TIEMBA: A Reflection on the Past and the Road That Lies Ahead

Camille O'Sullivan

The Rolling Stones released the song “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” in 1969, during a period of social upheaval and disappointment in the ability to effect meaningful change. The song verses wander through melancholic vignettes while each refrain of the chorus increasingly uplifts Mick Jagger’s gut punch of proud contentment in spite of it all and acceptance of a less than ideal outcome.

If you only read the words to the song, you may infer its dreary impotence and tragedy. You’d potentially interpret the chorus’ message as a cautionary tale. However, as you listen to the song, you are propelled onwards toward a more joyous ending despite the bleakness of the lyrical surroundings. “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” beats on unapologetically, reminding us that while some things in life may be out of reach, be grateful for things you have.

The song has stuck in my head as I write this blog post and reflect on the recent past and the road that lies ahead.

Like everyone, I wish that our lives had not been disrupted by COVID. In the winding playback of the last year, I remain contented and steadfast in TIEMBA'22. There are 45 of us committed to the programme and in a sense, committed to each other. There are 45 of us who have taken the risk to start the programme during the middle of a pandemic and forge onwards.

socially distanced

With only a few exceptions, there has been some level of face-to-face interactions among the classmates and faculty in Mainland China or in Singapore. Tsinghua and INSEAD have both opened up the campuses where possible and accommodated us to the fullest extent at the time. Classes are a hybrid of Zoom and in-person teaching in either Singapore or China.

Like any interpersonal relationship, you get out of it what you put in.

The connections made among the cohort have proven to be incredibly rewarding and meaningful. The TIEMBA experience is every bit as much a social one as it is academic. Being based in Singapore has been a blessing. For the nine of us that are in the country, we have managed to form a bond and community. The visitors that have come to join us on the Singapore INSEAD campus during the sessions have folded into the group as if they had been here the whole time. In each class you are part of a group and have to partner on pre-class assignments, in-class assignments, papers, presentations, etc. We collaboratively work through Zoom, Microsoft Teams and WeChat to communicate with one another.

Since I started the programme, there have yet to be more than 12 hours come to pass where there isn’t a conversation running on our group chat. More often than not, I wake up on a weekend morning with over 100 chats to catch up on from what feels like a virtual party via text.

I look forward to the day when we have our first full class gathering as it will be more exciting in some respects than meeting as strangers, as we would have done on the first day of school.

There’s a running joke among us that we may first meet each other in person at the graduation ceremony, although I am hopeful this will not be the case. We are already planning post-graduation trips such as to visit our dear Brazilian cohort member Ivan, who attends class in the middle of the night while we are in daytime in Asia. He sends us pictures of his large wine cellar as temptation down payments.

Albena Delcheva

The TIEMBA classes have exceeded my expectations of the academic challenge, which was a critical reason for choosing the programme.

While all my classes have been terrific, I enjoyed the Organisational Behaviour (OB) class the most. Unfortunately, Professor Charlie Galunic couldn’t teach us in person during module two, but his Zoom delivery was impeccable, which we attended in groups on the INSEAD Singapore and Beijing Tsinghua campuses. Prof Charlie was larger than life sitting in his home office, beaming over the class and seamlessly integrating his presentations into the flow, making it a point to call on every student dialled into the call or sitting in the room.

We participated in a "Change Pro Simulation", where we were tasked with getting buy-in from an organisation on implementing a major change initiative. At the end of the module, our final exam was to write a group paper based on a case study and applied learnings of the course. Finally, post-course, we split into another team where we analysed three companies’ successes or failures due to organisational behaviour principles. 

During module three we received the results of our 360-degree reviews from friends, family, colleagues and managers that officially kicked off our Leadership Development Programme (LDP).

Although I had received 360-degree feedback over the years at work, this was the most in-depth process in which I’ve ever participated.

Most of the results were in line with what I expected, although there were a few respondents whose answers surprised me. Through the LDP, we are assigned a team – in my case three other cohort members – to stay with you during the remainder of the programme. We are also assigned a leadership coach to be with us throughout. Our coach, Fabio, guided us through sharing our results and reflecting on the potential meanings. We created individual development plans to grow as leaders over the next year as we strive to take our careers to the next stage.

It was during our initial LDP session where we exposed our vulnerabilities to one another and developed a bond of mutual support and understanding. Although we are just at the beginning of this process, a deeper connection has already been formed among the four of us – which I hope persists beyond the completion of the programme into lifelong friendships. We named our team, “Journey to the West,” after a famous classic Chinese novel, where a team of four travels 50,000 km on foot over mountains to the west (India), on a quest for knowledge and a test of perseverance. If travelling alone, they would not have survived individually, but as a team they complete the journey.



I’m now about to head into module four, nearly half-way through the formal class part of the TIEMBA programme.

I’m grateful for the experience thus far, for having the pleasure to partner with a super-charged and diverse cohort.

I’ve resigned to taking the bittersweet pill of patience as we wait for the storm clouds to clear. We have no other choice. As I reflect on these things and more, I wryly hum the song lyrics, “You can’t always get what you want, you can’t always get what you want, you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes - well, you just might find, you get what you need. Oh, yeah!”