Tag: strategy

A top-tier Block One experience: Baking to learn strategy

Blink and you’ll miss it. That’s Block One – finished! I am still asking myself: “Where did the time go?”. We all put in a lot of hard work studying, but it is not only about the academics, there have been many skills to learn along the way, and the Cass Full-time MBA has a few unexpected ways of teaching those skills to us …

1. The Great Cass MBA Bake Off

For our Strategy module, we step outside the classroom for a baking competition. Yes, you read that correctly. We have been given all the ingredients, now it’s up to us to put them together and make something from them.

This is the general idea at least. In practice, we are given too many of some ingredients, too few of others, and no recipe. We can seek advice from others, including a professional (though we would need to sacrifice some ingredients in exchange), and we can try to find additional ingredients and barter with the other teams.

An hour is a very long time to prepare a cake batter usually, but it feels much shorter when you do not know how to do it. So, this is where the skills come in, assessing what we need to do and how we can go about solving it.

We have:

  • Various ingredients, including lots of raisins;
  • Some vague memories of watching the Great British Bake Off – Cake Week;
  • Even more vague memories of watching family members bake cakes;
  • Seven people determined to bake the best cake Cass has ever seen.

I think it was the last asset that made the biggest difference. However, using all of these we worked out what type of cake we thought we could bake, what ingredients we didn’t need, what ingredients we did need and how to acquire the missing ingredients. There was just one thing missing – we weren’t 100% sure how much we needed of each ingredient, though we were sure it needed to be precise.

A key skill in teamwork is identifying expertise, and if you don’t have it within the team, seeking it out. We worked out the most valuable question we could ask, gathered up our spare ingredients to pay with, and spoke to the baking professional. Her guidance on quantities was the final piece of the puzzle. The team rallied together, furiously mixing ingredients, and writing out baking and decorating instructions.

 

I don’t know if Paul Hollywood would have given us a handshake, but happily our vision for a spiced fruit cake worked in the eyes of the judges.

2. Integration Week

We have been given all the ingredients, now it’s up to us to put them together and make something from them.

Hold on … I think I’ve heard that before … it sounds so familiar.  And it is. Except that instead of flour, sugar and raisins, we had Strategy, Accounting and Organisational Behaviour.  The team is given a consulting-style question on Monday and have to present the solution on Friday, using the knowledge learnt in the modules in Block One.  So, by the time the details have all been confirmed, we have three and a half days to identify the problems (there is never just one!), come up with options, pick one option as the ideal solution, explain how to implement it and its effects, and present.

The techniques to successfully complete this challenge were not so different from the Great Cass MBA Bake Off.  We had already picked our team coordinator (we choose a different team member for each project), and in the course of our research it quickly became clear which topic each team member would specialise in.

We came up with a plan, always making sure we were answering the key questions, challenging each other the whole time, so that when we presented, we could be confident and know that we could answer almost any question asked by our professors because we had asked it of ourselves.

3. Sandhurst

After Integration Week we all need a bit of fresh air and activity, which was ideal as we were off to The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst for three days. We were put into new teams and given new challenges, focusing on teamwork and leadership.

Understanding where the skills of our team lie was crucial during every challenge. Some of the challenges were practical, hands-on challenges, so it was the team members with good hand-eye coordination and balance, or strength and speed, who led us successfully completing all the challenges.  Some of the challenges were problem-solving, so our team members who could riddle out a puzzle led the way there.

But then of course there were the challenges that involved both the mental and the physical. On our last day we had a race, a bit like a mini-assault course. It poured with rain the whole time, but I have to say, the rain made it all the more enjoyable! The challenges round the course required us first to work out how to do it (cue puzzle team members) and then actually do it (cue hands-on team members).

One of the challenges was moving a ‘Tower of Hanoi’ – simply put, you have a tower of pots on top of each other, getting smaller as it goes up, and you need to move the tower from one spot to another. However, there are only three spots you can place a pot, you can only move one pot at a time, and a big pot cannot go on top of a small pot. A member of our team had seen this puzzle before, so with their guidance on what to move where and when, the other members formed a tag-team, sprinting in and out moving the pots one by one, so as soon as one person got back, the next person was off! The whole team pulling together.

I think the ‘Before and After’ photos for our time at Sandhurst speak for themselves.  In the ‘After’ photo, we may be muddy, soaking and exhausted, but we are wearing smiles even bigger than the ones in the ‘Before’ photo.  I expect this transformation will not be unique to Sandhurst during our MBA.

Rhiannon Ludlow
Full-time MBA (2019)

 

Chat with Rhiannon on Unibuddy to find out more about the course.

From Wardroom to Boardroom – Lessons in Leadership

“CEOs exist to LEAD, not MANAGE Companies”. Such words couldn’t have rung truer during the recent Cass Business School MBA strategy lecture with guest speaker Mr. Federico Minoli.

The former Chief Executive Officer of the esteemed motorcycle brand, Ducati Motor Holding S.p.A – Mr. Minoli played a decisive role in steering the company from the brink of bankruptcy to setting the foundation for Ducati to enjoy sustained, superior growth in 2001.

Key facets of Mr. Minoli’s management doctrine include, but are not limited to, leading with passion, a strong focus on research and innovation, along with an indomitable spirit to continually challenge existing paradigms. However, the key message of this briefing was that an organisation’s external growth is predicated on the fostering of a strong, unique company culture first.

Introducing General Holland Smith 

True to the overall Cass  ‘Leading the Adventure’ slogan, Mr. Minoli’s message and his leadership style recalls me to the four year contract I recently served as an officer in the US Navy.

As a veteran making the transition from the ‘Wardroom to the Boardroom’, Mr. Minoli’s experience and his message to the Cass MBA class shares various aspects with the leadership lessons of General Holland Smith.

General Smith

General Smith is revered in the Marine Corps as the ‘Father of Amphibious Warfare’ – bringing the US Marine Corps its own unique identity in the face of change and uncertainty during the Second World War.

General Smith grew as a passionate and committed leader within the ranks of the Marine Corps, during a time when the US Armed Forces were dominated by the ‘flag ranks’ of both the US Navy and the US Army.

These in turn viewed the US Marine Corps as a secondary, subordinate branch. General Smith challenged this subordination of the Marine Corps through not only his relentless advocacy for marines to lead amphibious assaults on foreign shores – but also through his strong demeanour, wherein he fostered a culture of intensity, motivation and camaraderie among the marines he led.

Whilst this aggressive advocacy and ‘unconventional’ strategy ruffled many feathers within the senior ranks of the navy and the army, these traits won General Smith the blessing of Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz to create an ‘Amphibious Corps’.

This in turn helped the Marine Corps grow into a military branch of its own – with its own distinct leadership and organisational culture that in turn is centred on an overall strategy of taking any fight to the shores of enemy nations.

Although marines in modern America come from all backgrounds, ethnicities and cultures – they distinguish themselves every day through a commitment to the mission of the Marine Corps and a fierce loyalty to their brothers and sisters in arms.

Ducati’s ‘turnaround’ artist 

Similarly, Mr. Federico Minoli turned Ducati from a brand on the brink of bankruptcy within the motorcycle industry into a key player, with approximately ten per cent of the global market share at the time he left Ducati.

Whilst Ducati as a company was never lacking a strong product, the company in the past did not properly develop the brand image. Mr. Minoli decisively changed this for the better through the introduction of his ‘tribal’ company culture. Mr. Minoli envisioned the product of his company – the Ducati motorbikes as a ‘totem’, which would unite all the company’s customers through their loyalty to the Ducati motorbike.

Similar to the culture fostered in the US Marine Corps through General Smith – members of the Ducati ‘tribe’ come from all cultures and backgrounds, but are united in their passion for Ducati’s unique motorcycles.

These ‘tribal’ changes extended to the management ranks of Ducati – wherein motivation and a passionate commitment to the Ducati brand became traits that were screened in the hiring of potential managers.

This change in the management culture not only created a fierce loyalty to the company, but also empowered managers to serve as catalysts for positive change within Ducati. This in turn empowered employees of all ranks to work to become a part of something bigger than themselves.

Mr. Minoli’s strategy enabled Ducati to maintain its brand identity after it was acquired by Volkswagen Group in 2012. Despite being considered as an ‘underperforming’ brand by the company and talks of sale following Volkswagen’s diesel emissions scandal in 2015, Ducati has successfully proved its resilience to forced external changes through the strength of the ‘Tribal’ culture developed by Mr. Minoli.

This overall message of building a strong internal culture in order to grow an organisation is not a novel, nor a groundbreaking concept in the context of an MBA education.

However, as MBA students at Cass Business School, the examples and the legacies of both these outstanding leaders will continue to inspire my classmates and me to be catalysts of positive change as we enter the business world as leaders.

Written By: Oliver Yogananthan
Edited By: Bilal Ahmad, Nathan Griffiths, Cai Ling Soh and Tom Wooltorton.

Submitted on behalf of the Cass Full-time MBA class of 2018

Ready, set…GO! The Cass MBA commences

Two months ago, I had the scariest dream I have had in years. I had started the Cass Full-time MBA and it was time to pick groups for our first group assignment.  And like the infamous PE (or gym) class nightmare, I was the last to be picked.

I woke up shaking. Halloween had nothing on this dream. Happily, I can tell you that this dream did not come true!

In fact, it’s been quite the opposite.

Learning how to learn

Here we are at the end of our first month and it’s been a pretty intense period.

For most of us, it has been five to ten years since we last stepped into a classroom. So even though we’re familiar with the rigours of work we’re a bit out of practice when it comes to lessons and homework.

To help with our learning, we had a session in our first week on how to speed read and how to improve our memory. For our studies, we worked on mind maps, linking each branch to the one before, adding quick pictures in to help.

We have been given lots of advice on how to economise our time over the coming year, so we can fit in lectures; networking events; careers research and preparation; and of course reading and assignments.

Some of this means a bit of multi-tasking and everyone has different ways of using their time as efficiently as possible. It is early days, so I am still trying things out to see what works best for me, but so far, the gym and the train have been definite winners.

When I grow up, I want to be a leader … and a follower

Another big focus has been teamwork. After brainstorming the differences between managers and leaders, between strong teams and weak, we were given a challenge to put what we had said into practice.

These are all the things we had listed as important qualities of effective teams:

  • Buying in to a common goal;
  • Mutual respect and trust;
  • Communication;
  • Listening;
  • Support;
  • And, if possible, fun!

Our challenge was hands on: building a construction out of newspaper, tape and six coffee cups. Never have so many adults been so eager and competitive to get a ping-pong ball from one corner of a table to the other as slowly as possible.

(I am happy to say we managed it in the slowest time of 9.59 seconds–well done team!)

Now we’re starting our first Strategy team projects, so it’s time to put these skills into practice!

Starting off with a bang

As part of our careers induction, we have done a lot of work on ourselves and our presentation skills. Much of it was about confidence, identifying our strengths and weaknesses and understanding the audience we are presenting to.

Of course, we had to resist the temptation during a presentation to look down at your notes for a prompt, just to remind yourself what your name is.

We were given the task to start the presentation and introduce ourselves with a bang – cue writer’s block!  There were a lot of nerves in the room, but once one of us had presented, then another, then another, it became clear that it wasn’t so scary.

It didn’t matter if we lost our train of thoughts, our groups would be supportive and the higher the fear hurdle, the louder the applause.

We are now a couple of weeks into block one and my nightmare from months ago never came true.

In its place are the friendliest cohort I could have hoped  to be working and studying with. We had a great barbecue and are enjoying getting to know each other.

We all know the coming year is going to be hard work, but we have been given every tool to achieve the best we can. Now it’s time to use them.

Rhiannon Ludlow
Full-time MBA (2019)

Chat with Rhiannon on Unibuddy to find out more about the course.

 

Roar of approval for Dublin MBA consultancy week

Right at the end of the core components of our Full-time MBA, our entire cohort went off to Dublin to complete our International Consultancy Week in early April. I think many would agree with me that this was one of the most pleasant experiences of our MBA so far because it was the perfect setup for so many reasons.

First of all, unlike most of our coursework, we got to choose the project we’d be allocated to according to our top four preferences. This was an opportunity for us to find areas of personal interest but also to reflect on what our own unique strengths were, ensuring we’d be choosing a project we could contribute to the most. It wasn’t surprising at all that HouseMyDog  was one of the most popular choices.

A start-up platform business that connects dog sitters and carers to dog owners, HouseMyDog is representing the kind of digital innovation and changes in business models we have discussed throughout our MBA right from day one in our strategy course.

Combine that with dogs and you have a winning formula to attract keen MBA students ready to leave their mark and contribute to a growing business. Being a dog lover myself and having also worked occasionally as a dog-sitter using a similar platform in London, I was keen to learn more about the differentiating factors of this business and what they saw as their formula to success.

Putting this aside, the project brief also outlined an early stage growth strategy in Germany which suggested my German background may be of some use here. Although several other projects caught my interest, I was delighted to find out I had gotten my first choice in the end.

Even better was discovering who my team mates were. Even though we hadn’t chosen each other, it almost felt like it when I saw the list. By the end of our core modules, we had pretty much worked in one project or another with almost everyone on the MBA and also had developed a good understanding of everyone’s skills and personalities.

There were people I naturally  gravitated towards and many others whose talents and qualities I had discovered through the team working process. Varun and Vicki had both been in my block 1 and 2 team which was where most people had developed the closest bonds due to the intensity of the work and the sudden change that had hit us all at the beginning of the MBA. I knew that my block 1 and 2 team was a strong performing team with a successful track record throughout.

Betty and James were both part of my team during our ‘Achieving Your Potential’ professional development training at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst which was the most physically challenging outdoor aspect of our MBA and these two helped and supported me through it. I knew I could not only trust all of these people but I looked forward to working together in this new constellation.

The project started with us getting in touch with Santi, one of three Cass professors who were our mentors for this project and spent the week in Dublin with us. Communication with James, the CEO of HouseMyDog, started via email to get some hints on how to prepare ahead of our stay.  We began with basic market research around the pet care industry in the UK and globally.

Once in Dublin, we met James in person on Monday and were given some space within the Huckletree coworking facility where HouseMyDog were based (in case you wonder: no, there were sadly no dogs). James introduced us to his team and ran us through a presentation of the company. It’s right then that we understood how small this company still was and how our own contribution through this project could make a real difference to them. James emphasised this wasn’t just a school report; our findings would be really valued and put to use in the company’s growth strategy going ahead.

At the beginning of the week, we had a brief discussion around the bigger aims of the consultancy project. Throughout the week, those aims were broken down further with a clear set of deliverables that we’d have by the end. The project had to fulfil James’s expectations but also our criteria as a project that was part of an academic course. It was a hectic week for James, still he found the time to answer any of our queries and give us feedback through the process.

At the other end, our mentors were available to us every day to discuss the progress we had made and make sure that we hadn’t gone off-track;  the objective professional perspective was very helpful and Santi did a great job at guiding us within the path we had chosen, leaving us in control.

On the final day, we presented our findings to James. Even though we had worked on this for the entire week, I was still surprised at how it all came together in the end with contributions from everyone in the team neatly captured in the final presentation (which was largely a product of Betty’s great visual presentation skills). James’s overwhelmingly positive feedback was an extremely satisfying end to our week’s work and we proudly took home our HouseMyDog t-shirts.

Apart from working on the project, there was also plenty of time to enjoy the last occasion our entire cohort would be together. Dublin offered plenty of opportunities to get a drink and it didn’t always have to be a Guinness (although it often was). After Sandhurst, this was the second time we all spent days together in the same hotel. While at Sandhurst, we were still finding out a lot about each other and it was time to perhaps mingle with people we hadn’t had the opportunity to with, yet here in Dublin, we were just enjoying each other’s company, completely at ease with each other.

One afternoon, we were also taken on a tour of Howth peninsula and Malahide Castle. It was interesting to experience everyone’s perception of that too. Having grown up in Germany myself, I have visited large castles but also smaller ones that may look more like a luxurious large-size villa. Malahide Castle is not imposing in size but steeped in its long history including claims to possibly possessing the oldest chair in Ireland. Hearing about the losses during the Battle of the Boyne especially caught my interest, given I only recently revisited this part of history for my Life in the UK test.  The visit was a welcome break for everyone to replenish and get to know Ireland a bit more beyond the city centre of Dublin.

The whole project didn’t end in Ireland. Once back in London, we had another month to prepare our final report to the company. Largely based on the work we did in Dublin, it gave us some more time to reflect on the experience and the knowledge gained, and compile it all in a clearly structured report which we could be confident would make a positive contribution to the company.

Overall, the International Consultancy Week was such an uplifting and unique immersive experience contributing to HouseMyDog, an exciting start-up with so much potential, working alongside a group of people I respect for both their personal and professional qualities.

Full-time MBA (2018)

No rest for the wicked MBA students

Anyone who worked in Foreign Exchange as sales or trading on a markets floor will know that once you’re in it, there’s no break.

From the New Zealand Open, on what is Sunday evening European time to the final closing on Friday evening, you live and breathe FX —alert to all and ready to react. On the weekends, you’ll be following the news on anything that might trigger a market gap open. And you’re loving it!

People like me are picking up the phone (yes, phones!), heart-rates soaring, shouting over each other to emphasise the importance of our client and deal. But the world I described is without a doubt rapidly moving towards extinction as technology takes over and reaches new efficiencies. It’s good that way and a reason why I’m doing an MBA.

But I’m unashamed in saying that for many years, that world and its people were my biggest love, passion and pride. One privilege that I gained working up the ranks was that by the time I became a senior team member, I could leave the juniors to hold the fort between Christmas and New Year to switch off during that short window when the FX market allowed itself to go to sleep.

I don’t mean not going to the office. I mean completely switching off, following no news and having no idea where FX rates were —World War 3 could have broken out without me knowing it. Those were the days where my biggest achievement would be rolling out of bed to take my dog on a long walk.

This Christmas, as a Full-time MBA student at Cass, I looked back to those days with nostalgia. Because while life as a Cass MBA student may not require the sort of alertness that makes you bark out prices at a moment’s notice, it also doesn’t let you switch off. Ever.

The most obvious element dampening Christmas is the lingering dark cloud of exams.

Can I step forward and use this as a public forum to express my grievance at exams being scheduled on January 3rd and 4th?

Yes, we had six exams over two days with just over two weeks since the last day of university attendance. You can only believe someone high up hates us and wants to see us suffer. Or is this another attempt to challenge us and train our perseverance?

My suitcase that should have been filled with Christmas gifts was a carefully crafted exercise of figuring out which textbooks and notes were worth taking up the weight. Moaning didn’t help either as all I got from my mother was “I don’t know why you do these things to yourself…” followed by a deep sigh as if I was the one who was spoiling Christmas for her. My stoic uncle only remarked how all exams in his PPE degree at Oxford followed the holidays to keep students on their toes and years later now, not being the one taking them, approving of this method of discipline. No sympathy here.

So all I could do for some comfort was to turn to my fellow classmates, many of whom collaborated on exam preparation. I did partner up with my closest classmate to prepare for Strategy and had a couple of others who taught me how to get through the Analytics for Business once I was back in London. Without any results yet, I don’t know how successful their effort was but, whatever the outcome, I thank them for their patience in teaching this girl who’s allergic to the word statistics.

While that’s the immediate concern, there’s also the Strategy project that’s increasingly nudging and poking us from November onward. Unlike most of the projects I’ve worked on, this project forced us to face the outside world putting our networking skills to the test to source a business that wants to do a consulting project with MBA students. At the onset, the Strategy project is just another analysis piece set in the real-world.

We quickly realise that the biggest task and challenge lies in the first step of convincing that one company to work with us. Panic spreads in the first week of December as many face rejections which may be better than the lack of response from companies others experience. We had to prepare how we would approach businesses and how we wanted to present ourselves. I prepared a Power Point presentation outlining our project including short bios of all our team members which I sent out to companies who showed the first signs of interest.

Myself and my team were lucky enough to have narrowed it down to two good potentials by early December, providing enough meat for the first monthly report due on December 10th. The monthly reports, separate from the final report and analysis, are a good way to feel that constant pressure on our back.

After briefly exhaling having submitted our first report, we reminded ourselves to keep the communication with the companies alive because they couldn’t care less about our monthly report deadlines. And then we started counting. It’s five weeks until the second monthly report is due but in two weeks it’s already Christmas and no one does anything that week. And then we had exams and who was going to do anything in the first week of January anyway? So we really only had three weeks to create anything meaningful; two weeks in December and one week in January.

We got in touch with those companies again,  politely courting them and slowly pushing them towards commitment. Of course they have actual work and may be planning the biggest shop opening of the year just when you think you only have three weeks to achieve anything.

How many emails are too many? What exactly do they have to say so that you are sure of their commitment? When do you press for next steps? All of these things went through our mind during the cheerful Christmas period. And before anything is done, it’s Christmas and the corporate world comes to a standstill. And all we could think of was that we now only had one week to get anything done before that second report.

In the midst of all of this, I was reminded that the deadline to submit my electives choices— that will determine all the things we do beyond Easter —was also on January 2nd. You panic some more because it hits you how two of your four core module blocks are already over and you’re nowhere nearer knowing what you really want to do. You also know that the electives build on what you’ve learnt in the first two blocks and while you’re leaning towards the topics that you really enjoyed in the first two blocks, you also think about the many things you might be missing out. You don’t know yet what Marketing or Corporate Governance is like as those core courses haven’t even started yet.

Some consider committing to a concentration which then limits but also guides your electives choices. I intentionally went against that because I wanted to leave myself free to any option that I found genuinely interesting. In the end my choices were a colourful mix across disciplines just as I expected.

My international elective will take me to Israel and Palestine, a learning experience I’ve been already excited about even before the MBA started. Once in the middle of Block 3, I changed one of my electives as my first experience with Marketing made me quickly realise the subject wasn’t for me. So although there’s a soft deadline on submitting your electives, the truth is that there’s still some flexibility around that if you ask Tony Whiteman, our course officer, really nicely.

So, here we are. Exams, Strategy project and electives. Anything else? Oh, yes, the Business Mastery Project, the Cass MBA’s equivalent of a dissertation. Similar to the Strategy project, around Christmas, it’s more of a approaching danger, like a stampede you see forming on the horizon heading your way with definite certainty.

The first deadline on March 16th is for the submission of my academic proposal. Ideally, at this point you already have an idea and a supervisor.  To have an idea that’s valid enough to submit, you better have done some initial research beyond just having a vague notion of it in your head, to at least convince yourself that it’s viable before you go and convince others such as your potential supervisor. While most will go ahead and use this opportunity to add another strong credential to their CV, gaining industry knowledge and valuable connections in that universe, others take this unique opportunity to follow a personal interest.

I may be the only one among my cohort whose chosen that path, as far as I know. I’m looking to combine my MBA learning with my passion in creative writing (which lead to my previous MA), researching the changes in revenue models for authors stemming from the digitalisation in the publishing industry. I started to have an inkling about this in November and tentatively mentioned a much broader and different version of this to my creative writing workshop group. All I knew then was that I wanted to work in publishing and working with authors. Very clear, I know.

Encouraged by their approval, I sporadically bounced the notion off a few other, including my MBA classmates. Articulating it to others and receiving feedback helped me define it further until I was ready to send an email to Paolo, our course director, who suggested Alessandro as a potential supervisor, on the basis that he recently co-authored an academic paper on digitalisation and Axel Springer. Being our Strategy project course lead, I knew I would love for him to be my supervisor therefore sent an email with the rough outline of my idea early January.

One email and one quick meeting later, my proposal reached its current shape and I am about to start the literary review thanks to his suggested readings. And somehow in this process, it’s already February 1st.

So while 2018 is almost by default a very ambitious year, there’s a reason why I actually don’t have any clear New Year’s resolutions. Because for New Year’s resolutions to happen, you need that little break in between to stop and reflect. No such option for Cass MBAs (if you do have New Year’s resolutions though, here’s some Cass advice on how to keep them alive beyond January). I woke up in September 2017 and I know already now that the next time I blink and open my eyes, it’s probably already August and I’m graduating.

 

Full-time MBA (2018)

The only way to do it, is to do it

“Which problem do you solve?”

This was the first question posed to the Cass MBA group on the Leading Digital Transformations elective as we began a week in San Francisco and Paolo Alto at the Stanford Design School. Problem-solving was a recurring theme as we met tech giants, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and Cass alumni from the San Francisco area. If you could find a need, and were passionate about finding a solution, the ‘design thinking’ approach taught at Stanford was a fantastic way of achieving your goal. For someone with a pure business background, the most counter-intuitive part of this approach was that even in Silicon Valley, you didn’t need to be a software engineer to succeed – design thinking is a state of mind.

This realisation of being able to make a difference no matter where you came from was greatly helped by the flow of this elective, which allowed us to get under the skin of what innovation in Silicon Valley and San Francisco is all about. My classmates and I attended a pre-travel class in London, Leading Digital Transformation which covered the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ of digital transformations. This gave us the foundations for what we were to see in California, where the all important ‘how’ was revealed through company visits and panel discussions.

We were extremely privileged to get access to such prestigious companies and to people who are leading digital transformations from the top of their fields. The business environment in Palo Alto and San Francisco was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced, with people being extremely open, honest and direct about their projects and experiences, which maximised the learning experience.

As the week progressed we met with exceptionally successful companies that are leading digital transformations both within themselves and for their clients. The problems they’re solving range from doing a single thing well – such as Intel with microprocessors – to developing a platform and ecosystem of partners to address a problem more holistically – like SAP and its connected car programme – and offering the entire end-to-end value chain both for internal business units and clients, such as at GE Digital. It’s clear this latest digital revolution isn’t about a single technology but an infinite combination of technologies, and is the reason why the business knowledge you gain from the Cass MBA programme allows you understand how these component parts can be combined to innovate.

Cloud computing, telecommunications and the Internet of Things are the core enabling technologies, and they’re being combined with artificial intelligence, virtual reality, augmented reality, 3D printing and others to solve business problems. The ‘old’ way of doing things, by making something incrementally better, need not now apply as these technologies let business people rapidly experiment with new ways of improving products, processes and services by orders of magnitude.

We saw this in action with Autodesk’s design software and 3D printing and Quid’s neural network search engine – you no longer need a PhD or computer sciences degree to digitally create or run complex analytics, the technologies to innovate and experiment are available to all.

The Silicon Valley Way is About Much More Than Just Technology

Having personally chosen this elective to learn more about how digital technologies are changing the face of business transformation programmes, I feel that I got considerably more out of the experience than just learning about the latest technologies. Starting with the design thinking workshop at Stanford, it set the tone for the whole week. Having panel sessions with venture capitalists and entrepreneurs interspersed with the company visits also gave us the opportunity to really probe and better understand the stories behind the successes. The takeaway for me – and many of my peers – was that if you’re passionate about solving a problem, are willing to openly share your ideas, and be doggedly persistent in your pursuit of success, you will succeed. Which, as Founder and CEO of BootUP Ventures Mukul Agarwal very eloquently said, is a wonderful lesson for life, not just business.

There is no failure… unless you stop

Reflecting on our week in California, it was inspiring to see how people from many different backgrounds and walks of life are succeeding in this latest digital revolution, and that they all share one common trait: they never stopped. By using technology to address problems, quickly prototyping, testing, failing, learning and trying again, it personified the explorer ethos of the Cass MBA programme. When you have an end goal in sight, explore your ecosystem, recombine technologies and test a solution quickly. When you treat problems as learning experiences, you can never fail.

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