts – that presents a world of choices and leaves it to the taker to choose what they will. But of course, we are constrained by the brevity of our time here.

I was aware of the famed INSEAD FOMO even before I started my MBA and had decided to prioritise a few things quite clearly. I was going to focus on consulting prep – my chosen (not so) exotic career path, academics (because who doesn’t want to be on Dean’s list?), and I was going to look into a club leadership position (Energy in my case). That was it. Razor sharp focus was the plan. I was not going to get blind-sided by all the other shiny things that came along and demanded my focus. I wasn’t going to be weak.

But I was.

Two months in at INSEAD I find myself living a Business School life I had not planned but that I cherish every moment of (barring the night before Accounting exam). Along the way, I have discovered interests I had not yet considered.

A sunny September afternoon Michael (a Canadian student) and I happened to be sitting next to each other at lunch. Barely a few intense weeks into INSEAD, we had not yet had the chance to speak much, but as we sat working our way through the pasta of the day (Bolognese) on the INSEAD cafeteria terrace, we found ourselves talking about entrepreneurship and going down the ‘wouldn’t it be great if we did …’ road.

The lunch ended with us in a BOR (break out room), our notebooks and pens cracked out, deep in conversation about potential business ideas. Michael literally had a notebook full of them. The more we spoke, the more visual the ideas became, and I found myself terribly interested in the prospect of building something.

That first conversation led to several more excited chats around whiteboards and in between classes and as I write this blog, Michael, Chaitanya (our third team member) and I are working on a venture with the luxury of having at least a couple hundred INSEADer’s opinions, feedback and ideas to reach into.

Before INSEAD, entrepreneurship had not even been part of the ‘top three things I was going to focus on at INSEAD’ plan, but that’s just what a B-school does – it shows you paths you hadn’t seen for yourself. This interest led me to explore IEC – INSEAD Entrepreneurship club and their attractively named 3Ps (Pizza, Pints and Pitches) events where people get to pitch their startup ideas to fellow INSEADers and get them peer reviewed and bounced off a bunch of willing, able and interested sounding boards. While pizza and pints is anyway a winner, at every one of these events I also find myself learning something new. This INSEADism also follows through well after graduation with informal alumni events like 'what not to do as an entrepreneur'.

Beyond the discovery of entrepreneurship, travel too has come in pretty high on my priority list.  Whether you are that social butterfly who knows everybody and goes everywhere or you’re the chilled out sponsored candidate, or the introvert who prefers a depth of a few relationships over the breadth of many, it doesn’t take long to find your fit of social life. 300 MBAs living and breathing in close proximity with interests as varied as one finds on these campuses provides you with that privilege right away. Travelling is one of the most rewarding ways to get to know people better, discover road trip music from all over the world, and learn of the norms, cultures and idiosyncrasies from multiple countries - all while seeing the beautiful French towns and countryside accompanied (almost) always by excellent wine.

Then comes in the world of events and interests outside of the formal INSEAD clubs. I’ll mention the few I have personally experienced.  We have a wonderful informal wine tasting club, a whiskey club, a running club, salsa classes run by students at the gym, board game nights (and sometimes Mafia), Muy Thai classes to name but a few. As I go through the INSEAD life that I had failingly attempted to meticulously plan before I got to Fonty,I find my priorities and plans challenged everyday in a way that I know will shape me for years to come.

I would be lying if I wrapped this up with any sort of conclusive statement on what choices one should make or what to focus on at INSEAD because truth be told, every story is different, and it is what you make of it as long as you welcome change, discovery and challenge.