Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Last Words I Take With Me from P4

It's a little early for last words but I think I have experienced one of the best courses anyone at B-school can take. In parting, our dear PIM professor (a.k.a. Foul-mouth Fernando, whom some of us suspect to be gay, but don't quote me because I can't tell straights from bends) has shared the following words with us:

No hay camino
Se hace camino al andar.

Al andar se hace camino
Y al volver la vista atras
Se ve la senda
Que nunca has de volver a pisar.

No hay camino
Solo estelas en la mar.

For the rest of us who did not understand Spanish or Castillan (which includes moi aussi), the English translation reads:

There is no path.
You make the path as you walk.

As you walk, you make the path.
And when you look back
You see the path
That you will never travel again.

There is no path.
Only the wake of ships upon the ocean.


Recall Oasis: "Now don't look back in anger, I heard you say."

Get Off My Case

A job in consulting hinges on aceing that weird thing known as the case interview. Supposedly, a case interview tests how well your thought processes are and whether you are able to think on the spot, have a structure to approach problems, and still be creative enough to find a solution.

Naturally, I feel a need to be honest and frank about what case interviews achieve. My frank opinion... case interviews are nonsense.

In fact, most interviews are. One can learn how to bullshit his way through any interview given enough practice, vault guides, help from career services and sheer hardheadedness.

Likewise with the case interview: you really do know what the other guy is asking for and it is just that well-known S word: Structure, structure and structure. So give that guy a bloody structure, and then watch out for signals that you're on the right path.

See, I think that's the trick with case interviews: you give some kickass hoe-down structure and then anticipate and look for reactions. It isn't about being well structured: it's about picking up on the non-verbal cues and hints that your very nice interviewer drops along the way. And that is why I think some of those people with the most stellar CVs fail at that critical juncture: the case interview.

So what is the interviewer looking for really? Ok, so you know you have to give him that dirty S-word. Three rules right? Rule number one: You don't talk about Fight Club. Rule number two: You don't talk about Fight Club. Rule number three...

Oh sorry, wrong movie. Ok, so the three rules work like this. Think of this as greyscalefuzz's framework for case interview success and someday I might be famous and write some self-help book on aceing that case interview (not that the vault guides, various consulting club manuals and career guides aren't doing the trick already).

Rule number 1: Give that guy a structure. ANY structure as long as it makes some kind of sense and is general enough to encompass whatever he is talking about. The safest structure is the 4Cs, and my version of it goes 'Company', 'Customers', 'Competitors' and 'Conditions'. Well twist it around and also add in things such as 'Profit = Revenue - Costs' and you should be well on your way.

Rule number 2: Be flexible. The last thing you should do is expect to stick to your structure. When you see that something you're touching on is making some leeway, abandon anything that sounds iffy and dive deep into the issue the interviewer has so kindly given you the hint about. So if you struck a chord when talking about the 'Company' and the interviewer mentions something about metrics and KPIs, be prepared to change tack and discuss measurements and stuff. Don't get hung up on your stupid 4C structure and keep harping back to it because, as is already obvious, that isn't what the interviewer is looking for.

Rule number 3: Look out for nonverbal cues and hints. Be one step ahead of the game and when given the slightest hint about something, pick on it and expound on it. The thing is to watch out, listen well, and then talk the topic to death. If you have the glib of tongue (which you should try to have, or you'll just be a mediocre case cracker), then be prepared to talk round a topic until something logical sticks.

Hmm... maybe rule number 3 doesn't sound so well expressed there. See, what I think most of the case interview hinges around is one being able to see that an interviewer has given one a lead. A lead may take many forms: perhaps the interviewer has voluntarily given you data, in which case that would be the most direct way to steer the discussion towards what has been given to you; perhaps the interviewer has mentioned that he would prefer to take a different approach; perhaps the interviewer expressed interest in a particular sub-area of your structure.

Whatever it is, a case interview is not meant to be approached with a formula in mind: take it as a chance to build some rapport with the interviewer and demonstrate your train of thought - always speak out loud.

And I think that is key: to make yourself heard - no, not your airheaded self, but what your brain goes through when solving a problem - and heard for the right things.

Oh hey, btw, I am no definitive authority on case interviews, but heck I think I have heard enough bitching about screwed up case interviews to say something about what went wrong. So there.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Show Your Sensitive Side - Spare a Thought for the Rest of Us

It is a stressful time at INSEAD. We're now in the thick of the 4th period (the penultimate 2 month period before graduation) and the job hunting season is starting to go into its most depressing phase.

It works like this: consulting firms start recruiting really early in the game (don't count the I-bankers - they got their jobs over summer those s****). This means that the 2nd week of P4 onwards, the consultancies came incessantly onto campus to present, mingle, and organize dinners for us. On our end, we sometimes do our best to schmooze and try not to look like we're gulping too much champagne. Some of us can get quite aggressive: the schmoozefest usually take the form of a few guys surrounding one of the company reps (a partner, HR gal, manager or some poor consultant dragged into the affair), grilling the surroundee with question after question. The better schmoozers will ooze so much schmooze: they give out the namecards, they nod in appreciative gestures to indicate 'active listening', utter oft-used phrases and ask the same stupid questions.

But it doesn't end there: the consultancies play a similar game. They have access to our CVs: the database and an INSEAD-Career-Services-published CV book gives them the low-down on their harvesting pool, and from there, they decide that sitting and waiting for job applicants isn't proactive enough: they send out invites instead. What it does create is a certain one-upmanship among the MBAs: "Hey I got an invite to dinner with Booz's Dubai folks" or "Check this out: Bain has invited me to interview without even me submitting an application".

It goes along the same vein: there's a demand, and there's a ready supply. So some folks get targeted advertising and some others don't - CVs are not always up to scratch (and they don't reflect a person's real abilities that pile of crap). There is no period in INSEAD where more envy is generated, not even when folks were doing their summer internship applications. There is also no period where I saw so much frustration, anger, disappointment and shame.

See, not all of us have stellar CVs and track records. Come to think of it, even when comparing profiles among the lot of us, we discern no pattern that suggests what MBAs certain consultancies and their various offices are looking for. Queries into the exact criteria employed drew no replies - at times, it feels like consultancies are selecting their interviewees through a random process (that is, after filtering in the stars, and filtering out the obvious rejects).

On the average, almost everyone seems to have at least one interview with one consultancy (whether it be top tier Bain or second tier Value Partners - oops, I think I just insulted some firm there!). But the law of averages didn't matter shite to the folks that did not get a single interview.

That's right. They exist. My fellow South-East Asian is one example and he is not the happiest camper in Fontainebleau.

Spare a thought guys (that is, if you're reading this shite). I mean, its all fine and dandy telling everyone about your interviews and when they're scheduled, all the hoops the HR buggers are putting you through, and all the damn schmoozing that you had to do. It's all fine and dandy pronouncing your excellent candidature and prominent CV, and your multiple interview opportunities. It just isn't that nice when you're doing it to someone who hasn't got a single call, who hasn't got a single interview lined up, and who has received one 'Ding' upon another.

That's all I ask really, and it's not for me (I've got one interview, thank God!). If your OB lessons never bore fruition, now is the time you can utilize those skills you learnt. Spare a thought for these guys and show that you care.

INSEAD is one family and the family sticks by its members. - we celebrate any achievements and gains that any brother or sister is able to garner. We should also comfort and console those who are worn down and disappointed with the sorry affair.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Roundtable Discussion

A friend I know well, her friend (I don't know that well) and I. A roundtable discussion about life - one of those things you do when you eat cake and drink tea (and nope, this is not the host club I'm talking about).

And so he's some kind of a med school student (said friend), and I figured that he didn't have any idea what to do with life. A simpler way to put it would be: there're many things that he can be, most promising of which is to be an eye doctor.

But complex questions asked deserve vague answers at best: what of such a vocation should he make of it?

Me being my helpful self decided to tell the stupid gynaecologist story (which I reserved for those special occasions where a med school student is present: no one has yet caught on that it was a total fabrication). The stupid gynae story goes thus:

A med school friend of mine graduated recently from school and decided to practise in a sex clinic as a gynae. As part of his job, he had to look at a whole lot of vaginas and, other than making him lose his appetite, it absolutely ruined his sex life for the better part of six months. He didn't eat well, he couldn't enjoy any of the hardcore jap porn he collected on his PC, and he definitely found no joy pleasuring himself. Poor sod.

In any case, he got over the initial disgust and now totally immerses himself in the work (which consist of mainly him putting his gloved fingers up very small spaces and getting them wet; the fingers). So as the days went by, he grew more nonchalent about it, and found some joy in making jokes about his patients and derived amusement from the interactions with his various patients: the well-worn prostitutes, the terrified pinafored schoolgirls, the mothers-to-be.

One day, he found himself at his cynical best when a patient walked in, mentioned something about missing her period, and got herself plonked and examined. It turned out that she was 2 months pregnant, and the dear gynae friend decided that congratulatory greetings were in order.

"Congratulations madam. You are pregnant."

"But... but that can't be."

"Yes, you are pregnant."

"It's impossible... I've never had sex before."

"Er... Unless you were artificially inseminated (which you WOULD know about), then you must have had sex. You ARE pregnant."

"It can't be... I've never had sex before."

And so it went, back and forth. Gynae says she's pregnant. She insists she's an innocent virginal girl. Fed up with the pointlessness of it all, said gynae went to the window and shoved it wide open. He looked out, gazing at nothing in particular. After a tense 30 seconds, the virginal innocent couldn't take any more of the nonsense and asked, "What are you looking at?"

Said gynae's wicked reply was "Well, the last time this happened, there was a star in the East."

I did say it was a stupid story...


Right, it was a roundtable discussion about life-changing moments, and apparently, for late 20-somethingers, there hasn't been admittedly many of these. The one life-changing moment I brought myself round to mention was a sad one, for which I never gave any details.

I did say it resulted from a conversation I had.

I did say that a month later, it resulted in a friendship lost.

I did say also that losing a friend wasn't all that was lost in that moment, for something of my soul went with it as well.

I also said that life-changing moments are those times when your soul is scarred, altered and marred by an external occurence. Nevermind that it might have been a positive development - at the point life changed, it was nothing more than losing some part of your real self.


Yes it is not something to talk about in an MBA class, but the course is something special at INSEAD: the topic was on coping with stress, and yes religion is one way of helping the human psyche cope with the stress of the world.

I also don't deny that having absolute faith is good for the soul: the person with real faith is not necessarily free from stress, but he does have an outlet and a coping mechanism that, bar none, is far better than what any psychologist can do for you.

Plus... its free.

But losing your religion is not a step forward, and there's where I disagree. No matter what creed or faith we bind ourselves to, having no one to build a common belief with is fundamentally wrong. It is like being an island unto oneself, and floating adrift in isolation. For to believe only in one self and one's abilities is limiting - the mind and especially the body are finite. The infinite gives us hope no matter how faint the sound of that voice might be.


Ah my pseudo-philosophical babble. I consume too much bullshit these days.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Authenticity and Change - To Be or Not To Be

I was intending to reply to a comment to my previous post when I realised that my comment to that comment became longer than a comment merited, and my comment to that comment became its own post.

Confusing? You bet. That's what life's like when you comment too much. Instances of comments outdoing the post are all too common. Commentable comments aside, they somehow have little pride of place in the blogosphere - most comments are given RSS feeds to track back to (thus, comments kind of get... lost).

Still, the comment my friend made was regards authenticity. Bahloo said "If you are yourself and you don't like what you see, should you change or learn to accept it?"

Tough question. But if I can claim to having any pet topics at all, two of them are likely to be about authenticity and change.

My view on change is that it has to be accepted as a constant. It is like one of those undeniably powerful forces in life that shapes and molds one, and denial of, or resistance to, change is typically futile. One has to ride it out, take the punches like a man and move on.

My view on authenticity is that one should strive to be genuine, whether it be in dealings with others, or, more importantly, dealing with oneself. When you can see yourself for what you truly are, and acknowledge your wrinkles et al, then you can truly be comfortable with yourself, and therefore with others.

To change yourself requires a whole lot of courage - for one thing, it means recognising that you are not the person that you want to be right now. To me, it is not unauthentic to change; it is unauthentic though to change superficially. It is unauthentic, and a whole lot sadder, to change what you were born into.

For instance, take fake breasts. Suppose you are a girl and you don't like your breasts because they are too small. So you get implants and in so doing, double your cupsize overnight. What have you changed? Perhaps bigger breasts gave you confidence you never had, garnered you more attention from prying male eyes, and added that bounce in your step. But is that you? Do you really need fake breasts to become a new person?

My honest opinion: if you can face what you see in the mirror, you're authentic. Doesn't matter that cosmetic surgery gave you what you were not born with. What matters is that you re able to live with yourself as the kind of person you manufactured yourself to be. And in your dealings with others, when you can project your self-concept (your idea of who you are) that is consistent with your self-ideal (how you think you should behave), then you are consistent with yourself. There is nothing wrong with upping your self-esteem in artificial ways.

But I do object to people denying what they were born into. To over-dramatise it a bit, imagine a taiwanese Qiong Yao soap opera (complex relationships, prodigal sons, wayward daughters, unfaithful husbands, the works). A boy was born into a humble family, single mother raising 5 kids all on her own. Imbued with a hard-nosed work ethic and the notion that hard work and striving gets him far, he works hard and through his own merit, rose to a position of power and wealth. But when quizzed about his background, he disavows having been born of a single mother and living in poverty. He does not acknowledge his mother, despises the conditions he was born into, and feels disgust at dealing with his hicksville siblings, thinking them to be like moths drawn to the glory of his bright flame.

That is an unauthentic change of self: you may have achieved what you have desired and set out to do. You may have authored your rise to fame and glory, wealth and riches. But if you deny your history, if you deny your family and relations in some vainglorious attempt at attaining a higher state of self, then you do not deserve to be what you are. Assuming and attaining that isn't change of a genuine nature, for it meant change at the expense of denying what you were born with.

I don't like assumed attitudes and I certainly don't like airs. If there is one last thing I can say about the subject, it is that if you are not yourself, you are not doing yourself any favours. Sooner or later, the real self is revealed. Sooner or later, the truth is unearthed.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Authenticity, Careers and Art

Like a track out of Prodigy's best album ('Fat of the Land' I think), this post is probably a wierd mish of skippy beats.

Much as I have learnt from my course in PIM, perhaps the one big lesson that came out of it was that one should aim to be authentic. Being authentic with yourself is the first step in being a better person - when you don't lie to yourself, you will see more of your own flaws and come to view your self-esteem in the right light. In a way, if your ego is the inflated sort (like most MBAs are wont to be) then you most likely need a dose of self-criticism, and see where you really stand as a human being.

Being authentic with other people is a lot harder though. The oft-used cliche of 'putting on a mask' reminds me of how people that I sometimes interact with on a daily basis aren't always being true. Typical casual friends tend to assume a veneer of falsehood as some kind of screen, maybe in some attempt to hide the true self underneath. I guess most people do want their true selves to be 'revealed' in some form or other - they just aren't comfortable enough to want to do that in an obvious way. I believe everyone likes to be heard, and when you can bear to listen to some of the false pompous shit for a while, the true self emerges.

Speaking of revealing, a lot of what I am doing these days is trying to get folks to reveal more - not about themselves, but about their companies. INSEAD's P4s are in the thick of the recruiting season, with 2-3 companies coming every day for this week and next, all in the name of snatching the best MBAs for their firm. The P4s that are job hunting go out of their way to socialise, mingle and network. The P4s that aren't job hunting go out of their way to have fun (and make us job seekers jealous). Cruel, cruel world we live in out here - job search one moment, group meetings the next.

But... somehow, I found time to go to Paris on Sunday. Short trip to see the Musee d'Orsay for free. What struck me about the museum was how they seemed to have a different policy with regards cameras. In contrast with the Louvre (where photography was strictly forbidden), the d'Orsay allowed one to take pictures of the paintings, as long as no flash was used. This meant that one had to grapple with trigger happy tourists taking pictures of other happy tourists standing in front of modern art. How grothesque: go buy the bloody postcards ye cheapskate tourist!

Does it really add to your 'here I am' collection to have a picture of you standing in front of a Renoir or Monet? Like the folks at home are even going to notice. I was really peeved with a particular Brit tourist who shooed me out of his shot while I was looking at a Monet. Like I had no right to be between his phone camera and the painting. Come on... this is an art gallery, not the Eiffel Tower.

Oh, I was guilty of taking a couple of pictures though:

Ground Floor of the Musee d'Orsay
The ground floor of the museum was all sculpture. Rooms to the left and right housed older paintings, some just prior to the impressionist movement.

Clock face in Musee d'Orsay
A clock on the fifth floor of the building offered some interesting picture opportunities. Didn't hang around long though - people just don't like their pictures taken by a stranger that much.

Looking out, Clock face in Musee d'Orsay

Clock face in Musee d'Orsay

Saturday, September 02, 2006

No to no; Pics from Prague

Things have improved - I was able to finally register on the course I wanted, but at the expense of dropping another mini course.

For this period, Psychological Issues in Management (PIM) was offered in 2 sections, and with an initial cut-off point of 80, it was a popular course and in high demand. Furthermore, there was already an expansion from one to two sections and when I checked with the professor, he exclaimed that 2 was as far as he can possibly handle: any more would have been too much of a drain. Organizational Behaviour (OB) courses tend to be an energy-draining affair for the professor: my P1 OB lecturer wept at the end of an emotionally charged period with us.

Still, I'm happy to get to do PIM: after getting a 'No' from the professor, I followed a suggestion from a housemate and approached the administration instead. I guess they like their more enthusiastic students, and I got accepted into PIM. The only snag was that I had to drop something else (a clash of classes - even though I had a solution around it, the lady from the MBA office refused to hear any of it)

Perhaps what I should learn from this is that no 'No's are absolute. There are always ways to work around a rejection and perhaps get a compromise or another way to achieve the desired outcome. Rejection should not be hard to handle - though life may be full of it, there's always something else to go to, or another way to approach it. With the job search activities going on the next few weeks, rejection is probably going to be a frequent occurence.


My last batch of pictures from my trip in Europe during July. I approached Prague without a guidebook, map, and hardly any idea what to see. Until, of course, a friend in the UK tsk-tsked away and lent me a guidebook for some ideas. I enjoyed Prague, but the problem was I never ventured out of it - interesting nearby towns like Cemsky Krumlov and Kutna Hora were missed on account of my reluctance to spend more money and a little poor planning. Plus I was already stuck in Prague after putting money down on that hostel room.

Shadows played a huge part in the photos I took in Prague. Summer in Europe meant long days and long shadows, and that's what I composed most of the pictures with. Have a look!

Charles Bridge
Sunset on Charles Bridge - I started getting artistic with the black and whites - there're many of those in the set.

Vltava River
Reflection of some logs on the Vltava River - for what purpose I still can't fathom.

I have a theory that a city big enough to have a metro train system is too big. Prague has a smallish metro system and people still get around alot on trams. They're kind of romantic but watch out for the pickpockets.

Prague Castle Steps
Too bad I couldn't get this guy right where I wanted him in this picture. I don't understand why seeing a photographer meant you have to avoid the space he is trying to capture.

Gazing Up, Prague Castle
Mum was trying to show her toddler the beautiful rose stained glass window in the church. Nope, I don't take pictures of rose stained glass windows because they're too common (on the web)

Bench, Prague Castle
Under the Bench. Neat thing you can do with lines in a shot, but the bright parts just wash out when you up the contrast on the picture. I like it nonetheless.

Sunset, Charles Bridge
Another sunset shot done at Charles Bridge, with the unnecessary areas of the bridge darkened away to highlight the people walking under the bridge tower.

Sunrise at the Square
Sighs... the flares ruin an otherwise perfect shot. Maybe I should get my photoshopper friend to do something about those flares.

At the tower overlooking the town square, and looking out at the rooftops of Prague.

Gone Fishing, Vltava River
Fishing for sunshine.