Mar 25, 2008

Bling and Empathy

To all my French readers: ever wanted to know how our American friends perceive our very médiatisé, newly-wed leader? Here's an interesting editorial about Sarkozy and the reasons for his party's debacle in the latest municipal elections: "President Bling-Bling".

On a completely unrelated note, a big thank you goes out to the person who kindly subjected themself to my fumbling attempts at conducting a "Rogerian interview" for my final Psychological Issues in Management project. Aimed at learning how to improve our listening skills and develop empathy, this exercise has been one of the most challenging and moving experiences I've had at INSEAD, and one from which I've learned a tremendous deal. I'm sure it's not easy to be on the other side of the table, agreeing to open up to someone who will record you, analyse you and write a report about you, so thank you again. To the current and future INSEAD students who are considering taking Bartolome's class, try to get beyond the initial shock when faced with a man who appears rude, insensitive and at times downright insane. This class is definitely worth it.

Time for me now to rush off to negotiate teacher salaries and classroom sizes. Seriously.

Mar 23, 2008

Lessons learned

Springtime feels like it's finally around the corner. The sun shone all morning on our humble chateau easter egg hunt, the weather is starting to get (slightly) warmer, and the trees are quickly turning green. All of this is heartwarming, of course, though it also signals that the end of INSEAD is nigh. My first mini-elective of P4 is over next week, most job applications are in, and thoughts are already turning to grad trip and summer plans. As for me, I'm in denial. Always the best approach.

I read something today I wanted to share with my foreign friends, who I know have been struggling to adapt in France (though as I try to explain to them, Fonty life is not France). The NY Times' Paris correspondant has bestowed upon us a "Guide to the French" in 8 simple lessons. Apparently we're quite an easy folk to understand... So here goes (make of it what you will; the full article is quite entertaining):

1. Look in the Rear-View Mirror: The French are obsessed about (their) history, and to understand us you must understand where we come from (and why we care). Fair point.

2. An Interview is Sometimes Not an Interview: A journalist's views on freedom of the press in France when it comes to the President. Can't really judge this one, or how much it differs from the situation in other countries. Also not terribly clear to me how this "lesson" applies to anyone other than journalists.

3. The Customer is Always Wrong: My personal take on this? The customer is a person as much as the service provider is, and either may be wrong, or obnoxious, and will be treated accordingly. But that's just me.

4. Make Friends With a Good Butcher: Absolutely, unless you're a vegeterian. But even then there's the fromager, the poissonnier, the caviste and the man at the fruits and vegetables stand in your local marché that you should definitely bond with.

5. Kiss, But be Careful Whom You Hug: Kissing is a must. Hugging may be an invasion of personal space. Even my 5-yr-old cousins understand that.

6. Don't Wear Jogging Clothes to Buy a Pound of Butter: If you remember nothing else about the golden rules of living in France (especially living in Paris), remember this one. It was also listed as one of the most important lessons learned by Australian journalist Sarah Turnbull in her book Almost French (highly recommended reading for any INSEAD-er thinking of living in this beautiful country of mine after graduation, and entertaining for anyone else).

7. Feeling Sexy is a State of Mind, or: Buy Good Lingerie: Duh.

8. When it Comes to Politeness, There is No End to the Lessons: For a country so universally viewed as rude, France is a place where rules of politesse are extremely complex and very, very important. I have already sought, in vain, to convince my friends of this little-known fact, and will not try again here. You're just going to have to trust me (and the NY Times).

So there you go, the French explained in eight lessons. See, now that wasn't so hard, was it?!

Mar 19, 2008

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -

I've heard complaints that I am not posting enough. Honestly, I feel I haven't been doing that badly compared to some of my classmates, but point taken.

So here's a little snapshot of this week's impressions. Obviously, this post will be about job hunting, as P4 seems to leave little time to think about anything else. It's a shame, really, considering how interesting our classes are this period, that the only thing on our collective minds is comparing company presentations, perfecting interview techniques, and wondering how to wax poetic in cover letters for jobs we're not even sure we want. And yours truly is no exception.

I have decided to take a slightly different road from that of most of my classmates, however, and pursue jobs in a field not traditionally sought after post-MBA. This, of course, creates additional difficulty and stress in some ways, as career services is unlikely to be much help and most recruiters I approach give me that "I'm sorry, can you repeat that?" look. I get the same look from my classmates, by the way, who mostly seem baffled that someone may not actually end up in consulting.

On the other hand, my story makes sense to me. More sense than a story I would have to tell consultants or marketing directors. And that simplifies things a great deal. It's much easier to sell a story you believe in. The trick is finding someone to sell the story to. And on that front I've found the INSEAD network and even on-campus-recruiting events to be extremely helpful. I know this has not been the case for some other "non-traditional" job seekers among my friends, so maybe I've been lucky, but alumni contacts and a couple pushy requests to get recruiters to put me in touch with the relevant people have so far met with success. Which means I already have interviews of the non-consulting sort to look forward to, as early as tomorrow! Fingers crossed.

Not wanting to be outdone by DTLF, here are some song lyrics of my own that seem particularly fitting in these times of P4 madness, soul-searching and soul-selling:

Could you let down your hair
And be transparent for a while
Just a little while
To see if you're human after all
Honesty is a hard attribute to find
When we all want to seem like
We've got it all figured out

Well let me be the first to say that I
Don't have a clue
I don't have all the answers
Ain't gonna pretend like I do

Just trying - to find my way
Trying - to find my way
The best that I know how

Well I haven't memorized
All of the cute things to say
But I'm working on it
Maybe I'll master this art form some day
If I quote all the lines
Off the top of my head
Will you believe
That I fully understand all these things I've read

I'm just trying - to find my way
Trying - to find my way
Trying - to find my way
The best that I know how

Well I
Haven't got it all figured out quite yet but
Even if it takes my whole life
To get to where I need to be
And if I should fall
To the bottom of the end
I'll be one step back to you and

Trying - to find my way
Trying - to find my way
Oh I'm trying - to find my way
Trying - to find my way
  • "Trying" - Lifehouse

Mar 16, 2008

Finding Your Way Home

I've said it before and I haven't been the only one: INSEAD is a real roller-coaster ride of emotions. With so many new people to get to know, new concepts to grasp, new opportunities to explore, it's easy to get overwhelmed. It's also easy to lose yourself. Sometimes it's necessary to stake a step back, breathe deeply and re-evaluate. Just because you can do something doesn't mean you should. Just because radical change is possible doesn't mean radical change is the best thing for you. Sometimes incremental steps, while holding on to who you are, is the way to move forward.

Oh dear, that all sounds so deep and meaningful. Apologies.

Back to the fun stuff. I'm in a new house this period, a nice little chateau of my own, and I'm loving it. I'm surrounded by friends (who are all mutually stressing and helping each other out in this "winner takes all" period), trees, and a variety of wild animals. Life couldn't be better. Classes are also really interesting this period, and I wish I had some more time to spend on them. As mentioned by fellow blogger DTLF, the Psychological Issues in Management class is particularly... mmm... original. Love him or hate him, Bartolome is definitely a professor with a difference, and the content of the course is satisfyingly thought-provoking.

It's a rainy Sunday evening, and there's an eerie calm around the house - with a strong undercurrent of tension as we all rush to complete job applications. I'm thinking it's about time for a nice shared dinner and a movie, though, to top off the weekend before we're back in suits for yet more career networking starting tomorrow.

Mar 5, 2008

To Everything There Is A Season...

... And now is the season for recruitment. It is finally here, the reason we all did this MBA in the first place, the nerve-racking, nail-biting, ding-dreading countdown is upon us. Of course (and I'm not the only one), I have no clear idea of what I should be applying for, never mind what I actually would want to get. I have not started writing motivation letters. I'm already bored of company presentations and mindless networking chats. In fact, I'm in half a mind to throw in the towel and go work as a short-order cook on a beach in Jamaica.

But hey, despite all that, I'm feeling surprisingly chipper.

First, because it turns out I won't have to write a eulogy for DTLF after all. After a worrying absence, my dear blogging lyricist appears to be back online. Which means I have something to read again other than HBS cases.

Second, after a rather trying P3, a lovely break in snowy sunny Switzerland has restored my happiness meter back to a healthy level. Nothing like outdoor exercise, glühwein and good friends to catch that silver lining again.

Third, I'm pretty excited about my P4 courses. I will be taking Negotiations Strategy (first class today was fun, despite being lied to by my counter-party; not an ethics class, clearly), Industry & Competitive Analysis, Psychological Issues in Management, Political Risk Assessment & Management and Advanced Game Theory.

Which reminds me: I owe you all a recap of P3 courses. So here's my best effort (it's funny how a week's break seems to wipe the mind clean):

Macroeconomics (Loic Sadoulet): Yet another controversial offering, with some people loving this class and others... not so much. I personally liked it, even though it took a while for things to click. Perhaps a bit more quantitative backing would have been good, but overall a useful, instructive course.

International Political Analysis (Douglas Weber): A bit of a disappointment, this one. It was one of the courses I was most looking forward to (having long hesitated whether to go into Poli-Sci back in my previous life) but unfortunately the prof struggled to make this class relevant to business students. The most interesting part of the course was the student-led presentations, made particularly engaging by the international diversity at INSEAD.

Corporate Entrepreneurship (Michelle Rogan): A good subject to have on the menu, this class focused on how to ensure you had the right entrepreneurial culture within a large company to maximize growth. The workload was disproportionately high compared to the actual substance, though, and by the end of the 16 sessions we were all experiencing CE-fatigue. Perhaps this would have done better as a mini-class.

Strategies for Product & Service Development (Jürgen Mihm): A really fun class, taught by a passionate professor. The project for this class (generating an idea for and prototyping a new product/service) is a great exercise, and has you using skills and neurons not usually called upon in other INSEAD classes.

Market Driving Strategies (Markus Christen): By far my favourite class at INSEAD so far. Markus is an amazing professor and also an amazing guy (big thanks goes out to him for helping us on our final L'Oreal project). The Markstrat game is intense, frustrating but ultimately lots of fun, and the lectures are also very instructive. This class reconciled a lot of people with marketing.

So, that's all from me for tonight, it's time to go drink and socialize with my new housemates (in my new house; more on that later). I will do my very best to post a bit more often this period, in between applications, interviews, classes and doubtless countless parties. It's a hard life, my friends, but someone has to do it.