Rebecca Razavi








Jan 2017 - Sep 2018

By Rebecca Razavi

Not your ordinary Business School: the power of difference

Imagine a classroom where almost no one was like you. Different nationalities (34 in our case), genders (33% female), ethnicities, skills, languages, socio-economic backgrounds and certainly different personalities.

Yet here we all are, in other ways just the same; eager, committed, experienced in our respective fields, driven by a desire to learn more, understand ourselves better and transform the way we think and do.

From the first hour of our first day (which happened to be a speech from the Dean before dinner at the Ashmolean museum) we were keenly aware that a significant proportion of our learning would come not just from our distinguished professors but from each other. From the differences of opinion and perspective, would come a shared understanding that enables us to learn better, to learn more and to learn more meaningfully. Not just to respect difference but to view it as a means to understand from a standpoint we couldn’t imagine, to view the clash of ideas as giving rise to the spark of truth. Indeed, much of the current political turmoil around the world stems from an inability of decision-makers to see from – and indeed welcome – the perspective of others.

The best organisations foster “safe-spaces” for creative thought, risk-taking, and innovation and so harness the brilliance of difference. The exploration of this notion has been a fascinating part of our leadership module, particularly interrogating how leaders can create these sorts of cultures. It’s not easy, it takes effort and resolve. Oxford Saïd excels at this. From the outset expect to challenge and to be challenged but always in the spirit of learning and mutual endeavour. This spirit of collaboration reaches beyond the classroom and business school into the world class centres of excellence in other parts of the University and is a hallmark of the Oxford EMBA. GOTO (Global Opportunities and Threats Oxford) is a perfect illustration. GOTO is a platform for innovation through collaboration, a sort of crowd-sourcing of ideas to address the world’s most challenging problems and to transform them into opportunities. As the challenges facing our world become increasingly “wicked”, humanity’s ability to respond to them must improve. Our ability to collaborate in more sophisticated, complex, sometimes uncomfortable ways must increase. That’s what I see happening at Oxford Saïd. Harnessing the power of diverse ideas in a pragmatic way. The magic that occurs when ideas are not just developed in ivory towers but are tested by the fire of reality and practically applied. Indeed that’s the challenge given to EMBA students in the GOTO project.

Anyone taking an EMBA is making a huge personal investment of both time and money. But for the Oxford experience there is no doubt that there is a significant return and not just of the type measured in dollars and cents but rather in insight, confidence and sense. Our aim is to create transformation and to address the problems facing our industries and communities in more meaningful and collaborative ways and be better leaders.

Admittedly, as you would expect and some would hope, there is the more mathematical dimension to the EMBA and we have spent our first two modules deep in the realm of analytics and the difference of powers rather than pondering the power of difference. But even there we are compelled to re-think our thinking and delve into the counter-intuitive (for an illustration of this try reading Leonard Mlodinow’s The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules our Lives).

To begin to address the wicked global problems facing us, in whatever context, we need difference. Oxford Saïd distinguishes itself in endeavouring to bring that power to the classroom and beyond.

Ashmolean Museum Oxford

Dinner at the Ashmolean Museum, photo credit: Aries Richardson

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  • Antonio Potenza

    Nice Post Rebecca and see you soon in India to continue our joint journey with 65 fellow travellers.