It’s all about Emotion and Information!

Learning is digital but connections are human”. We found this statement by MIP Politecnico di Milano so relevant when all the i-Flex students on MIP’s International Executive MBA program recently met up again. Everyone was enthusiastic to get together again during the last week of July, but this time in the beautiful, historical city of London, which was unusually warm and sunny. One immediately thinks of a big city with over 8.5 million inhabitants, the world’s leading financial center for international business, a metropolitan where a mixture of different cultures and nationalities coexist, just as we do in our international team.

For the whole week, we participated in “Leadership & Innovation” classes at Imperial College Business School, originally founded as a scientific research institution in the 19th century to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Jubilee in 1887. The Queen’s Tower, where we decided to take a group photo during our tour of the campus, is all that remains today of the Imperial Institute.

We had an amazing opportunity to meet professors with impressive experience and professionalism during the week. We talked a lot about innovation in technology and the role of leadership in this evolving stage toward a more hi-tech global economy. Professor David Gann, the Imperial College’s Vice President for Innovation, started with an impressive presentation, challenging us by exploring why and how innovation happens, the ways it continually transforms our world, and how it can be managed to achieve the vision of smart cities. His key message was that for any organization to progress today, there is the need to develop and grow, to successfully implement new ideas, to be continually innovative. As the economist Joseph Schumpeter put it, “innovation offers the carrot of spectacular reward or the stick of destitution”.

Professor Anu Wadhwa gave us a presentation on the future of innovation, discussing several examples of how economic concepts have changed dramatically in time, challenging us to think what the future will be like. Taking the example of banking, so important for London, today we must analyze the large fintech ecosystem to understand better what risks might be threatening the banking system in the near future. When asked about disruptive cross-industry competition, the CEO of JPMorgan Chase replied that “Facebook (which got approval in Ireland for an e-money transfer service), Google (which wants a part of the electronic payment market, valued at 1,800 billion USD) and Apple (with more than 400 million registered credit cards in its iTunes Store) are the biggest competitors of traditional banks, only strict regulation can stop them”.

Another aspect of the speed of progress – for automobiles and airlines it took about 62 to 68 years respectively to gain 50 million users, compared to mobile phones and computers that achieved the same target after 12 to 16 years respectively. But if we advance further in time, it is no longer a surprise that Twitter and Facebook achieved and surpassed this target in 2-3 years, not to mention Pokémon, that did this in 19 days. A key takeaway from this presentation is the fact that “Disruptive change creates profound uncertainty, increasing risk of commitment”.

Another interesting topic was presented by the design leader Neal Stone, founder of leapSTONE, focused on Design Thinking & Design-led Innovation: “Design brings our customers closer to the strategy and vice versa”. This is the bridge between the organization (what the organization stands for) and the customers (what they need and want to achieve). He stressed the importance of process designing for companies to grow in the future, by exploring the problems (discover/define) before exploring the solutions (develop/deliver). What people say, do, and say they do are entirely different things. For this reason, design thinking focuses primarily on the customer’s real needs, to analyze better their desirability, viability and feasibility. A common denominator of successful companies is that they have shared their stories with the customers to impact their brand perception and loyalty.

Innovation and emerging technologies such as modelling and simulation, artificial intelligence, internet and social networking, visual analytics, data sciences, quantum computing and blockchain ̶ these were some of the keywords elaborated and discussed during the London week. Professor Sankalp Chaturvedi, Programme Director, envisaged some of the conditions and resources for innovation, such as ideas, talent and mobility, leadership, collaboration, patient capital, facilities, local partnerships, access to markets, international networks, ability to scale and exit, and so on. Besides that, we had the chance to talk about leading creativity in teams, leading vision and communication and the skills necessary to being successful in a cross-functional team. It was a pleasure to meet a MIP alumnus ̶ Maurizio Paolella, now AlixPartners’ Senior Vice President, who held a seminar about public speaking, while hosting us at his London Office. He shared his personal experience of the Toastmaster and Improvisation Theatre, some important and enjoyable tools for practicing and improving communications and public-speaking skills.

On top of that, throughout the week we had the opportunity to strengthen our relationship within the group, not only during the day on campus but also by enjoying the warm evening weather while sightseeing, visiting museums or having fun together in London’s lovely old pubs and restaurants. The people were amazing, with outstanding professional knowledge and challenging information. I am looking forward to see you in China!