I AM not much of an actor. At no point throughout my professional career have I had the opportunity to stand on stage and pretend to be someone I am not. In fact, the closest I came over my five-year career in supply chain operations at PepsiCo Canada was standing in front of 150 technicians and reviewing the year’s strategic operating plan.
So when I came to HEC Paris for my MBA and heard about the annual talent show, I had no intention of signing up. Yet against all inner resistance, my peers convinced me to participate. My act was two-fold: a solo performance as a rapper, transforming lyrics of Drake’s “Hotline Bling” to “Piano Bar Bling”, and then again as Michael Jackson, Lord of the Underworld, in a zombie dance battle that perfectly matched this year’s theme of “Freak Show.”
The talent show at HEC Paris is the iconic conclusion to the MBA programme. Each year, the incoming class puts on the show as a gift to the outgoing class and performances range from vivid cultural dances to comic sketches that would pique the interests of the top writers at “Saturday Night Live”. Despite the show’s original intention to provide free and memorable entertainment for the outgoing class, I also learned a few things that you can’t glean from classes.
The first was that, whether you’re on stage or in the office, confidence is key. When I first signed up I convinced myself that learning a song and dance wouldn’t be that hard. Upon reviewing the choreography for “Thriller” my opinion quickly changed. “I can’t learn this,” I remember saying to my dance instructor, and classmate, during the first class. “If you think you can’t learn this, you won’t learn this.” was her reply.
My friend’s advice was critical to the success of the dance and it transcends so much more than a talent show. In a professional environment, the confidence to take chances and move outside of your comfort zone is critical to growth.
I also learnt that recovering from mistakes is all about resilience. Whether you are giving a pitch to venture capitalists or rapping at your MBA talent show, the words and actions you intend on reciting will rarely go as planned.
While rehearsing for the show I focused on the parts of the performances that would give me the most trouble. I knew that under the lights I was sure to mix up the order of my verses or step left when I should step right. So I developed my recovery plan for the inevitable blunders. The show goes on and your career progresses. Learning how to bounce back from the mistakes in a safe environment can make all the difference.
The simplest things in theory are often the hardest to execute. Not everything naturally falls into place. An hour before the show we still needed to make final edits to the script, trim the soundtrack, and figure out a way to throw in a wardrobe change that included a 75-meter sprint backstage. With the help of an unbelievable stage team, we coordinated everything flawlessly just minutes before the start of the show. Perfect execution requires as much attention to the small details as the big ones, and having trust in your team can mean the difference between success and failure.
I also realised that a balanced life drives a healthy professional career. Amidst the mayhem of preparing for final exams, completing term assignments, participating in career management sessions and attending networking events, we still somehow managed to find the time to write and rehearse our performances. The preparations were exhausting and everyone in the show shared obvious concern about the five final exams that were to take place the following week. Yet the feedback we got, our new network of friends, and the social media buzz that came from the performances gave us all a newfound energy to sail through those exams.
Music, dance, art and performance are at the core of the human experience. They transcend culture and provide experiences that build the basis for relationships. HEC Paris has taught me that business is about relationships. The fact of the matter is that anyone at any university, college or high school can participate in a talent show and learn many of the same lessons I did. But what made this event unique was the international participation. It was the foundation of its development and presentation.
The international culture at HEC Paris has provided me with not only a better understanding of what business looks like across the world, but how to build relationships across different cultures. Confidence, resilience, trust and balance – all critical qualities for the successful businessperson – were exemplified and practiced by this multinational team at the talent show. The talent show will not only be remembered for the performance and laughter, but for the months leading up to it and the relationships that we’ll cherish for years to come.
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