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MBA diary: Learning calmness from the eye of a storm

2017-03-17 01:35 | Network |

MBA diary: Learning calmness from the eye of a storm
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Isabelle Graveline, a student on the International Masters in Practising Management, says India changed the way she thinks about business

IT BEGAN as a goal to bring back a strategy to help me scale up my business. It ended up being a philosophical awakening that turned many of my ideas about the world upside down.  

Having travelled for 16 months with the International Masters in Practising Management (IMPM), we arrived in India for the last module, called the Worldly Mindset. This mobile class, with students from 12 different cultures, was supposed to help us understand what India represents. A nation where daily life is unpredictable, which has a patchwork of different religions with Hinduism as its philosophical foundation and karma (every action has a reaction) and dharma (duty) its guiding principles.It was during this module, in Bangalore, that I began to understand that we cannot and must not use our own lenses to pass judgement on another country or culture.

I had already been all over the world. The IMPM is a partnership between five business schools: Desautels Faculty of Management in Canada, Lancaster Management School in Britain, FGV in Brazil, Renmin University in China, and IIMB in India. Each module is taught by a local professor. This venture was created two decades ago and I doubt that it could be negotiated in today’s highly polarised and politicised educational system.

India is a poor country with rich aspirations. According to the World Bank 21% of its population lives on less than $2 a day, while UNICEF puts the proportion of malnourished children at 30%. With a population of over 1.2bn, it sometimes seems that these challenges are insurmountable.

My first impressions were formed from chatting with professors, observing the daily lives of Indian people, visiting successful businesses and hearing from IMPM alumni. Then I witnessed a social enterprise where eight women were micro-financing their own businesses in order to pull themselves out of poverty. We also met some rural poor to see how they made a living through a micro-finance project. One professor asked us to understand by saying “I want you to enter my world for the next two hours” but it was a tall order for many of us.

I was fortunate enough to visit a successful biopharmaceutical company called Biocon/Syngene. Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw (pictured) founded the firm in her garage in 1978. It is now worth over $1.5bn. Ms Mazumdar-Shaw is on the Financial Times’s list of the top 50 women in business and is rated by Forbes the 77th most powerful woman in the world. In this company, the biggest stakeholders are the employees. The firm’s focus on meeting its workers’ expectations really resonated with me.

These visits and experiences affected me deeply. I now regularly question and re-evaluate my behaviour, values and entire organisational ethos. I have learned to listen more and talk less. I understand that the collective wisdom of the group is far more powerful than the thought processes inside my own head. For example, I facilitate our senior management meetings by being far more curious. I consciously make sure to slow down and consider everyone’s viewpoint. I ask that our team members push each other outside of their emotional comfort zones so that we can make the best decisions possible. Since we are trying aggressively to scale up, we must talk forthrightly but constructively, trying to find the sweet spot between candor and curiousity.

In India, they have a saying, ”Whatever you hear about India, the opposite is also true.”  This can also be said about every interaction and conversation that you have. No two people have exactly the same mindset.  The magic is in understanding that other viewpoints have merit and are worthy of reflection. India was complex and full of contradictions, but at the same time appealed to the heart, the senses and the soul. The choice is either to soak it in and take away an expanded worldview or reject it all, walking away with nothing but a lost opportunity.

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