We’re publishing a new series of articles featuring views and insights from some of the expert faculty who teach on our industry-leading MBA program. First up was Dr Dimitrios Diamantis. This time it’s the turn of Senior Lecturer Bilal Hassan, who argues that MBA students have the “why not?” mindset that can unlock opportunities in these uncertain times.
“I told Mike [Smith] he’d have to decide between them. It was up to him – The Beatles or Brian Poole and the Tremeloes. He said, ‘They’re both good, but one’s a local group, the other comes from Liverpool.’ We decided it was better to take the local group. We could work with them more easily and stay closer in touch as they came from Dagenham.”
– Dick Rowe, Head of A&R at Decca Records
With that “safe” decision, Decca Records missed out on signing perhaps the most important group in the history of popular music: The Beatles.
The backstory of any industry is littered with similar examples, where the easy, safe, familiar option is taken instead of the braver, riskier one. Why is this? Bilal Hassan, Senior Lecturer at Les Roches, has extensive experience in the business world, including as co-founder of the SoHappy Institute in Geneva, and as a PhD researcher with the Faculty of Brain Sciences at UCL. For him it’s part of the human mindset.
“As human beings we love security – it’s actually an essential preoccupation of our brains, to keep us alive and to look for security. So, when we are working in day-to-day business, even though we might aim to be innovative and agile, which ultimately requires change, we will naturally look for the safe and secure option.
“It’s very hard for someone working on a project to suddenly say ‘oh, I’m wrong about this’ and to question all their previous assumptions. It’s just not in our nature to do that.”
With our world in flux there are huge opportunities for companies to reinvent themselves and enhance their value proposal, as well as to develop new ways to earn revenue in our ‘new normal’.
Add to the mix the current uncertainties caused by Covid-19 and it creates a barren landscape for innovative thought.
“No matter which industry you are in today, employees are stressed, worried about their jobs and fearful of the future,” adds Bilal. “In this environment it’s a very brave person indeed who might suggest a new and untried solution, because they’d be fearful of losing their job if it didn’t work out.
“But this kind of innovative, lateral thinking is exactly what organizations need right now. With our world in flux there are huge opportunities for companies to reinvent themselves and enhance their value proposal, as well as to develop new ways to earn revenue in our ‘new normal’.”
Need a bold idea? Call an MBA student!
And this is where the bright young things studying our MBA program come in. We’ve spoken before about the Consultancy Project that is one of the key components of the MBA curriculum. It brings real-life companies to the table, offering genuine business challenges for the students to tackle.
“By working with our students, these companies get a freshness, naivety and optimism that they maybe can’t find internally – especially in today’s pressurized times,” notes Bilal.
“Our students come with this ‘naïve mindset’ that says anything is possible. As an example, we were presenting to a company recently and the students were saying ‘why don’t you go into X market?’. The company executive answered that they had already researched this market and had concluded that it wasn’t for them. At this point, the students replied ‘well, why not?’. And there were 30 seconds of silence, because they couldn’t really answer that question!”
That led to an offer for the students to go away and develop a proposal to enter the market. Two weeks later it was presented. “The whole exec team said wow, thank you, that was what we should have done from the beginning,” adds Bilal.
“It’s not that the students are smarter or better informed than these executives – of course not. It’s because they are more daring in their thinking, as they have less to lose and much to learn.”
The value of the hospitality mindset
What the students also bring is a unique hospitality mindset that only comes from studying at a specialist hospitality business school like Les Roches. In today’s customer-centric world, this has a power and a value that transcends industries.
Bilal explains, “Hospitality is a state of mind; it goes way beyond lodging and dining – because understanding people, and having the empathy to build relationships with them, can be applied anywhere that the customer experience is key.
“In banking, an airplane, a hospital – even for the person sitting in a self-driving car… they still receive hospitality in the form of their comfortable environment, lighting, music, etc.”
As the impact of the pandemic changes the way we live, shop, eat, travel and entertain ourselves, so it becomes even more important for the providers of those services to reformulate the customer relationship.
“The magic happens when people connect with people; and this is what you get when you work with someone who has the hospitality mindset”
This is perhaps most acute when it comes to the increasing prevalence of digital technology in our lives. It’s a trend that has been supercharged by the pandemic, as witnessed by the stock prices of companies like Zoom, Amazon and other tech players.
“Technology has kept us connected through the lockdowns, but it is not a substitute for the human touch that allows us to use all five of our senses,” says Bilal. “The magic happens when people connect with people; and this is what you get when you work with someone who has the hospitality mindset. Our students are taught the psychology of human connection and relationship-building and when they are asked to find customer solutions that’s what they can bring to the table.
“If you put your customers at the heart of your digital processes and strategies, you will be able to follow them and map their behavior in order to build solutions that are truly tailored to them. That’s what you get with the hospitality mindset. If you possess it, then you have a highly valuable, highly transferable skill that will give you a big advantage in this time of change.”