Posts from our Sloan bloggers

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Second Term … here we go !

Posted by: Cristina
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It is incredible how every day we can see more clearly how the Sloan Program evolves and all of sudden it hits you that 4 months of it have already gone ! This is the first week that we are all back to our core courses and already a sense of urgency is in the air. It might be just me but a couple of days ago I saw myself as a student and now I can’t help to see how everything we’ve been through till now, in its own chaotic way, actually makes sense and will certainly define what my future will be like. From every class, talk, network event, chat over the cafeteria, an invisible link make it all build a new future ahead. I might have become too philosophic, but in fact I’m just happy for finally applying to the Entrepreneurship Summer School ! Many months looking for a good idea that you genuinely get convinced of. I have not yet been accepted but my fingers are crossed and I look forward to the answer !

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It is going to be really nice to share some of my thoughts over the Sloan year.

It’s been quite a journey till now, it seems like yesterday that we were all arriving from different parts of the world to start this very different year … but it has already been 4 months now ! So much has happened … the feeling of first day at LBS, looking for a place to live by myself for the next year, the overwhelming orientation day where you leave school totally exhausted by the amount of things and people you met in such a short time … it all happened so fast.

It will be an awkward blog in the first couple of days … because I’ll try to remember this past 4 months in short stories, bouncing back and forward in time in order to capture the most meaningful days of what really means this Sloan year for me …

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The challenges of future leadership

Posted by: Angela
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“You are a class with far more insight than many of the Fortune 500 HR directors”, quoted from an executive from Cisco, who was invited to speak at our class at London Business School, an elective course taught by Professor Lynda Gratton – Craft the future of work. Isn’t it an inspiring comment? Last week a mixed group of students from MBA, EMBA and Sloan, probably the most diversified class with different nationalities and even different generations – the Gen X and Gen Y, sitting together for a week, crafting the future, How the future will look like? What it will mean to us? What it will mean to our organization?

As we started to understand how the 5 forces will shape our future, we spent the last day in the course trying to understand what the challenges are for the future leadership in 2030. and here are the top five take away last Friday:

Fragmentation in life
Technology has made significant changes in our life, and it has brought a great deal of convenience to us. but it also changed our behavior over time. we keep constantly checking email, answering phone calls, and people expect each other to be responsive instantly. In reality, we live in a three-minute fragments time. How does the future leader do to keep a high productive team? This will require our own attention on self management – to keep our capability of concentration and learning in a fragmented life– at the same time still be perceived as accessible. This will also require our creativity in leading our staff to a high performing team who also live in fragmented lives.

Shorter Business Cycle
We are now in a much faster pace environment in many business area, thanks to technology and information, as the world is more transparent. when leaders facing the challenges of shorter business cycles, the business strategy we developed today may not work tomorrow. we need constantly keep track of our tactics. Be flexible and resilient.

Open innovation
The world is no longer closed, it won’t work the way as before. this is then linked to the concept of crowd sourcing. I was impressed by one of the speakers last week, when he talked about using crowd sourcing, he was able to make his project with 90% less cost, and completed very quickly. This then leads to the thoughts that the person who you think will be best qualified for the job isn’t always the best person to do it. For me, an sourcing professional in the industry for the last 12 years, it pushed me to think about what this will mean to a sourcing leader? how do we balance the long term partnership vs. crowd sourcing? time to revisit our toolkits and strategy…

Virtual Community
Over the years, international companies developed their organization and we see more and more virtual team management happens. With the carbon challenges we are facing, we will see more and more expensive in traveling. this will require our capability to survive in virtual environment. Facebook, Linkedin, YouTube etc.. all provided a platform of virtual social community. How we as leaders develop the trust, belief  among our staff , influence and lead effectively? How do we secure the productivity and high performance in a virtual environment? how does employees seek for coaching and mentoring on a day to day basis? This is indeed a challenge for us all.

Global Mindset
The force of globalization has shaped our business and our world become more flat. Unlike our parent, the challenges we are facing are the global talent pool, 24/7 operations. As the future leader, how do you lead and inspire such global talent team? Do you have the right intellectual capital- the right master knowledge over the others? Do you have the proper emotional capital – developed your resilience in leadership?  Do you have enough social capital – understanding the culture and developed the network? All in all, it is crucial to increase our international exposure to develop all the capabilities above.

The class completed last Friday, but it is not over, it is probably just a start, a start of exploring our future, a start of developing ourselves to be a future proofed leader, a start of crafting our career, our organization to prepare for the future shift. As professor Gratton suggested in the end of the class, let’s stay connected, yes. let’s stay connected in the fascinating future world.

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In General

Posted by: Kristen

Although I’m always a bit wary of generalizations, I believe they can and do serve a purpose. For example, in marketing we constantly speak of a target demographic or market segment. By definition, these are populations for whom a given trait is generally true. Hence, generalizations can be useful, but they can also be limiting unless we recognize their constraints.

Let’s take for example the trait of height and look at the figure below.  The figure shows two normal distributions of height, one for males and one for females. The average height for women is 65 inches (5.4 feet or 165 cm) and for men it is 70 inches (5.8 feet or 178 cm). So, it’s true that men are generally, on average, taller than women. If we were to consider the sizes of clothes that men and women would need, we might even say something like “Well, men are taller than women, so men’s clothes should be longer.” This is fine, and we are in fact speaking about the population means for whom the majority of men and women would be near and for whom this statement would be true.

Figure from http://www.usablestats.com/lessons/normal, with my own dashed lines added at the means.

However, let’s look at the tail ends of these distributions. While the tallest man is taller than the tallest woman, the area under the pink curve but to the right of the blue dotted line represents the number of women who are taller than the average man. By stating that “men are taller than women,” we ignore all these women in the tail end of the distribution for whom it is not true. From a business perspective, our generalization may cause us to miss out on a potential niche market (clothes for tall women), but from a cultural perspective this further impacts the way we may feel about ourselves or anyone in a tail end.  The generalization, though true on average, implies that if men are taller than women, then women who are taller than the average man are somehow not as “womanly.” Similarly, men who are shorter than the average woman may not feel as “manly.”

In business, generalizations are a way of life. We use them constantly to describe our target demographics and their wants and needs which can be quite useful in determining what goods or services to provide. But the key is not to forget that while something may be true for the average customer, there will always be those for whom it isn’t. Knowing the average customer is important, but knowing only the average customer is limiting. By ignoring a tail end, we may miss out on valuable opportunities for inclusion both as businesses and as societies.

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First note: a reflection after two months

Posted by: Angela
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Sitting in the Library, I just finished my final paper on Strategy. With a deep breath, I realized it is more than two months since I joined the Sloan Program here at London Business School. I never realized how fast time flies, and thought it might be a good time now to reflect.

First impression of London
I have been traveling to London a couple of times before, but have never really loved the city as I do now – the international environment, the accepting colleagues, the elegant temperament, the academic atmosphere, and the beautiful Regent’s Park and school campus. All above has become so attractive to me and I really appreciate the chance to stay here for the entire year.

An overwhelming first two weeks
The first two weeks were exciting and overwhelming, I wasn’t have time to really imagine how the program would look like, already a lot of self assessment and reflection with the leadership course and executive coach sessions both from the course and career services. Indeed, I felt like a re-discovering of myself, and really put time reflecting deeply the purpose of life which I didn’t do for the busy of work. Sometimes we tend to be too busy as managers and forget purposeful actions in life.

World class faculty team
For me, one of the most important factors in choosing a B-School is the faculty team. I’m very happy that we got a good team of faculty and professors, a team with very diversified, energized and inspiring teaching styles.

A highly committed, global elites classmates team
If all above I talked about are conditions and environment that school provided. Most importantly I want to share the last thing I reflected which is how impressed I am by my classmates.

The average working experience of our class is 17 years. Come from 22 countries, pause the successful career, and invest a valuable time here in London full time with education, can you imagine how committed this group of people have? They are more engaged, very proactive and full of energy. During these two months, I not only learned from professors but also I learned quite a lot from each of my classmates, and every time when I joined our discussions and activities, I gained a lot of energy and encouragement. Not to tell you the long stories, I want to share two examples:

•    “The London 10K” initiative
Among many initiatives from our classmates, one of the activities I joined was the Sloan 2011 running team for London 10K initiated and coached by two of my classmates Perry and Sharad. Being a person never really tried to run over 1km, I never thought I would consider or even dare to do any exercise and run a long distance like 10km. However, I am very impressed by their spirit – quote from Perry: “Remember – the Sloan transformation does not have to be merely relegated to the professional arena..”. Now I have really enjoyed the challenge, and I assure you they are really good and patient coaches.

•    SA survey
Good news we received this week was winning the SA survey completion, being probably the most senior group of students, you might deem we sometimes either ignore or slow in small things like survey. When I reflected on this result, three things I think really worked:
o    Again, this showed a highly committed group of people we have in the class.
o    A highly collaborative team and leadership – we all want and proud of working together as a team.
o    A truly leadership – a sense of purpose we all believe – a proposal to donate the prize to the Japan fund for the earthquake.
All I want to say is thanks the admissions team for recruiting such a great group of people into the class. I am, indeed feel very proud being part of the team.

As I believed in the beginning of the program, joining Sloan program at London Business School is the best decision I made so far in life, and it will help me to make better decision in the future. I truly believe 2011 will be a memorable year, a unique experience, and a year of transforming ourselves. And I look forward the coming 9 months ahead!

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Being Sloan

Posted by: Kristen

Ok, so I haven’t posted here for a while and I hate to say that it’s because I’ve been too busy, but as my Sloan colleagues will know – we really have been busy! And I selfishly took the whole weekend to not do any schoolwork (aside from reading the 8 articles that are assigned for today’s start of an optional block-week course).

Although I’ve learned many things about Leadership, Strategy, Marketing, Finance, etc. over these last 10 weeks, I’ve also learned a lot about my identity as a Sloan Fellow and the value afforded by my prior professional experience. Although there has been some debate in our class regarding the relative value of the Sloan vs the MBA “brand,” I’ve realized how glad I am to be a Sloan.

After sitting next to an MBA student on our way back from a “trek” to a regional affiliate of a multinational organization, I discovered that we Sloans have it pretty good in many ways. The vast majority of the attendees on these treks are MBAs and we had been asked to rate this one on a scale of 1 to 5, 5 being the best ever. Although it was only my first trek with LBS, I would have given it a 3, based on the fact that if we’re to believe what we’ve been taught in class, that people are the most important asset of a company, then I didn’t particularly feel like this company thought of us as potentially valuable assets. To be fair, they did have some senior managers available for us to network with, but at 3 in the afternoon with no food all day (other than coffee and biscuits at our arrival), we were offered only stale doughnuts and wine, weirdly enough. In my experience, having seen the spreads that companies put out for their own employees or external VIPs, I was a bit surprised that there weren’t at least some sandwiches. In addition to the food, I found the presentations to us to be somewhat lackluster, held in a neighboring, similarly lackluster building in the middle of nowhere. The organizer even thanked two of the presenters for speaking at such short notice (citing how such “agility” is valued there). That plus some other signals made me suspect this company may not have planned things out terribly well.

Interestingly, my MBA friend rated it as a 4.5. She said she’d been to many of these things and that they’re not often well-organized by the hosting organization. She confirmed that the food is often minimal or lacking altogether, which is why she recommends to her colleagues to bring snack bars on these treks. She also said this was the first time there had ever been wine (I think this may have boosted her scoring of the trek by at least a half point). If being an MBA from one of the best schools in the world isn’t enough to get you sandwiches, then being an MBA may not be as easy a ride as some of us may have thought, despite the awareness of the brand. This all made me realize how truly valuable prior professional experience really is. It will be no piece of cake for us Sloans either, but I believe our many years’ experience will give us a big advantage in getting to where we want to go. Our experience informs our judgment for the better although we may not always realize it. I, for one, am very glad to have it.

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Business and Biology

Posted by: Kristen

Recently in our Strategy course we evaluated the concept of strategic evolution in addressing the question of how an organization can best structure itself in order to maximize its competitive advantage. As someone with a background in the life sciences, after having spent an intensive month so far covering topics such as management, governance, and finance, I confess I was particularly pleased to come across some old but familiar concepts from studies of biological evolution and ecology. What I found striking was the degree of relevance they had to the business world. In essence, the same problem is posed to any system (whether it be an organism or an organization) that must compete with other systems for limited resources: What is the best way to balance between becoming specialized to a niche to maximize profit and remaining generalized enough to preserve the ability to quickly adapt in case the environment changes? It makes sense to look for lessons from biology, which has had eons to work on this very problem through the process of natural selection.

One well-studied example of this is the story of the peppered moth in the UK. Prior to the industrial revolution in the 1800’s, the peppered moth looked, well, peppered – with sprinklings of light and dark patches on its wings as camouflage to match the lichen-covered trees and stone buildings they lived amongst. Most of these moths had similar light-colored markings; only a small fraction of them born were significantly darker than the others due to natural genetic variability. However, these darker ones were easily spotted amongst the light-colored environment and were typically picked off by predators before they could reproduce.

White-bodied peppered moth

Black-bodied peppered moth

With the industrial revolution, trees and buildings near major cities in the UK became noticeably darkened from the soot emitted by coal-burning factories. The change in the environment favored the dark-colored moths over the light-colored moths. It was now the light-colored moths who stood out amongst the background and were soon picked off by predators, while the darker ones survived to reproduce. By the late 1800’s the majority of the peppered-moths around industrial cities were dark-colored. They had become, through the process of natural selection, highly adapted or “specialized” to their environment.

Now imagine what happened when they eventually cleaned up the soot? The environment quickly became much lighter. Those dark moths that had just a little while ago been so well-adapted and successful now stood out amongst the light marble, stones, and trees of the city. Those that had been the most fit for the environment were again the least fit and their numbers were again reduced by predators and so on.

So, what can the adaptation and survival of the peppered moth tell us about optimal strategies in business?

1. Specialization allows you to thrive but may come at a cost if the environment changes.

2. To reduce those costs, maintain some intrinsic variability in order to adapt as quickly as possible to a new environment.

3. Unfortunately, the optimal amount of intrinsic variability is hard to know. In biology, the answer seems to be “just enough” and is likely a function of the degree of potential change in the environment constrained by the amount physically tolerable by the organism.

4. It doesn’t always work. Although the moths endured, there are plenty of examples of species (and companies) that have gone extinct because environmental changes outpaced their innate ability to adapt.

5. Think ahead. These moths were fortunate to have had enough intrinsic variability to allow them to endure the selective pressures that were put upon them since they weren’t able to predict nor prevent the industrial revolution from happening. While there may be forces beyond our control that will ultimately shape our futures as well, we also have nice big brains that allow us to have, hopefully, a more active role in our own future in the choices we make as individuals, organizations, and as a species. We can stay informed about changes in our environment and find ways to influence and predict them. We can diversify our businesses more or less depending upon the degree of those predicted changes. We can make a best guess. It isn’t easy and there are no guarantees, but that is the challenge of life, both in biology and in business.

Light and dark peppered moths on a healthy tree where the light-colored moth's camouflage is best suited.

For more information and photo sources, visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peppered_moth_evolution

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Managing Expectations

Posted by: Kristen

We often hear about the importance of managing the expectations of others. The degree of difference between what we say may happen and what really happens can affect us in multiple ways. We have all experienced the joy that comes from getting something much better than expected, as well as the disappointment that comes from expecting something good but getting something bad instead.

As we aim to succeed in life and in business, we try to avoid disappointing others; in relationships it helps to preserve personal credibility and in the stock market it influences an organization’s value. Indeed, there are entire industries devoted to predicting financial performance and the value of a business is often measured by comparing predicted outcomes to real ones. It is clear that what others perceive and expect to perceive has an impact on us, but what about the expectations we have of ourselves? How do we manage those and what happens if we fail to do so?

Last Friday we completed a course entitled “Understanding Top Management” taught by Prof. Dominic Houlder, though I think it should have been called “Understanding Everything.” The course had quite an effect on all of us, evidenced by the comments of my peers (e.g. “this is my most favorite course I’ve ever taken”), as well as the standing ovation and expressions of personal gratitude Prof. Houlder received at the end of it. The course taught us to critically evaluate four components of an organization: its frames (perspective), relationships, processes, and values, and how those impact the observable outcomes. The same process of deconstruction can also be applied to the individual and the consequences of one’s choices. In his final slides he challenged us to question how much of our identity, meaning, and self-actualization comes from our work and in doing so, challenged us to evaluate our own expectations of ourselves by examining those four components.

Because expectations impact credibility and value, when we fail to meet our expectations of ourselves we risk harming our confidence and sense of self-worth. The mismanagement of self-expectations is possibly what has led many of us to the Sloan program. At some point, we started to question whether where we were in our careers was really the best place for us to be. Although many of us are still unsure about what to expect following the Sloan, with its emphasis on self-awareness and critical thinking, I believe we can reasonably expect at the end, as Prof. Houlder put it, to “be yourself more, with skill.” That’s something I think I can manage.

While we’re on the topic of expectations – It’s not unreasonable to have some preconceptions about what an LBS professor might be like. Of course a great education, great work experience, consulting, etc., but click the link below to read an interview with Dominic Houlder – you may be surprised:

http://www.dharmalife.com/issue25/fistful.html

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First Impressions

Posted by: Kristen

It has been a while since my last entry as I was waiting for the program to start in order to capture my first thoughts and experiences. It started Tuesday. It’s now Friday night. In December when I first sat down to write my initial blog entries, I had looked over some blogs from other students and had wanted to avoid what seemed to be the typical entry of a business school student – “I’m so busy doing x, y, and z. It’s so intense but I love it. See all the great skills I’m learning, etc…” And here I am, already doing the same.

These initial days of “Sloan-ing” have been long: lectures, meetings, interactive events, readings and assignments. We have all become gradually more and more bleary-eyed over these last few days, but as our sleep has diminished, our sense of camaraderie has grown.

So what has it been like? Our first official course this week was “Executive Leadership”. A couple of the main take-aways for me have been the following:

  • There is a weird trade-off with personality: characteristics that may seem ideal for success may work well early on but may then be maladaptive for long term success. For example, a leader who initially seems confident and charismatic may later become unable to admit mistakes or may develop a sense of entitlement. Those who are charming may become passive-aggressive. It’s the same old story – the qualities that make you fall in love with someone may be the same qualities that you end up hating them for.
  • How to prevent this? Self-awareness is the key. The more aware you are of your traits and the effect they have on others, the more success you’ll have. This not only requires a certain degree of sensitivity, but also requires one to actively seek out feedback, especially as one ascends the organizational ladder.

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Though the lectures have been interesting, the personalities in the room have been even more so. There are all the typical types you would expect and some you wouldn’t. Despite much of the class clamoring for attention for the first hour or so of the first lecture, things seem to have settled down – perhaps as a result of the personality tests and 360 review feedback we received later that day. I, for one, thoroughly enjoyed receiving my test results since it seems I’m not quite as crazy as a certain husband of mine may have thought. But I’ll be happy to hear any feedback on that.

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I never thought of myself as the type to go to business school. I also never thought of myself as the type to work for the pharmaceutical industry. As a PhD student in Neuroscience, and later as a postdoctoral fellow at UCLA, my colleagues and I generally agreed that industry was somehow slightly evil, populated by smiling, suit-wearing Machiavellians who overused words like “leverage” and “synergize”. Yet here I am in business school in order to further my career in industry. Fortunately it hasn’t been quite as bad as I thought.

Since leaving academia, my role in the pharmaceutical industry has been within what is often referred to as “Medical Affairs”. My past roles as a Medical Science Liaison and Team Leader have largely involved medical education and project management. I have viewed my work and that of my team as ensuring that health care practitioners are provided with objective, current and relevant information about a given product in order to help them make the best decisions possible regarding a patient’s treatment. From the industry’s perspective, my role has been to “develop the market”, but in this sense, both the patients’ and the industry’s interests are aligned; more patients treated appropriately benefits both parties.

Having worked now in disease areas ranging from the relatively common to the ultra orphan in both the US and Europe, one of the most interesting aspects has been learning about different markets, regulatory issues, and access challenges in a variety of landscapes. I have become particularly intrigued by the decision-making processes that underlie the strategies required to deal with these issues. I have not agreed with all the decisions made at higher levels. Yet I knew that if I ever wanted to have any influence on them I would need to better understand all the factors involved, hence my decision to pursue a business education.

In the last several years I have come across one or two Machiavellians, but generally the people I’ve met in industry are charming and funny intellectuals, even if they do wear suits a lot of the time. I expect my new Sloan colleagues will all have different stories to tell about their journeys to LBS and how they came to realize it was the right thing for them. I look forward to meeting them all and especially to leveraging our past experiences in order to synergize new business solutions for the future.

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