Similarities between INSEAD and a Startup Environment

Roy Gottesdiener

If you ask any INSEAD student what he or she is missing most, the answer is most likely going to be "more time". Way before I stepped on campus, I heard about the extreme intensity of the program and how you have to prioritise from day one.

One alum told me that at any given moment at INSEAD he had to choose between five different things he could do and that a typical evening would contain a decision along the lines of "so, am I going to work on my assignment for tomorrow, attend a company presentation, study for the exam on Monday, go out for dinner with my study group, or maybe the birthday of that guy from the other section? Or am I just going to spend a quiet night at home with the partner?". Tough life indeed and if you’re not aware you can easily get overwhelmed and suffer a severe case of FOMO, lying in your bed thinking of the horrible decisions you've made.

When I came to INSEAD, I realised most of my peers came from big, successful corporations, whereas I only worked for a big company as a student and apart from that I spend all of my professional background in startups of no more than 30 employees.

At first, it made me feel that I would have a harder time adapting. After all, we are 500 students in the cohort, spread among different locations, clubs and more, very much like a big company. However, not too long into the program it hit me: INSEAD has a lot in common with a startup environment – you have a lot of tasks going on at the same time, nobody is going to tell you how and when to do them, and you feel like you have to constantly prioritise and put out fires. If you ask anyone working at a startup what is their most scarce resource the answer is most likely going to be "time" - there is always a lot to do and very limited resources to get it done. From my experience, the kind of workers that thrive in a startup environment are the ones that are extremely good at prioritising (no such thing as multitasking) and that are self-starters at heart – they don't need to be fed by a spoon in order to get things done.

Similarly, I found that these abilities come in quite handy at INSEAD. If you realise and just accept the fact that you will not be able to do ALL the things you want, manage to prioritise, and don't wait for orders from above to get going – you are going to be just fine.

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