The first leadership session was all about strategic thinking. Do The Right Thing (tm). The problem - what exactly is the right thing? One case study was of Merck (the big pharmaceutical company), that in the seventies has accidentally discovered a chemical that they thought they could potential develop into a cure for River Blindness, a disease that affected millions of people in Africa. The problem? It would take ten years to develop, the success is not at all guaranteed, and all of those poor diseased people are so poor that neither they nor their governments would be able to pay enough even to cover the costs of manufacturing, let alone developing, the drug. Merck tried to enlist the US government, the World Health Organization, and the Red Cross, but none of them were interesting in supporting this research. What should they do? In general, should pharma companies' primary goal be the lofty "saving lives" or the more practical (and the required by stock exchange rules) "make profit"? And aren't those two intertwined - you can't save lives if you don't have the money to do the research? It's much easier to find cures for diseases in the developing world - there are many more diseases and much fewer people interested in curing them; at the same time, the payoffs are minimal. Thus, a company that pursues this strategy is bound to failure. One might think that the real answer is regulating the pharma industry such that all research is performed through the government/world grants; however, the same fundamental problem of needing money to do the research remains, plus, as in this example, these groups are not always well-aligned.
There were a few more cases from the pharma world, and we were asked to discuss it in groups and decide what we'd do, before we were given the real conclusions. Interestingly, our resolutions turned out to be overwhelming in the "saving lives" direction, while the professor told us that the regular MBAs, with little corporate experience, usually tilt in the opposite direction. The actual companies performed in the middle - not always taking the high road of recalling the drugs on first whistle blow, but not choosing the low road, either. This conclusion gave some optimism to us - the trajectory seems to be "it's a man eats man out there" to a "let's all help humanity" to a more realistic and sustainable middle.
It's easier to ask for forgiveness later than request permission now - a good thought.
The optimizations class was fun and easy - greedy algorithms, linear programming (turns out Excel has the LP solver add-in for free). These "analytical" classes are a breeze. It's a pity that they can't real give us real world examples - most of them are too complicated for class discussion.
Finally, we had a theater/leadership consulting couple come in to teach us about leadership based on Shakespeare’s works, Henry V, in particular. It was an absolute blast. The husband and wife couple have been married for 30 years and have been doing this gig for quite a few of them. She is the president, and he is the vice president, which relationship the husband referenced laughingly at least 20 times during the 2 hour program. If I were a couple's therapist, I'd say he has a lot of unresolved issues with the power relationship within the couple. He started by explaining how he is used to the VP role because 30 years back he was a "dependent husband" in the US embassy, when his wife was working there. Even as he was saying that all the guys should be looking for the wonderful dependent husband position, I was hearing the resentment in his voice. In any case, I learned a lot about Shakespeare, if not necessarily about leadership (but, as I said in the beginning, the real learning here is in seeing the examples and changing slowly and subtly).
- the word passport - invented by Shakespeare and appears in Henry V'th famous pre-battle speech
- the commoner's vocabulary in Shakespeare’s time was just 700 words! That's about 1 or 2 semester's worth of a foreign language class today. An Oxford graduate used about 2000-3000, the famous Milton - 7,000 words, and the bard himself - an amazing 29,000, many of which he either invented or brought into common usage.
- finally, the middle finger. Apparently, just before the famous battle of Agincourt between the French and the English in 1415, the former, anticipating victory, proposed to cut off the middle finger of all captured English soldiers. Without the middle finger it would be impossible to draw the renowned English longbow and therefore be incapable of fighting in the future. Now, the weapon was made of wood from the English Yew tree, and the act of drawing the longbow was known as "plucking the yew" (or "pluck yew"). Much to the bewilderment of the French, the English, headed by Henry Vth, won a major upset and began mocking the French by waving their middle fingers at the defeated French, saying, "See, we can still pluck yew! Linguists feel that since 'pluck yew' is rather awkward to pronounce, the difficult consonant cluster at the beginning has gradually changed to a labiodental fricative 'F', and thus the words often used in conjunction with the one-finger-salute are mistakenly thought to have something to do with an intimate encounter.