4 things I learnt at business school (that have nothing to do with business)

INSEAD withdrawal is real. It first hit me when I went back to South Africa immediately after graduation. Imagine having some of the brightest minds around you 24/7 – every conversation you have is engaging and stimulating (even when you’re talking about utter nonsense,) everyone is a risk taker, an achiever, a global citizen. You practice for interviews together, study together, travel together, party together. Once you leave that environment a changed person, it is quite a shock to the system to go home where everything, and everyone, is exactly as it was before you left.

I keep thinking back to my time there and can hardly believe it was less than a year ago, when I was in France, sitting on the grass in the sunshine drinking wine, chatting to friends. It seems like it was in another lifetime. Reality, and the real world sets in very quickly. I really wish I had soaked it in more – I was so stressed about finding a job, that in the last few months of my MBA, my mental energy was completely consumed with Skype calls with alumni, Eurostarring back and forth to London for interviews, and frantic researching into the visa process to move to the UK.

Despite the fact that my time at business school is over, there are a few lessons that have stuck with me, and probably will stick with me for a long time. I’m often asked if the MBA added much to my academic knowledge. The answer is not really. I see it more as having built on my character, the core of who I am, vs. teaching me how to prepare financial statements, for example. In light of this, here are 4 things I learnt at business school:

The Duck Rabbit 

This drawing was shared with us during one of our lectures. What do you see? A duck, or a rabbit? Both? Most people only see one at first which illustrates that what we perceive is sometimes different from reality, no matter how sure of ourselves we are. The Duck Rabbit made me realise that my perception of the truth isn’t necessarily the truth – there could be multiple points of view, that are all correct. Similarly, it makes me question things more – just because someone is an expert at something, it doesn’t mean that their perception of a situation is more correct than yours.


The Path to Happiness

In one of our classes, we had to write ourselves a letter that was then posted back to us 6 months later, where we were supposed to share our hopes for the future. I received mine a few weeks ago. I wrote it when I had just been rejected from two companies, after getting to the final round of interviews for both, with my savings running out quickly and no other jobs or interviews in the pipeline. I was feeling pretty hopeless about my future. However, I tried to be encouraging, and I wrote that the one thing I hope for is never to stay in a job that I don’t love simply because of a salary. Money is an evil thing. It traps us in a lifestyle that we don’t really need. It’s only when you don’t have it, that you realise how little you actually need to be happy. But until the, parting with it, and all your posessions seems impossible.

What I realised is.. This, right here, is life. It’s not a goal that you want to achieve in a year or 5 years from now. Life is what is happening in your life right now, it’s how you spend every day, and you are the only person that is accountable for your time – so spend it doing what you actually want to do! Happiness doesn’t come from stuff. It comes from spending every day the way you would if you weren’t earning anything for it – some days this might be meaningful moments and relationships, other days, this might be a work project that you’re really enjoying. When asked what we want from our futures during one of our classes, most people spoke about balance – having a life that is fulfilling both personally and professionally. It’s important to remember this – no amount of money is worth a job that drains the life out of you.


The world is yours for the taking

I remember our Entrepreneurship professor telling us that “the only difference between that million dollar startup and your idea is that they went ahead with it.” I still feel a little in awe when I look at some of INSEAD’s most successful startups, like StyleSage, Redmart, Transferwise and Hostmaker. These were people just like us, with a dream, and a good idea. All it takes is A LOT of determination, a solid business plan communicated through a killer powerpoint deck and a venture capital fund that believes in you (if you’re bootstrapping, you don’t even need the latter.) The one thing that struck me is that none of these startups were developed on the side while people were working in other jobs. All the founders of these startups went in 100%. I’m sure at times they regretted their decision to leave their cushy jobs and lives, and I’m sure it was terrifying, but if you had to ask any of them now, the reward makes all that uncertainty and risk completely worth it.

Richard Branson Quotes business mogul virgin mobile motivation inspiration mike schiemer frugal business michael j. schiemer consulting


The whole is more than the sum of its parts

I think I was anti-team before I came to INSEAD. My attitude was always that I could do things quickly and easily if I was working alone, so I wasn’t particularly excited about working in a group for most of our assignments. Now, I’ve done a complete 180 and I’m most enthusiastic when I’m working with other people. I think this point is related to the DuckRabbit – when you’re in a team, everyone brings a different dimension to what you’re doing, and together, you come up with better ideas. You feed off each other’s energies, and inspire and motivate each other.

It’s hard to describe the impact of the MBA experience in one blog post. You have to experience it to understand 🙂 And.. shameless punt coming up, FT has just rated INSEAD the best business school in the WORLD – so you don’t need to take my word that it’s the best thing that will ever happen to you 🙂