The Pioneers, the Believers and Those Who Make Miracles Out of Thin Air

Catherine Chan

"The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why." - Mark Twain

At the Executive MBA level, the end of the Core Modules is like the midpoint in a full marathon. Although we are closer to the finishing line, we are still living with some uncertainties ahead of us.

We completed the last Core Module virtually as Singapore imposed restrictive measures due the recent increase in the COVID-19 cases. Concerns loomed around the question if we could still make the best out of the remaining Global Executive MBA journey under the fluctuating circumstances of the pandemic.

Following the Core Modules were the Electives Courses in Fontainebleau, France, where all the three GEMBA sections and the alumni meet. This is what makes the INSEAD Executive MBA programme interesting. We explored the ‘what, how and why’ while working with a specially selected team of Faculty.

During the Electives, some of us became the believers; some discovered that they are the pioneers and the amazing people who make miracles out of thin air.

Remember, you are the most important person in this journey

I have two young children, a spouse who could be away from home up to 30+ days, extended family living thousands of miles away and a full-time job where half the tasks depend on the 24/7 operations. To sum up, it has not been easy. Conversations with classmates tell me that most of us are in similar circumstances.

Bound by travel restrictions, most of us from the Asia cohort joined the Elective Courses from home following the schedule in Fontainebleau based on the Central European time zone. This meant that most of us in Asia started in late afternoon and finished after midnight. With this in mind, I had a 'town hall meeting' at home where my outspoken six and nine year-olds contributed to the discussion. Together with my husband, they decided that ‘Mommy will be the most important person in the next few weeks during the Elective Courses’.

I had my schedule calibrated between work, study, exercise, meals and rest. By now, we had a name for the Elective Courses at home. The children called it ‘The Cinderella Schedule’. They gave me the space to attend classes in peace. I could be discussing the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), investing for impact with Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) in mind, negotiating a difficult deal or developing sustainable growth with the Blue Ocean Shift toolkit. When the class finished at mid-night - POOF! - I returned to my day job and being the same mum the next morning.     

During the electives, we also no longer worked with the familiarity of our own cohort. We found ourselves in a room with individuals from other cohorts, executive programmes and alumni, who share the same values and have a similar purpose. 

The dynamics among the participants online and those on-site in Fontainebleau was amazing. We learned how to negotiate; we became experts in using online collaboration platforms to put together strategic plans at the speed of light. While discussing with the faculty, listening to the external experts, we consistently crafted new opportunities for our strategy. We learned how to strengthen our plans and implement them successfully. 

We learnt to take in account of the ecosystem – the nature and its people

In terms of learnings from the Electives, one of my biggest takeaways is that society’s biggest challenges are best addressed by organisations that view themselves not as a business or an industry, but as a diverse collection of people.

It is not the new technologies in isolation that will make the shift to greenhouse gas neutrality – but rather the people who want to make a difference that will bring about the change.  

I was also very inspired by the insights in the article ‘Teamwork - not just tech – drives sustainable innovation. Here’s why’ by Andrea Fuder, Executive Vice-President; Chief Purchasing Officer, Volvo Group.

The Elective Courses helped us to create value, and to share those accomplishments with others. A big thank you to Brendan Doffing and Shaun Ngee from the Negotiations class as we pushed through a challenging land development deal. I learned so much from Mustan Lalani and David Pan, the amazing people who share the same interest in addressing food security issues in today’s world, creating a more resilient supply chain.  

My Elective Courses ended with a hackathon based on Blue Ocean Shift, the subsequent book to Blue Ocean Strategy, by INSEAD professors Renée Mauborgne and W. Chan Kim. The peer feedback session helped me to make the necessary adjustment required to refine my Final Project, which is due to be delivered at the end of the year. 

Lastly, the Elective Courses also provided us a platform where classmates from extensively diverse backgrounds could share their insights and possible solutions to the many challenges we are facing today, mainly focusing on environmental, social, economic, development and sustainability issues. Being a part of INSEAD means we are more fortunate than others. Therefore, we should always be the responsible leaders who build a longer table, not a taller fence.