Archive for the ‘MBA’ Category

HALO

November 5, 2008

Dawn is hours from breaking, and darkness shrouds a clouded sky. Put one foot in front of the other. Keep moving. Wake up!

“What the fuck, are you serious?”

A canvas of brittle, browned leaves blankets the trail, offering shelter to treacherous sinkholes and ankle-twisting branches. Put one foot in front of the other. Keep moving. Wake up!

“Why?”

Autumn’s chill sweeps down from the hills, carrying with it the scent of eucalyptus and memories of runs through this forest, lifetimes ago. Each breath lances the lungs. Each step jolts the spine. Each mile torments the legs. Put one foot in front of the other. Keep moving. Wake up!

“I don’t understand. I thought…”

Run like you love the pain. Run like you mean it. Run like your life depends on it. Run, for you have been asleep far too long.

“Thursday’s your day in the barrel.”

Three quarters past, at one of those forks in the decision tree so sharp that I can still feel the puncture wounds in my chest, I wrote this. Three event-filled quarters later, I find myself again at an eerily familiar fork, so I figured it was finally time to sit down and watch “Casino Royale.” Apropos.

“You don’t trust anyone, do you James?”

“No.”

“Then you’ve learnt your lesson.”

If only I would learn mine.

This is no magnum opus, nor much of a valedictory.  There is little left in me to commit words to print, save a vague sense of obligation, though to who or what, I know not. The ragged draft of a witty, bittersweet final post lays abandoned, consigned to the ether like so many other stunted pieces; and there shall it remain, for what is here has taken its place.

Nearly four months have passed since the end of my whirlwind year at INSEAD, and what better time to take stock of matters than now, after the famed “First 100 Days”? Thanks to Fates, Furies, or Pat Sajak and his Wheel of Fortune, I graduated amidst a six sigma market, am currently living a life punctuated by six sigma events, and am doing my damnedest to ride the sigma-squared in a quest for Veritas. Unfortunately, (or fortunately, depending on which side of the line-in-the-sand you stand) the Aequitas part will have to wait for Siddhārtha and his karmic cudgel to do what he does best.

I won’t squander this white space regaling you with reviews of star professors, summaries of must-bid classes, or tales of parties and weekend trips that have already faded into the annals; there are other blogs out there that do that much better than this one could ever hope to. Instead, I’ll use this last hurrah for a tad bit of reflection, in the form of incoherent fragments, as I’ve given up on weaving together some sort of readable narrative. Caveat emptor. YMMV.

Fragment –

If there’s one thing I wish I would’ve taken away from this year, it would be the ability to manage expectations.

Despite my inveterate cynicism, perennial bitterness, and outward projections of being Shiva the Destroyer and the Harbinger of Impending Doom rolled together in a sheet of filo dough, there was always a bit of me that offered shelter and safe harbor to that oh-so-fragile vessel, Hope.

Hope that things do work out, that people are good, and that truth and justice do exists. Storm’s a’ come, and the harbor don’t look so safe no mo’. There ain’t no silver linin’ on this cumulonimbus, either. If only I had listened to the weatherman and brought an umbrella, I might be a little drier, warmer and happier.

Folks, don’t go to business school and expect to find human goodness. If that’s what you want, I’d say you’re better off blowing your coin on a hillock of pura cocaína and taking your septum on a ski trip.

Fragment –

The MBA is not a panacea.

Not for work, not for life, not for love. It’s just a piece of heavy paper with a pretty stamp, along with a few gigabytes of pixellated memories on a hard drive tucked away somewhere – assuming you’re the camera-toting type – to be dusted off through the decades during hazy trips down memory lane.

If you’re taking a year off in hopes of executing some sort of quantum leap in your life, sit back and do some serious head scratching before you take the plunge. Oh, sure, it’s possible. There are cases abound of X’s contorting themselves into Z’s, ray-of-sunshine epiphanies, and disparate soul mates crashing together like neutrinos amidst the entropy, but these were exceptions, not the norm.

Detractors would argue that we graduated at a bad time, your year is what you make it, and that the learning and experiences are priceless paving stones on the path to self-betterment. Said detractors should: A) Consider a career in cobbling together smarmy Mastercard ads, and B) Blow me.

Fragment –

I pride myself on being a good judge of character, but somehow when it comes to my personal life and stock portfolio, all bets are off, and sense flies out the window.

“Real men don’t diversify,” a famous (male) INSEAD finance professor was fond of saying. I subscribe to this approach in investing and life. When I hit, I hit big, but when I miss… The problem is I never know when to realize my gains, or when to cut my losses. My gut and brain can be screaming “Left!” yet there’s always a part of me that never listens, and chooses instead to amble rightward, usually at the detriment of the other bits and leading to annihilation of the whole.

Fragment –

I’ve got a joke for you:

Q: What do you get when you throw a gaggle of highly motivated, morally bankrupt, alpha opportunists together in a city, add booze, and mix?

A: Some real ninja-like feats of deception, obfuscation and opportunism.You won’t see the caltrops until they’re buried in your heel, and that sharp, pokey feeling that’s tickling your gut? Oh, that’s just a katana running through your back. But don’t worry; it’s for your own good.

I remember coming across a post by an INSEAD blogger of yore about how the people she hung out with in P1 and who were her new BFFs ended up being more like KOS by P5. For this writer, it took until P7 for the Kool-Aid to wear off and the ninjas to be separated from the pirates, who in this strained metaphor, eye patches, peg-legs and all, are the good guys.

A hooked hand and a thousand thanks go out to the motley and unexpected INSEAD crew of the USS Cynic, for staying on deck and weathering the tempests, especially this last one. You have my gratitude and friendship for life, or for as long as you want it: Ahjuma, The Banker, Brownie, Double-D, Hence, JSoros, King Mufafa, NBP, Saigon, Two Pair, and the UEGA duo.

And to the OG’s, who I couldn’t have made it this far without, you already know that my hearth, home and black humor are yours: Architect, C-Mog, Dr. O, HapaD, Lucky Lindberg, Naia, Shay, Siren, Slutzky.

Fragment –

Coming into the year, I thought I’d learn a bit, mingle a bit and grow a bit, but I had no idea that the distribution of my experience would skew so heavily toward the latter.

I read an article once, about height discrimination in China and the lengths prospective job-seekers would go through to surmount this bias. The truly focused opted to undergo a procedure whereby their legs were broken and their bones forcibly separated by metal rods and made to heal between the gaps so that when the pieces finally rejoined, the person would be an inch or two taller than before.

Why anyone would voluntarily go through something like this is beyond me, that is until I look back at the thirteen months from August 2007 to September 2008, and realize, “Oww. My being hurts.” The repairs have only just begun, and I’ve got a feeling that the contractor may not be able to finish the job in time, if at all.


It has been a long, arduous climb, up and away from a year I never thought I’d want to forget. I stand at the pinnacle of this jagged crag, perched on the brink, arms wide, fists clenched and thumbs pointed skyward, gazing out on the vast expanse of white noise below. Maybe it will resolve into a stunning panorama of a bright future. Or perhaps it only serves to mask a black oblivion.

There’s the go signal. Time to find out. So long.

“Farewell to you and the youth I have

spent with you.

It was but yesterday we met in a dream.

You have sung to me in my aloneness,

and I of your longings have built a tower

in the sky.

But now our sleep has fled and our dream

is over, and it is no longer dawn.

The noontide is upon us and our half

waking has turned to fuller day, and we

must part.

If in the twilight of memory

we should meet once more, we shall speak again to-

gether and you shall sing to me a deeper

song.

And if our hands should meet in another

dream we shall build another tower in the

sky.”

-Kahlil Gibran

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Thursday July 10, 2008

July 10, 2008

03:20

It’s only fitting that I post whilst inebriated from the booze salad left in my apartment.  I’ve got one smoke left for tomorrow morning along with one jar of coffee, one box of sugar and one Coke for the road.

This is it; The End.  It really does feel like yesterday when I was packing vacuum bags full of crap that I thought I’d need in le France.  Who knew that I needed so little?  Who knew that I’d learn so much?

The valedictory will follow, as soon as I settle in to wherever it is that I’m headed.  For now, I thought this place deserved one last post.

INSEAD Class of J08, I miss you all aready.  Well, at least 10% of you.

Thursday June 12, 2008

June 12, 2008

It has definitely been a while, and my fingers feel it. Hell, your eyes feel it. Nothing’s really rolling off the tongue anymore. It’s kind of like stuffing your mouth full of cotton balls the morning after a real bender. Rough, a little dry and oh-so-sticky. But hey, some people like saltines. I’m more of a cream cracker kind of blogger though, so let’s get to it.

Given two decision trees, one with a 100% probability of a 2M Euro payoff, and the other with a 89% probability of 2M, 10% of 3M and 1% of 0, which would you choose?

The safe b-school versus the gamble? E(V) analysis? Gut feeling? “LBS vs INSEAD?”

I chose to roll the dice.

What’s that, you ask? What’d they come up with?

Well, I’m not sure yet, and I don’t know if I’ll honestly be able to answer that question for another five or ten years. Some fellow J08’ers have hit the seven, and then some. Others have rolled snake-eyes. Whaddya gonna do? We all chose to play the game, right? No one held guns to our heads and said, “INSEAD, or else.” Well, actually, in light of the crazy shit that goes down here, and the even crazier stories that my colleagues carry with them, I guess I can’t be so sure.

Tree

February 7, 2008

I am just a poor boy, though my story is seldom told.
I have squandered my resistance,
For a pocketful of mumbles, such are promises.
All lies and jest.
Still a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.

When I left my home and my family I was no more than a boy,
In the company of strangers,
In the quiet of the railway station, runnin’ scared.
Laying low, seeking out the poorer quarters,
Where the ragged people go.
Lookin’ for the places, only they would know.

Lie-da-lie …

Asking only workman’s wages I come lookin’ for a job,
But I get no offers,
Just a come-on from the whores on Seventh Avenue.
I do declare there were times when I was so lonesome,
I took some comfort there.
La, la, la, la, la, la, la.

(Instrumental break)

Li da li …

And I’m laying out my winter clothes, and wishing I was gone, goin’ home
Where the New York City winters aren’t bleedin’ me, leadin’ me goin’ home.

In the clearing stands a boxer and a fighter by his trade,
And he carries the reminders of every glove that laid him down,
Or cut him ’til he cried out in his anger and his shame,
“I am leaving, I am leaving.”
But the fighter still remains, still remains.

Lie-da-lie …

“The Boxer” – Simon and Garfunkel

——

Decorated Tree Liberation Front, it’s about damn time you got out of the way. After nine months of slogging through the morass of random text known as the internet (or this blog), I’ve finally become, uh, Reagent of the Mountain for the Google search term “DTLF”!

Woohoo!

I’m not sure which fairy godmother I should sprinkle angel dust on, or which golden alpaca statue I’m obliged to sacrifice a chicken to, but someone’s gettin’ something nice, in light of the search ranking progression and the fact that it’s now Thursday, which means that this crazy week is almost over.

One more giant project due on Friday for Market Driving Strategies, which requires all sorts of Excel wand-waving to conjure up some arcane revenue graphs, and tea-leaf divining to peer in to the murky future to determine our fictional firm’s fortunes, and then I’m free! Well, at least for a day, before I start thinking about all of the work I’ve consciously neglected for the past fortnight, and all the work that’s coming due in the next. But the work will get done. It always does, and you know it. That whole sleep thing, however, may be a problem.

02:21

Queue up another chicken.

Today is a new day.

P3 1/2

January 23, 2008

There’s half of P3 left. See, the glass can be half full. Actually, wait…

So we’ve got a “Macroeconomics in the Global Economy” quiz in a few hours. Our professor is a Frenchman with a US PhD and an accent that people generally find hard to place. It’s kind of a mix between Sylvester, Elmer Fudd, and Pepé Le Pew, if that makes any sense.

No? I didn’t think so either. His accent, combined with his manic level of energy and engaging personality make MGE one of the more interesting core courses (read: one in which there aren’t more than 3 sleepers at any one time), though the class’ placement in P3 makes it a tough sell, as there are so many other things going on, like the 3.14159 million electives with which we all loaded up . Was that one giant run-on, or just my serial comma fetish manifesting itself?

Electives are everything and nothing like I thought they’d be. The results of a very scientific poll that I conducted (ex. Q1: How bad does XYZ class/prof/workload suck?) are in, and half of all students in any one elective hate their class/prof/workload, while the balance won’t stop raving about how good life is. After all, electives are what we came here to for, right? I’m pretty content with my line-up, and can’t say it wasn’t what I expected. I’ve generally shied away from the oversubscribed (and over-hyped, in my opinion) courses and tailored my P3 towards subjects in which I have a real interest in A) learning about, B) working with/in, C) A&B.

But like all things INSEAD, there isn’t enough time to take everything I want to, so I’ve got to be picky and choosy about how I stack my P4 and P5 schedules so as to focus on classes/activities/people that I consider an important part of my INSEAD experience. I’ve already seen and experienced the results of what happens when you neglect any one of the three, and trust me, it’s not-so-nice.

Way to end on a high note, huh? Off to read about how an increase in government spending in a small, open economy affects the real exchange rate of the local currency.

d=1/u

December 16, 2007

In light of the looming Corporate Financial Policy exam tomorrow morning, I should really be concerning myself with the do’s and don’ts on how to create a replicating portfolio and how to derive the Black-Scholes Option Pricing Model with my right pinky while standing on my left foot. Instead, I’m replicating a Nutella & banana crepe, only without the delicious, fluffy crepe bit, and using two slices of taste-neutral toast instead.  OK, that was a stretch.  Give me a break; I’m busy plumbing the depths of my lungs for expectorant and probing the depths of my soul for another “Ah ha.”

I’ve already written off the Leading Organizations and Marketing exams, so effectively, in my head, there’s only one test left.  By that logic, I should be studying my heart out for finance, but I can’t seem to peel myself away from the television and the continuous loop of quasi-depressing news that gives CNN its flair.  If nothing else, it provides a pleasant British-accented (why do they only seem to have British accented anchors in Europe?) backdrop for the counterfactual history games that I’m playing in my head.

What if, instead of being typically taciturn, I had whispered a little louder?  What if, instead of expecting to be expected to be a mind reader, I had really listened?  What if I had taken a page from the playbook of a particular group mate of mine and learned to never know when to shut up?

What if my father had swallowed his pride and taken the money?  What if the Tet Offensive hadn’t succeeded in changing American policy towards the war?  What if my mother had just called it quits?

Well, then I probably wouldn’t be worrying about betas, deltas, and binomial trees.

“Better hit the saddle, ranger.  We’ll be late for lunch.”

-Gene Autry

El Toro

November 25, 2007

substance dulls the mind
traife wine clouds the heart
you can’t sew a stitch with one hand
while you’re taking it apart
bright lights make you blind
but they sure don’t leave you sharp
you can’t sew a stitch with one hand
while you’re taking it apart

-Matisyahu “WP”

Where do you draw the line?  How much (money, time, effort, blood) does it take to make it worthwhile?  Does the bar keep moving upward, or do you have to stop it somewhere?

We covered a short case in Leading Organizations the other day, which was based the real experience of a German INSEAD alum thrown into a unfamiliar, foreign culture.  Business as he knew it was turned upside down, and he had to adapt.   Starting with a business meeting on Saturday (god forbid), at a restaurant (gasp), with lots of drinks (now this is just “ridiculous”), our German colleague eventually got quite drunk (German? Drunk? Come on, now) and ended up in an amateur bullfighting ring, gored by a bull.  But he sealed the deal and ended up with a $3M USD sale.

That’s somewhat akin to what we’re going through now.  Exploration of boundaries.  How hard, how fast, and how far can you push yourself?

P3 is around the corner.  The year is almost half over.  What are we all here for?  Time to put up or shut up.

Game on.

Electives

November 19, 2007

P2 is halfway done, and the glass is half full? Oh god, how it pains me to type that. The latter bit, that is.

Bidding for our first elective courses starts in 8.5 hours, and I have no idea what I plan on taking. Finance with a dose of strategy? Media with a dash of entrepreneurship? Communications with a pinch of negotiations? Decisions, decisions. It’s almost like figuring out what I’m going to wear tomorrow, only not so bad.

INSEAD allots each student a pool of 200 points/year to bid for electives, campus exchanges and small furry rabbits. The system is based on a marginal bid structure, whereby the number of points you actually pay for a class is equivalent to the bid of the last person to enter the class. Say, for example, that there are 96 slots open for a particularly popular class. You can bid anywhere from 1 to 199, and if the the 96th slot gets in with a bid of 1, you only give up one point. Problems arise when people bid 1 for a not-so-popular class, expecting to be guaranteed a spot, only to find out that the winning bid is 2.

Whoops.

Since there are classes which are only offered in specific periods, on specific campuses, with specific star professors, you really have to map out the classes you want to take for P3, P4 and P5 ahead of time.

On that happy note, I’m going to go drink 4 liters of water to offset the half case of beer I just ingested.

Bon nuit.

Culture Shock

November 12, 2007

One of the things that make WordPress so great (shameless plug, woo ha) as a blogging platform is the ability to archive drafts. There’s a small library of scattered notes, false starts, half-finished posts and quarter-eaten bagels sitting in the back end of my blog, and what better time than now to clean them out, seeing that it’s 02:19 and I’m on campus hammering away at my CV which is due to be submitted to the gods at Career Services in 9.75 hours.

Isn’t that the best run-on you’ve ever seen, Mrs. G?

Below are a few notes, in italics, that I made sometime in June.  Though only five months have passed, it seems like eons.  The non-italicized font are my current thoughts.  As always, caveat emptor, especially in light of the time, and my near-depleted mental, emotional and physical batteries.

Culture shock curve

The following was cribbed from UNESCO and written for Peace Corps types going abroad for the first time.  I’m sure that it applies to INSEAD “participants” as well.

The curve of cultural adaptation during a medium or long-term stay abroad

You will not always feel the same way during the time of your stay. This is normal and would happen to you if you stayed in your own country as well. Every person is different and reacts in a different way; nonetheless there are some elements of a stay abroad that are experienced in a similar way by many people.

The following curve will cause stomachaches to scientists and other lovers of academic approaches but it is believed to be a useful indicator of the different phases of a stay abroad.

The hypothetical Curve of cultural adaptation during a six month stay abroad

When you first arrive chances are high that you will find everything very exciting, exotic and fascinating as if you entered a film. Everybody is nice to you and as a foreigner you are allowed to make almost any kind of mistake. This phase of initial euphoria may be more or less long according to how much the reality you find differs from what you expected.

After some time you will find that routine sets in your daily life. You get used to the street scenes around you and you more or less know the people whom you cross at work or in your free time. The touristic aspect of a visit to an exotic place gives way to your first frustrating experiences and incomprehension about people behaving the way they behave. Your counterparts are also not as willing anymore to forgive you all of your mistakes.

You are there long enough to generally know the place, but not long enough to have gained real friends or to feel at home. You see a number of behaviours that are unacceptable or at least strange for you and you cannot see the underlying value system yet. Culture is more than the sum of its visible and tangible elements (music, dance, cuisine, language etc). Many elements of a culture are invisible and it is not easy to identify the social, religious and historical factors that motivate them (use of space and time, taboos, beliefs and values). You feel a need to explain and defend yourself very often which is very tiresome and you feel bewildered by the way people communicate and act around you. You will experience a phase of “culture shock.” The experience of this phase again depends on many factors, such as how different the culture you are experiencing is from your own, your ability to express yourself in the language of the region and how much the people you are dealing with, know about your own culture. You will realise that you are under “Culture Shock” when you start feeling easily frustrated, you overreact and behave in a defensive way. You easily get the impression that all your problems are linked to the fact that you are abroad. The adaptation process to a foreign culture demands a lot of energy from you.

After the phase of cultural shock you enter a phase of acculturation and stability. You will gain more and more inside knowledge and understanding about the underlying mechanisms that influence the behaviour of the people around you; you will start being able to see things through their eyes. It does not necessarily mean that you agree with everything they do or that you change your own way of doing things completely. According to the intensity and duration of your stay and your own convictions, you will take over some of the things that you experience, while maintaining others from your own culture. You will disagree with some ways of living that you experience but you should aim at being able to understand why they developed the way they did.

If you stuck a piece of cultural litmus paper on my tongue, I’m fairly certain that it’d come back bright chartreuse, indicating, with 95% probability, a strong presence of Stage 3 Culture Shock.  Now to all my French friends and readers, this isn’t a slight on your culture, beliefs, heritage, lifestyle, race, creed, color, sexual preference, affinity for baguettes, etc.  so much as a commentary on the INSEAD bubble and all the madness that’s associated with acclimating to it.

I’ve lived through it, and think I can do it again, but can I? I was a lot younger. I’ve lived in other places, but I’ve always known people.

Well, a large part of the INSEAD experience is bonding with folks who’re just like you; thrown into the middle of a forest, be it made of wood in Fontainebleau or concrete in Singapore, and forced to figure it all out.  Exogenous shocks to stable systems  always make for a good time.  If you’re the type who can’t cope with inconsistent sleep, constant socializing, bricks of work in your backpack, implicit competition of a cut-throat variety and general madness, you may want to reconsider your choice of INSEAD as a school.  If, however, you thrive on structured chaos, this is the place for you, though I think it does help to be younger and more malleable.

What happens when you mix attractive, scathingly intelligent, articulate, world-hopping people, with a 3:1 M:F ratio, lots of booze in a strange environment? I think I’ve seen this movie before, and it wasn’t in the Disney section.

Exactly what I thought would happen.  For those with access, just take a look at the pictures on Facebook.  For the less fortunate, do the math; it’s not so hard.  As other bloggers have written so eloquently on this subject, I’ll leave you, dear reader, to peruse their posts on your own.

How important is physical fitness during the year, especially with a diet of nothing but booze and butter?

There’s a gym on campus?

Vinieron, Fueron

October 24, 2007

“A monopolist (INSEAD campus bar) faces the following demand curve (perfectly inelastic) for beer at 12:00 noon on the day of the last exam:

Qd=16,837+56P

Please calculate the profit maximizing and revenue maximizing quantities.”

Yes, that’s right; the slope is positive. If you’re a P1 and actually caught that, your 50K Euro have been well spent.

By the look of euphoric, rapturous, orgasmic joy on students’ faces at noon today, you’d think that England won the World Cup or something. INSEAD should really schedule  the Open Days for new and potential admits on the last day of P1 every year. They’d have no trouble convincing the “I’ve got to choose between LBS and INSEAD” crowd to plunk down their deposit. Immediately. In cash.

The bar area was so full that it wasn’t possible to walk through to get to the cafeteria. I ended up swinging a wide arc around the smokers’ patio and going through a side door in order to get lunch. On a regular day, you might see a few small groups sitting around, chatting over the thimble-sized drafts the bar has on offer. This afternoon, I don’t think I saw anyone with anything smaller than the cannonball-sized goblets that they keep on hand for occasions like this. I swear, these things are the size of a small child’s head.

So yeah, for you “academically oriented” folks out there who’ve heard rumors about INSEAD being a cake walk, rest assured; it’s not. The exams are long, tedious, spleen-grinding affairs that are as much a test of your grasp on the material as a test of your stamina. I’m certain that part of the reason so much beer was consumed today was not because people were thirsty or wanted to drown their sorrows, but rather because we’d had every drop of life sucked out of us over the past 3 days and needed something to fill the void.

But let’s not talk about tests. There’s a whopping 4-day break (inclusive of a 2-day weekend) ahead of us where we have no work….No, wait, we do! Yay! So those of you who are going to Barcelona, Morocco, Rome, Pakistan and various bits of France, don’t forget to bring your case reading that’s due on Monday!

Bon voyage.