Acing Your Way to the Top – Insight from the Dean of INSEAD


According to Dipak Jain, Dean of INSEAD, executives must focus on three A’s to be successful in today’s global economy:  Anticipation, Ambiguity, and Adaptability. During a very engaging and at times humorous talk to over 100 attendees at the recent AESC European Conference in London, Jain drove home the idea that “knowledge comes from analysis, wisdom comes from synthesis.” To support this philosophy, he suggests that business schools today are moving away from a strictly analytical approach, favoring instead experiential and cross cultural learning. Jain’s three A’s can all be practiced and perfected throughout the course of one’s career but really deserve attention as the environment remains uncertain at best. 

Executives need to be able to anticipate the various possible outcomes of a situation and effectively undertake scenario planning. Knowing that plan A isn’t likely to happen without a hitch, you must have a really solid and well thought out plan B – and plan C for that matter!  

It takes courage to deal with ambiguity. You need to be flexible, anticipate that things will change, and learn to make sound decisions based on imperfect information. Jain even went as far as saying that “the only rule you should follow in life is to be flexible.” It is a timeless management challenge that all executives must deal with, especially when faced with uncertain times such as these.

Being adaptable might seem similar to being flexible – with one key difference and that is being able to fit in and do business effectively in other cultures. Executives today must be culturally sensitive and aware of customs and rituals in other countries. Whether you are sent to work abroad, managing or reporting to someone from another country, or simply dealing with oversees partners, it is critical to understand the cultural norms of your colleagues so that you can build a strong working relationship. This skill is critical for the global business environment of today and will only continue to grow in its importance.

Along with this move to provide more experiential and team based learning, business schools are focusing on values and promoting the idea that individuals are the key to differentiation. According to Jain, “The future of competition is collaboration.” The environment around you might have just as much to offer you as a formal business education. So take advantage of your team, and your environment, to practice your flexibility and ability to deal with the unknown. Seek out opportunities to learn about new cultures and see how you might use that knowledge to create more meaningful relationships. These three A’s are very timely given the state of the world and the global economy, yet they are timeless skills that will benefit you at all stages of your executive career.


This article was written by Eryn Feinsod of the Association of Executive Search Consultants (AESC).

BlueSteps is the exclusive service of the AESC that puts senior executives on the radar screen of over 6,000 executive search professionals in over 70 countries. Be visible, and be considered for up to 50,000 opportunities handled by AESC search firms every year. Find out more at www.BlueSteps.com.

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