Jan 2016 - Sep 2017
Whenever I play Ping Pong I find I play best when I play against a better player. If I want to ski better, I ski behind a better skier. A lot of life is like ping pong.
Most EMBA programs I considered were predominantly taught online with limited time with classmates. I found the idea of online learning unappealing, but I wasn’t quite sure why- like playing the old video game “Pong,” no ping. Oxford’s EMBA does not include any online learning, we play the leadership training equivalent of “ping pong” with each other and our professors in person, in technicolour, in real time, in one room, in Oxford, in England, and we do this for a week at a time. This was a very big reason I chose Oxford. We are 6 months into EMBA13 and I recognize I have grown- dramatically. My intuition was correct.
I have not just gathered book knowledge; I am a different person. I am developing skills: my handling of employee conflicts has improved a great deal, my confidence in setting strategy has grown, my understanding of the economic climate we manoeuvre in has expanded, my political skills- well, they still need work, but I am improving. As our inspiring strategy professor Thomas Powell said, we are developing “pattern recognition capabilities” that enable us to quickly recognise the situation we find ourselves in, and we are developing the skills to meet the challenge. I am not just accumulating knowledge, I am becoming different- the former can be achieved through reading and virtual learning, the later is achieved by playing ping pong in real time.
The quality of the “players” in our cohort is so beyond my previous imagination: An Ambassador to the WTO, CEOs from Estonia, Nigeria, Azerbaijan, England, Egypt and Russia, Entrepreneurs, Lawyers, Pharmacists, Economists, NGO Directors, Professors, Scientists… from 39 countries. I should have known; this is Oxford. The life experience my classmates have is even more impressive than their credentials, as you will understand better if you read my last blog about Rachael. What I find strange, and what inspired this blog, is that by banging up against my classmates every 5th week I feel I am assimilating a bit of each of their capabilities into my own personality, even my own person. This is not to say we as a cohort are becoming homogeneous; quite the opposite, we are each expanding our skills by gathering some of the best traits from each other. I have been skiing behind them for 6 months and I am beginning to ski like them. They seem to be skiing better too.
If you come to Saïd, yes, some of you will suffer jetlag; It is easier to sit in front of your computer in your study watching a lecture than it is to travel to Oxford. But virtual life can never substitute for this experience. I have walked through the ancient architecture of Oxford to lectures. I have sat in hallowed ancient pubs with brilliant and sometimes zany classmates. I have danced at our private and exclusive club, the Oxford Union, with CEOs that will never be caught dancing in their native countries. I have debated Brexit with classmates who are economists, and professors, and business leaders. I have argued the merits of leadership styles and structures while we try to figure out how to lead each other through a group assignment. I have walked to rowing practice through a misty Christ Church field with the stones and spires of Christ Church College and Merton College faint in the fog. I have been barked at by our boat team’s coxswain because the jetlag meant I could not stay focused during early morning practice. I am now a part of all this. Magnificent, Motivating, Energizing, Inspiring, and Surreal.
The only way the other business schools’ EMBA programs could possibly catch up to the University of Oxford, Saïd Business School’s EMBA program is if they build a 500-year-old campus- best of luck with that one- fill it with the world’s leading lecturers, attract the brightest and most experienced students, and then bring them together every 5th week- to play ping pong.Back to top of article