TIEMBA Module One – A Jump Out Of The Comfort Zone
Imagine yourself lying on the beach on a hot summer day: you are comfortable, and you could spend the whole day like that. But then there’s this endless ocean right next to you – inviting but somewhat scary – where you can swim, dive, surf and do other exciting things. So, you carefully approach it and try the water with your feet – it’s wet, chilly and uncomfortable. Five steps further you are waist-deep in the water and that’s when it gets really cold, and you think of going back to lying under the sun for the rest of the day. All it takes from this moment is to jump and swim – once you do that, you start enjoying the process and want to keep swimming.
Starting the TIEMBA programme was a bit like that for me. Don’t get me wrong – at the time I decided to apply to TIEMBA, my job was in no way relaxing or easy, there were (and still are) many things to do and learn. But I felt that my learning curve was becoming less steep, especially in the people-related aspects of my management role. In a way, working long hours in a closed world with the people and the organisation I know is easier than increasing my self-awareness, balancing work and life, exposing myself to new people, situations and cultures and doing other “soft” things that are actually hard. To a large extent, I was in a comfort zone and I wanted to get out of it.
I clearly remember June 5th, 2018, when I arrived in Beijing for the first module. Soon enough I found myself at the opening ceremony of the programme at Tsinghua University School of Economics and Management together with 43 other participants. Time flew so fast that day – there was a lot of small talk, new acquaintances, new information and emotions. I started getting to know people with whom I was about to embark on a challenging and promising journey. To be honest, I was quite nervous – I was in an unfamiliar country in a new setting and a new role, in a group of people from different walks of life and parts of the world, with many expectations to meet and to be met. But I knew for sure that me and my new classmates had at least one thing in common – every one of us wanted to get out of the comfort zone – and that gave me confidence to make the most out of my participation in the programme. So, I jumped into this metaphorical ocean and started swimming.
Right after the opening ceremony we departed to Outward bound – an intense 24-hour team-building retreat run by professional coaches in a hotel just outside of Beijing. We split into three big teams and played four rounds of a competition that involved physical exercises and brain teasers. We gained first insights about the challenges of building efficient team processes, managing high-performing teams, designing the right strategy and ensuring disciplined execution, especially in situations of uncertainty and time pressure.
It was our first chance to get to know each other as a class, and to me this experience at first seemed a bit chaotic, as we were getting acquainted with each other and trying to establish ourselves in the group by taking various team roles and contributing to the team process. The level of competition both within teams and among teams was very high. However, equally high was the level of trust, and that combination created a great atmosphere.
Where did this trust come from on the first day of the programme? Maybe it’s the brand of the schools, or maybe it’s the understanding of similarities among participants – I can’t really tell. But one thing is certain – jumping backwards from a 10-meter high platform and trusting a group of people you barely know to ensure you have a smooth landing is not something you would sign up for unless you are absolutely comfortable with the setting – and I was. We had a lot of fun that day, but most importantly, outward bound set a foundation for what would become the culture of TIEMBA’20. “Team One”, “Fortune 14” and “The Rock” – these were the first teams of our class that we would remember from Outward bound.
Our first course on the programme was a two-day business simulation called “TechMark” by Professor Robert Ng. The class was divided into five teams, each team representing a company operating in a virtual industry over several reporting periods and making a set of business decisions – from marketing and R&D to operations and investments – with the goal to maximise EVA while meeting several other balancing objectives.
TechMark is insightful in many ways that sharpen your business acumen. By playing in our “sandbox” industry we gained insights about industry life cycles, the importance of strategy, the impact of senior leadership, team process and accountabilities – all these concepts would be reinforced by core courses such as Organisational Behavior, Strategy and Corporate Finance later in the programme.
But TechMark gave me two more things that I am truly grateful for. First, it was a genuine ice-breaker for our team. We went through a tough challenge, working under constant time pressure, figuring out how to work with each other and debating decisions. We even burned some midnight oil working on a financial model of our company, which reminded me of my time in consulting. After that project I felt I have become much closer with my classmates. Second, in our team we decided to further challenge ourselves by taking unfamiliar roles. I volunteered to be the CEO with no general management experience, our Chief Marketing Officer never worked in marketing, the financial executive had no finance background, and other team members were also relatively “inexperienced”. As I mentioned in my first article, TIEMBA is about trying and failing in a safe environment, so we decided to start trying from day one.
Data, Models and Decisions
After major brainpower investment in the TechMark simulation, we went to a more traditional lecture/practice setting to learn about data-driven decision making. After a review of tools and techniques for analysing decisions under uncertainty, professor Guang Cheng shared his experience in practical applications of data analysis methods, such as recommender systems used by Netflix and Amazon or machine learning algorithms applied to various industries. Of course, two days would not have been enough to cover all aspects of this topic, but it fueled our interest in exploring and understanding data analysis applications further.
Macroeconomics and the Chinese economy
The module was concluded by the course on Macroeconomics by Professor Chong-En Bai, and it was not a typical macro lecture. The course content was designed around current macroeconomic issues facing China, and we discussed macroeconomic theories to the extent they are relevant to today’s situation.
Why has China’s economic growth slowed down after 2010? What drives investment decisions under the current economic governance system in China, and how effective are these decisions? Is growth always a good thing and how does it affect social welfare? Is globalisation the same thing it meant in the past, and what role does China play in globalisation today? We had the opportunity to get insights on all these issues from the person who directly advises China’s policymakers, and it’s truly invaluable – this is the kind of unique value that we get from TIEMBA.
After Module One I left Beijing with a very warm feeling and in full confidence that I will have a transformational journey. Today, I am writing these words already past Module Four, and so far, this feeling still stays. TIEMBA'20 definitely has a strong culture, and strong cultures foster engagement, and engagement drives results.