Winning the War on Cancer

Great news! For the first time since declaring war in cancer in 1971, we are winning! So reports the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. My heartfelt congratulations and thanks go out to the myriad scientists, doctors, experimental patients, and others who have helped advance the art. Now is not the time to relent and pat ourselves on the back, though. Let's capitalize on the momentum and keep pushing!


Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow

I woke up this morning to a COLD apartment. I was so focused that I just threw on some warm clothes and immediately settled into job hunting activities. It wasn't until I received an email a couple of hours later that concluded with "Enjoy the snow!" that I pulled my nose up out of my computer and looked out the window. Sure enough, big flakes were falling and a light blanket was forming.

I made my way through the snow up to Poken's offices for a design session with the CTO and, by the time we finished, it was sunny and the snow was melting. Oh well, it was pretty while it lasted (see my facebook album) and now it's dry enough that I can go for a run. Tonight a few of us are going to get together to watch some American football, including my bowl-bound Rice Owls!


More Rankings

Business Week released its 2008 MBA rankings this week. They categorize schools as either US or ouside the US. IMD clearly falls into the latter category and was ranked #7, disappointingly down from #4 in 2006. Only one major ranking (the Wall Street Journal) remains this year. The WSJ ranked IMD #1 in the world last year; I hope we can keep our crown!


The Crying Game

Wow, this week was really intense. Electives were fantastic and collective anxiety about the future was at an all-time high. One elective, Managing Change, is already finished; we had it every single day this week. It took all of our theory and forced us to think more concretely about the actual tactics to use for effecting change in different situations.

Maury continued to challenge us with "name that tune/artist" at the beginning of each class. After successfully identifying Beethoven's Violin Concerto in D (but not successfully identifying the violinist--I guessed Itzhak Perlman but it was actually Jascha Heifetz), I was on a roll. The next day was an easy one with Paul Simon, although I didn't recognize the song. Yesterday opened with jazzy/bluesy guitar renditions of "Georgia On My Mind" and "Stairway to Heaven." It sounded like several guitarists playing simultaneously but the fret tapping sound indicated to me that it might, in fact, be only one person playing melody, harmony, rhythm chords, and walking base line on the same instrument. The only guitar virtuoso capable of such a feat that I knew of was Stanley Jordan, to whom I was exposed in 8th grade during my study of classical and contemporary guitar. Sure enough, Maury confirmed that it was he. So it was a good week for me in terms of music identification--now my final Managing Change paper will illustrate whether or not I learned about more than just music!

The Introduction to Advanced Group Dynamics elective is half finished now and has been a real emotional roller coaster. I am bound by confidentiality not to relay too much of what has happened there, but I can share that at least 20% of our class has broken into tears so far. Some of this comes from the open, honest sharing of feelings within our groups but much of it is channeled from outside emotions, especially regarding family life and the uncertainty of the future. Heavy stuff--and now I need to write a paper about it.


Electives and Beethoven

The first week of electives is halfway done and what a ride it has been. We are definitely back in "class" mode: reading cases late into the night, showing up on time to class, and throwing ourselves back into heated discussions. Well, some of us are, at least. Some, on the other hand, are checked out, arriving at class late and unprepared; I feel like only a subset of us have successfully re-engaged.

I try not to be resentful of the "slackers" but it slips out sometimes with snide remarks. Perhaps I'm the stupid one, clinging religiously to school rules and assignments while I neglect my career search. However, my intention in coming to IMD was to learn, not to "get a job." I'll be OK with continuing my career search into 2009 if it means I can focus more on the few weeks of learning opportunities we have left here.

And speaking of which, our classes have been really excellent so far. Global Strategy is taught by IMD newcomer Cyril Bouquet who will later be joined by IMD president John Wells. We have visited some interesting topics so far: how to choose the right internationalization strategy and how to build the best cross-border consensus in international M&A.

Managing Change has also been great. The first half of this course was taught by Anand Narasimhan, who used many movie clips to help illustrate techniques for creating a sense of urgency, building a guiding team, and defining an inspiring vision. Old favorite Maury Peiperl (whom we first met in Leading People in Organizations) is back now to finish up the course and focus on implementation. 

He began today's class, as he did in LPO, with a musical piece that he was able to tie into today's class objectives. I recognized it as I walked in as Beethoven's Violin Concerto in D--such a tour de force and one of my favorite classical musical works of all time.

A performance by Leonidas Kavakos with the Houston Symphony Orchestra first impressed upon me the incredible difference between classical music on CD and in the concert hall. The intensity of the piece was communicated not just by the sound waves coming from the 1692 "Falmouth" Stradivarius he plays, but also his body movements, breathing, and facial expressions. It was amazing.

Perhaps someday we too will be virtuosi of business--I'm working on it!


Back in Lausanne

My few days in NoVA were absolutely wonderful. The leaves were vibrant hues of red, orange, and yellow and the weather was a sunny 60+ degrees F. In addition to interviewing with a great company, I took some time to eat the types of food we don't really have in Switzerland (BBQ and lots of things with jalapenos!). Best of all, though, I spent some time with friends and loved ones, which was an excellent shot in the arm before this last home stretch.

Pictures of my time in the DC area are in my facebook album.

Today marked the start of electives. My lineup was Global Strategy in the morning and Managing Change in the afternoon. It was interesting to be back in class again, in groups of 20-40 instead of 4-5. It felt familiar--almost nostalgic--as we moved from reporting to executives to participating in case discussion.

Today I also received the worst grade I have received on any assignment all year on a paper I wrote for our Leadership stream a few weeks ago. In fact, it may be enough to knock me out of contention for a Distinction in Leadership at graduation. Although my first reaction to it was defensive, I have now poured carefully over the feedback and I recognize that my grader has made some excellent suggestions. Here, nearly at the end of a very intense year, I have learned a great deal but I still have so much more to learn. I will always have more to learn. Recognizing that, doing my best, and still seeking to learn and improve future performance will always be part of my professional life and my experience here at IMD has helped me practice it.


Positive Energy

Yesterday I spent all day interviewing with Positive Energy, a startup software company that helps residential energy users consume less electricity, natural gas, and other forms of energy. It's one of the few opportunities I've found that would really marry my passions for addressing the global energy challenge and innovating game-changing software.

Before the interviews even started, I had a good omen: The major tenant of the building where PE is located is Sparta, Inc., where my father spent much of his professional career designing LASER-based optical guidance systems. I haven't thought about Sparta in a long time and seeing its familiar logo (slightly adapted from when he worked there in the 80s) warmed my heart.

The interviews themselves went well. I had discussions with the CEO, VP of Product (to whom I would report), program/process manager, product managers for different products, and lead software engineer. The software engineer had his chocolate lab with him and he joined us for the interview, which I considered to be another great omen. Furthermore, PE's offices are within walking distance of the original Red Hot & Blue, one of my favorite BBQ joints of all time, even though now it's been overcommercialized and franchised around the country. The VP of Product took me out to lunch there, which further fostered the "good" feeling I have about this company.

The questions that came my way were very diverse: experiential, design thought exercises, brain teasers, and other funky, "out there" conversation catalysts. My impression after a very full day is that A. the company is really trying to hit it out of the park and significantly affect energy demand, B. the team is smart/high-end, and C. it seems like a good fit where my participation could create value for both the company and for myself.

Hopefully they will see things the same way. Even if they don't, however, I'm glad to know that such companies exist. As I've blogged before, I think the "solution" to the global energy challenge has to be one that also makes good business sense, otherwise it just won't be sustainable.

And speaking of the global energy challenge, Gore et al have already offered up a public "challenge" to the Obama administration: US carbon neutrality in 10 years! I love it! Nearly impossible, worthwhile challenges have always inspired me and I view the energy challenge as very synonymous with the space race of the 60s. "Why reduce energy consumption, streamline transmission, and produce energy from renewable sources? . . . Why does Rice play Texas? . . . We choose to achieve a carbon-neutral energy infrastructure within a decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard!" The stakes are higher in this challenge and I am committed to doing what I can to help ensure victory.


Washington DC is on fire. This town is ablaze with excitement after Obama's victory last night. I was too jet lagged to stay awake for all the returns but he was ahead when I nodded off. Mom woke me up just after midnight for his victory speech, which was inspiring. 

I like John McCain (although I liked him a lot more before he changed positions for this election) and I respect the hell out of his endurance as a POW. Palin kind of freaked me out, though, and I really think Obama sends the best signal worldwide about a change in stance for the US. I'm happy for the Obama victory and I hope he can live up ot the great expectations we all have for him.

I also hope that he will deliver on campaign promises about energy reform, which should benefit Positive Energy, where I am about to interview for a Senior Product Manager position!


Final ICP Presentation

Today we woke up early, hopped on a train to Zurich, and delivered our final presentation to our ICP client. Despite having only one week to prepare (due to scheduling constraints), the presentation went well and the client seemed exceedingly pleased. They took us out for a nice, long lunch on a hilltop overlooking Zurich and the atmosphere was very pleasant. One of our client stakeholders is a member of their Board of Directors and may invite us to make the presentation to their entire Board in December.

This project was, for lack of an eloquent descriptor, awesome. Four students from four different continents helped a global chemical manufacturer optimize its supply chain. Despite none of us having chemical industry experience or supply chain experience, we were able to identify and help realize over CHF 200m of value.

The best part of the project was that it soon became evident that the client's challenges weren't specific to supply chain; their real problem was change management. Our "solutions," helping them implement corporate initiatives in a globally decentralized organization with greater success, aren't particular to supply chain or the chemical manufacturing industry. The learning we took from this project can be applied across industries and functions and I'm sure it will be very valuable throughout each of our careers. Real world, real learning.

Similarly, I appreciated the opportunity to work with a small, very diverse group for an extended, multi-phase project with several deliverables. It was critically important to use each person's skillset in the most appropriate way, manage different individual priorities, and address both intra- and inter-group dynamics. I won't claim that we did everything perfectly but I do believe that we learned a great deal and improved a lot throughout the project. Again: real world, real learning.

Now, with the ICP behind me (sort of--there are still several wrap-up to-do items), I'm flying to Washington DC tomorrow for a final interview with Positive Energy. I'm excited to arrive just about the time that presidential election returns start rolling in. Go Obama, go Skelly, and no on Prop 8!



Happy Halloween (a little belated) to all! As many of you know, Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. I love putting a lot of effort into an inventive costume and having fun with others who have done the same.

This year my costume creativity was limited a little by lack of time (Our final ICP presentation is tomorrow!) and costume resources. In Houston I knew all the party supply and costume shops I could visit for specific costume elements. In Lausanne, though, I just haven't familiarized myself that well with the costume supply infrastructure yet.

So this year I resolved to make a costume given the constraint of using exclusively materials I already owned. This limited me significantly since I really don't have much in the closet I call an apartment. As I perused my wardrobe, however, I was inspired by my cold weather running gear: black and bright blue spandex. Hmm, I could probably do something with that. I ran a Google image search on "black blue spandex" to see which characters might employ similar outfits but I didn't find much. My best option turned out to be Nightwing, the superhero that evolved from Robin, Batman's sidekick.

I had no emotional bond to Nightwing, however, so I wasn't too keen on it. Looking at pictures of him on wikipedia, though, reminded me of another character to whom I did have a strong bond: Subzero of Mortal Kombat fame. Nick and I used to spend hours and hours playing Mortal Kombat on his Sega Genesis. My favorite character from the game was Raiden, but unfortunately my running clothes didn't look at all like his outfit.

So I went as Subzero, covering my face and head such that only my eyes were revealed. The Halloween party itself was pretty tame. The organizers did a great job of converting the IMD "dungeons" (where we spent most of our lives during the first part of the year) into  real dungeons. People got into it and it was fun to guess who was behind the costumes. My face covering forced me to drink through a straw all night, which made taking shots interesting, but I managed.

Still, I turned in by midnight--not exactly my Halloween party experience of yore! It's good that I did, though, as I was able to wake up early today, rehearse my ICP presentation, go for a run, and finish Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, which is my favorite of the books so far. Tonight I'll head to bed early again as we have an early train to catch to our client's headquarters in Zurich and I'd like to run through the presentation one more time before we leave.