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This article appeared in June 2020, in Romanian, in

If you want to enroll in an MBA this year, I have a better idea. Start now a new business project. Hire people, find partners or, if you are in an intrapreneurial position, launch now the project you dream of and, as English people say, hit the ground running.

Radu Atanasiu teaches Thinking and Deciding in Business at the Maastricht School of Management Romania.

  • Executive MBA: lasts two years and is part time, is addressed to managers with at least five years of experience and at least seven years of work experience or to entrepreneurs;
  • Master in Management: has a duration of one year and is addressed to Master’s students and young professionals who want education in the field of management;
  • Fast Track Management Program: lasts four months and is also addressed to entrepreneurs and managers, but it works like a mini MBA in which to educate yourself very quickly;

A new project, with a fresh team, in an adverse context and full of uncertainty trains the managerial spirit better than any kind of business education. Cognitive gain is guaranteed. The financial gain is not necessarily guaranteed, because the most expensive thing is to learn from your own mistakes. But fortune favors the brave, and in the current situation, with many market players waiting, I believe that dynamism is a crucial competitive advantage.

I will return to the discussion about an MBA in 2020, it’s not a bad idea at all, I made mine during the last big crisis (2009-2010) and I think that, for those who can do it, an MBA made this year in parallel with a dynamic business or career means an exponential accumulation of experience.

But, if we return to the hypothetical business project launched now (obviously, also valid for ongoing projects), what would be some principles to follow? I will describe two: dynamism, but based on a little reflection, and the practice, in strategic meetings, of at least five minutes of focus on growth.

1. Dynamism, but with a little analysis

Many managers tend to find a solution and implement it five seconds after you start describing the problem to them, without a bit of thought. Experience-based intuition, which is the source of good decisions made quickly, works with what German researcher Gerd Gigerenzer calls ecological fitness – only in an environment similar to those encountered before.

The business environment has just changed radically overnight, so what might have worked yesterday, today may be totally inappropriate. And yet, what is the right balance between dynamism and reflection? The key is to test cheaply and quickly, on the fly if possible, the assumptions on which the business plan is based. And, before it starts, when the plan is well developed, a pre-mortem analysis is very opportune. The pre-mortem is a technique imagined by Gary Klein that I have written about before and that I applied with great success in various organizations.

Another trick of well-tempered dynamism, which I stole from Jeff Bezos, is to divide the decisions into reversible and irreversible, and to take the reversible ones ultra-fast, still keeping an eye on the result, so that you can always change the course.

2. Five minutes of megalomania

When business plans made last year are useless, the natural tendency is to save what is to be saved, to cut costs and extinguish fires, in the hope of getting closer to the initial target. I have some bad news.

The target set in December 2019 is unattainable. Things can go either worse (especially for those focused exclusively on extinguishing fires) or better. How? First, by accepting that it is possible.

Regulatory focus theory, described by E. T. Higgins, divides the way we look at what we have to do in: prevention focus (defensive and reactive – “we have to do this, if not…:”) and promotion focus (constructive – “I want to do…”).

The current context obviously requires a lot of preventive focus. But it does not have to be exclusively a preventive focus. In any strategy meeting, be brave to save some time for the topic “how are we growing fast this year?”.

For some business sectors it seems science fiction, but if we do not dare, we will not find ways. And there are ways, anytime. Maybe one technique to reach them is to climb two or three steps higher on the strategic ladder, for a change of perspective. For example, instead of defining our field of activity as “tourism”, let’s say that we are in fact on “experiences” market; we should look at the things that went well until February and see what we can adapt to the current context. Another way would be to focus on one thing we were doing excellently and see how we could exploit it differently.

I have a successful Italian restaurant and, because it doesn’t have a terrace, needs to stay closed? Maybe I can sell the secret Bolognese sauce online or I can organize online cooking pizza classes.

It’s certain that if we don’t pay attention to the “growth” subject, the road can only go down. This year the stationary trend has disappeared.

A major advantage of having five minutes of promotion focus (obviously, the more, the better) is the impact it has on the team. The moment people around you feel that there is a plan to grow, to build something together, their energy will be much greater and better directed.

I said at the beginning that an MBA in 2020 is actually a good idea, especially if we also continue the business, so we don’t miss the ongoing strategic rollercoaster. The Executive MBA program at Maastricht School of Management Romania has already started enrollment for the 11th group (in fact the 17th , if we count the ancestor CEU) and I think we do a pretty good job in training the prevention focus (by sharing lessons-learned from teachers and colleagues, by methods of identifying and testing business hypotheses, through practice with excels, numbers and data of various kinds or through strategy courses adapted to our context, taught by people active in business).

But the best ways through which we train the promotion focus are: understanding the cultural and psychological mechanisms that motivate us, our colleagues and our clients, through the entrepreneurship course that ends with a pitching session in Prague, in front of a panel of investors or through the Leading with a Story course in which you practice how you can lead your team with a compelling story.

The current context is perfect to have the promotion focus on us and to grow ourselves. We have been successfully doing this at MSM for years with hundreds of managers who have graduated the Executive MBA course or the shorter course, the Fast Track Management Program.

And because people need good instincts as early as possible, last year we launched a Master in Management with multiple internships in organizations from Romania and the Netherlands, a program addressed to any recent university graduate, regardless of profile, who wants to start a career in business.

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