MBA Week 0

This week I started my MBA program at INSEAD.

Inspired by one tip shared by Professor Derek Deasy at our PLDP kick-off, I decided to create my own INSEAD scrapbook and expand its scope to include thoughts, learnings, and takeaways I have acquired not only from the PLDP program but also from other areas.

Moreover, I want to share it as a journal on my blog, in the hope that someone also finds it helpful and gets inspired.


This is the first word that comes to my mind when I look back on my first week at INSEAD. The word “safety”, of course, has been everyone’s top priority in this special time of COVID-19 and the school has taken many measures to ensure the wellbeing of the community. Yet more importantly, from the very first day and in almost all introduction sessions and through all launch-week activities, we have been constantly reminded either explicitly or implicitly that INSEAD is a safe place to experiment, to fail, and to learn from your mistakes. It is reflected in many aspects:

  • People here are incredibly friendly, approachable, and helpful, be it students, professors, or administrative teams. This may sound like a cliché, and to be honest, I was not fully convinced about it even though I had heard about this from many alumni beforehand. However, after working together with my peer fellows on our first assignments, attending our first lectures and case studies, and talking to my PLDP coach, I came to the same conclusion. A lot of the things that I was quite fearful about, e.g., strong egos, a cut-throat atmosphere, did not take place (yet).
  • Our first case study is about the challenges that, Erik Weytjen, an INSEAD graduate faced at SABENA airlines, from which I learned not only how to apply skills and knowledge to solve the problem but also how leadership identities such as empathy and integrity can help turn around the situations. What I like most about this case is that it is a “failure” story — SABENA went bankrupt not long after Erik joined it. The most important lesson I learned from it is that sometimes (if not most of the time), you have done all the right things but still, it does not go as well as you expected. I truly appreciate the authenticity that the school shows here by choosing a “failure” rather than a common, cliché success story as the beginning of the year.

As a result, I was comfortable coming clean to my study group when we talked about our expectations, concerns, and commitments at our kick-off PLDP session. I shared that, compared to others I might have a lower level of psychological safety because I haven’t fully recovered from the long-term burnout from my last job, e.g., I might tend to hold back sometimes when asked for feedback. Nevertheless, I made my commitment to restore my psychological safety and always be honest when providing feedback. No one was judgemental about my come-clean, and that made me feel really relieved.


I know this is another rather cliché word, and again, I was not really convinced about it even though I heard many similar stories from the alumni. Yet again, after one week I came to the same conclusion.

The study groups are carefully designed in a way that diversity is reflected not only in nationalities but also in backgrounds. In my study group, there is a Belgian consultant, a British deal advisor, an Indian finance controller, a Chilean product manager, and a Hungarian lawyer. From our first two assignments, it is already fairly clear that everyone has different perspectives and strengths and everyone is able to play a part in the big work picture.

What also draws my attention is that on our seating plan there are not just our names and photos, but also our nationalities and our previous backgrounds. In our first lecture “Introduction to General Management”, Professor Felipe Monteiro mentioned that sometimes professors would do cold-calling during classes based on their backgrounds since they believe on that particular topic in discussion this student will bring unique value to the discussion. I really like this practice and am curious to see how it works in reality.

Some exercises

I consider myself very good at self-reflection. However, some exercises that we have done this week helped me take one more step into getting to know how I look in others’ eyes.

One exercise is that each member presents ten images that are inspirational and important to them as well as top12 occupations they want to do the most, without comments, and then others will come up with words that can be associated with their presentation. Afterward, we will take time to clarify, explain and share what we find most surprising about ourselves.

The other exercise is to draw four pictures that describe our home, work, aspirations, and changes, as well as to share two positive adjectives and two negative ones that we or others use to describe us. What I find interesting about this exercise is that not only the drawing itself but also the way how people draw it (e.g., the choice of colors and strokes, the distance in between) and present their work speaks a lot to their emotions, personalities, and ways of thinking.

I like these exercises and how we work on them. Everyone was very open to sharing their personal stories and values, as well as being vulnerable. I feel we got closer as a team after these exercises. If possible, I would love to introduce these exercises to my team at my next job.

Most feedback I got from my group members is in line with my own reflection. The only thing that stands out is that someone mentioned “warmth”, “peace” and “people”, etc. This is a bit surprising to me since I consider myself rather analytical, number-driven, and calculating due to my work, and I am also aware that I can easily lose my temper sometimes and find it hard to let it go.

Some takeaways

  1. At the beginning of our group PLDP session, our coach asked everyone to answer three questions: What would make your PLDP journey a worthwhile experience? What are your concerns (if any)? What are your commitments to yourself and to your peers? This reminds me that most of the time when we start a new work relationship, we ask each other to share our expectations, i.e., what we want to get out of it. Sometimes we also talk about concerns. However, rarely do we explicitly talk about commitments. Making commitments is essential for establishing a fair and collaborating work relationship, and this is something I should bear in mind when I have such a conversation next time.
  2. “There are more than 50K theories about leadership out there, yet the only one that matters is your own leadership theory.”, from Professor Derek Deasy @ PLDP Kick-off.
  3. “… at INSEAD we provide you many resources for learning, but the most important one is your peers. Try to make the best out of it!” Unfortunately, I cannot recall its source. :) I do recall that at the end of our last study group assignment I shared with the group that I believe “we are all benchmarks in our own areas”. As a matter of fact, I feel a bit guilty for being rather quiet during my first week. I realized that I was not contributing as much as my peers do, and I hope I can be more active in case studies and group work: talk more, ask more and push for more, without being afraid of interrupting others.

That’s it. I hope I could also find some time when the program starts officially next week and continue with this journal!



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Wenling Yao

Wenling Yao


INSEAD MBA 22J | Business Intelligence | Fintech | Realist | Explorer | Make well-informed decisions every day.