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The professor moved his eyes across the amphitheatre, emphatically inviting us to approach the course with a “willing suspension of disbelief”.
Two hours into this three-hour course, I was still pondering his exact meaning. What did he mean by “willing suspension of disbelief”?
Was I to disbelieve the teachings of my professors? He seemed to be implying something deeper than the classic “don’t take things at face value” or the “don’t take my word for it, try it out for yourself” arguments I had heard so many times before that they werewas starting to seem like pedantic tradition.
I soon forgot his profound question, quickly being consumed by the MBA way of life. It truly is a way of life, as those things that used to seem very important (such as direct deposit) have now become meaningless in my life (I now have no income, eliminating the need for direct depositing).
The intense work load materialised immediately. Period 1 at Insead, affectionately known as P1 and the first out of five academic periods, encompasses core courses in Prices Markets (translation: microeconomics), Data, Uncertainty, Judgment (translation: statistics) and Financial Markets Valuation (translation: finance). P1 and P2 are meant to establish the core competencies of an MBA, while P3 to P5 provide the opportunity to choose electives in areas of interest.
The first week can be described with only one word: chaos. After my small victory of deciphering the course titles, I then set out to attack the pre-readings, problem sets, case studies, constructions of balance sheets and income statements and team assignments.
Insead has an immense number of speakers who come on campus to give presentations. Without doubt, I could expect there to be a speaker every night, sometimes two or three to choose from, presenting in different amphitheatres around the school. In the first week alone, there were five or six presentations I was interested in attending, (whether it was a seminar on career self-assessment, a topic discussion on “Micro-financing for Emerging Markets” or a presentation by the president of a local private equity firm).
The social circle at Insead also seemed to develop overnight, with invitations for a karaoke night, a ladies’ night and a Turkish and Greek barbecue in the first week alone.
Insead has two campuses: Fontainebleau, France, and Singapore. Those of us that chose Singapore are part of a class of 150 students, compared with the more than 500 intake at the Fontainebleau campus. The smaller number enables us to do such things as grilling food for 150 over a single BBQ pit. Being in Singapore in the early part of the year also allows us to expand our social calendar to more sports events, such as the increasingly popular Saturday volleyball games at Sentosa, an island off the coast of Singapore.
All of these contribute to the Singapore campus being dubbed title of “Club Med”. While I am quite fond of the nickname, I can assure you that although the veneer may appear like Club Med, it is the most hectic resort I have laid eyes on.
After the first week, which was as slow as molasses in humid Singapore, the time flew by. Before I had even bought my corporate finance book, Insead was already giving presentations on campus exchange options.
The school offers the chance to switch from the Singapore campus to the Fontainebleau campus for P3, P4 or P5 (or even all three periods if one chooses to), and also offers a chance to study at Wharton in the US for P4 or P5, through the Insead-Wharton Alliance.
Time continued to pass quickly, with final exams looming in our minds. The pace of the courses did not lessen, the numerous campus presentations did not cease, but by the end of the period, we started to make sense of it all. We began to understand Insead’s strategy (with some help from our “seniors”, the current P3s), in which Insead purposely overwhelms its students with too much to do in too little time.
It is structured in this way so that no one can do it all and so we learn the art of balance and prioritisation.
The coursework became more bearable, the presentations more enjoyable and at the end of the P1 courses, it finally made sense. My “willing suspension of disbelief” is exactly what got me through the first term and it is exactly what has made it so enjoyable.
I have indeed learned concrete business concepts, but I have unexpectedly picked up something more. Yes, I have learned to use the capital asset pricing model to evaluate the pricing of risky securities, and yes, I have learned how the F-test – atest statistical test – can tell me if my regression model has any hope at all. But I have also discovered that I now use these concepts in ways that completely surpass business applications, whether I consciously try to or not.
I never imagined for example that I would watch a basketball game and explain to my fiancé that if the coach had only understood the economic theory of absolute and comparative advantage, he would have played Robinson at centre instead of forward, and they would have won the game.
I never thought that my Insead experiences would lead me to the shores of Thailand to study the effects of the tsunami devastation where four of us would spend four days on market feasibility studies to evaluate long-term projects to benefit a small fishing village hit by the enormous wave. tsunami. And that we would do this using the exact concepts that only two months previously I would have thought were the title of a new movie, Opportunity Costs, or a famous rock band, The Modigliani Miller Value Proposition.
I await the next period with composure, partly because I have already deciphered the P2 course titles, but also because I know we have all been transformed into true MBAs.
We know we will continue to learn new concepts and theories, and even if someone could predict how we would be using them in the future, we would simply divulge our preference to “maintain a suspension of disbelief”.