INSEAD Interview

We are an intellectual sparring partner for business and for society

Professor Sameer Hasija

Dean of Executive Education

In January 2021, Professor Sameer Hasija took the helm as Dean of Executive Education at INSEAD.  

A scholar of technology and operations management, Hasija has long been fascinated by how technology and business models interact; not simply to drive incremental improvements, but to create what he calls “game-changing” benefit. He brings this curiosity and a deep interest in reinvention – the capacity to create new combinations that previously seemed inconceivable – to his new role at INSEAD.

“In my research, my teaching and in my publications, I talk about the biggest advantage of technology being the way it provides us with the possibility to actually change the game and not just play it better. This fascinates me, and it informs the way I see not just my own new role within INSEAD, but the very nature of business education itself.

“Stepping up and taking on a role like this at a time of such great turbulence and uncertainty is an honour and it’s a call to action that I could not say no to, because academia is not just about teaching and research, but it’s also about motivating and inspiring enduring and impactful change. And INSEAD has been my academic home for many years. It is also a huge challenge and an opportunity that dovetails precisely with the things I think and talk about.”

Hasija sees the pandemic as an imperative to look to the future and not rely on the things we have been comfortable doing in the past; a unique chance to  step away from “business as usual” and to get serious about reinvention and positive change.

“Yes, this is an enormously difficult time but it’s also the opportunity of a lifetime, for businesses and organisations like ours to rethink the value we bring and to find innovative ways to help our students, clients and partners overcome the challenges they are going to be facing as we emerge into the post Covid-19-era.”

Chief among those challenges, he believes, will be striking the right balance between unshackling our ideas, strategies, business models and value propositions of the past, and   seizing the opportunity to move forward and strive for positive change – while remaining structured and analytical in our thinking as we navigate the road ahead.

“We have to be careful about succumbing to pressure and focus on tackling short-term goals. There’s a desire and a palpable impetus for change that is emerging from this pandemic, but businesses and organisations need to be mindful of the risk of knee-jerk reactions and that our instinctive feelings might be coloured by temporal aberrations. It’s about capturing the momentum, but mediating it with rigorous, systematic thinking to emerge stronger on the other side.”

He cites the example of the irrational investor exuberance in the last few months. Due to lack of yield in the market, both public and private companies are now being valued at irrational multiples. Investors are willing to pay exorbitant prices even though the underlying business model or target market size of many of these companies has not dramatically changed. Investors are reported to be badgering startups to accept investments even though they are flush with capital. This shows how even the most rational players can be prone to these kinds of knee-jerk reactions at times of uncertainty and pressure. We all need to learn to pause and take the time to think things through.

But if big ideas and transformation require restraint and stringent analysis, follow through also requires collective action .

“You don’t achieve genuine transformation unless you bring everyone along on the journey so that no one is left behind. That means convincing people that change makes sense. And I think that important thing about today is that to a large extent, the convincing part will be easier. Because the world has gone through such a massive shock and we have been shaken up so much, getting people on board and taking them along on the transformation journey will be easier. It’s not a done deal, but I believe there will be less resistance to change than what people have seen in the past. So in that sense there is an opportunity.”

Another opportunity he sees ahead is a chance to further attenuate some of the tension that has been building historically existed between business and society.

“It’s the eternal juxtaposition: do I look out for shareholders or the broader community? And I think the pandemic has raised an opportunity to really rethink this. Every firm and organisation needs to realise, if they haven’t already, that in the absence of a healthy, sustainable, thriving society, there is no meaningful business to be done.”

Hasija calls for a coming together of businesses, business schools, governments, sociologists, scientists and citizens to explore and think about the different facets of the issues we collectively face.

Tackling these challenges unassisted and in silos will be daunting and ineffective, he says.

 “With this crisis we have seen the huge acceleration of certain tech-empowered trends. Remote working has eroded the work-home boundary, and while that creates a lot of convenience, it has also seen a lot of people struggling to adapt. Mental health issues are on the rise.”

On the rise too are concerns around data and privacy and how to reconcile the trade-offs between the needs of individuals, businesses, societies and governments.

“Data capture does improve our lives. I do want to know how crowded a park is, or whether I should go to a shopping mall or not in advance. I want to have the flexibility to work from anywhere. By the same token, it’s useful for my work to know where on earth I am, because they need to safeguard the safety of their own systems. But it’s tricky. And it’s all too easy to slip into something dystopian if data is  not used responsibly.”

The burden of responsibility to solve these issues cannot be borne by government or regulatory bodies alone, says Hasija. Complex problems require multi-faceted points of view, analysis and collaborative action and collaborative action – a diversity of input and a need to look at the world through different lenses that he calls “kaleidoscopic thinking.”

“Businesses and business schools need to be deeply involved in finding solutions: those solutions that don’t just yield incremental benefits, but that actually change the entire nature of the game. We are ahead of a chance to reinvent ourselves and everyone needs a place at this table.”

INSEAD and other schools have a key role in offering businesses, organisations and decision-makers what Hasija calls “safe spaces:” unique spaces that create fertile ground for the kinds of conversations and ideation that leaders are going to need as they look to rebuild, navigate and fortify institutions, markets and society in the new or next normal.

“Covid-19 has created an imperative to go back to the white board and rethink our purpose and the value we bring as leaders and organisations. But, as I said, getting this right requires structure and rigour in the way that leaders think. It requires disciplined, intellectual analysis and, ideally, input from fresh and different perspectives.”

This is where the business school experience can be of tangible benefit to leaders and firms right now, he says.

“Our programmes give leaders a break from that treadmill. We give them the inspiration, motivation, confidence and skills sets they need. It’s important to say that we don’t fish for leaders – we teach leaders to fish. The outcomes they achieve at INSEAD are both multi-dimensional and enduring.

We are that trusted and neutral intellectual sparring partner that leaders need as they look to reinvent themselves, their teams and their organisations.”

To learn more about Professor Hasija, please visit: https://sameerhasija.com/

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