Of arranged marriages, math and chemistry (@ISB)

That ISB is a T-15 business school is a pretty mundane actuality; the spicy tidbit is that the institute conducted 89 arranged marriages in 2008, and the numbers are slated to cross the three-figure mark next year. Hell no, I’m not talking about the campus lovebirds who gatecrash 3AM post-submission ramblings that can’t tolerate Black-Scholes any more. I’m actually trying to glorify (vilify?) the concept of study groups. It is the duty of the institute to “marry” every one of the 442 blue-eyed wannabe business leaders of the morrow who rode past the Peacock zone on 12th April 2008 to 3 or 4 other such strangers for the next 6 months, irrespective of their nuptial history. These unfortunate souls have to stick to each other (literally, sometimes) over the course of the first 4 core terms (spanning 6 months) and submit on an average, 3 assignments every week. Generally these groups have 5 members but since 442 cannot be physically split into 88.4 groups of 5 people each, I found myself stuck with 3 stags. So, what’s the logic behind a business school indulging in such social activities? Well the thinking goes something like this – more often than not (read “always”) you don’t have the luxury to choose your boss at work; and your colleagues are chosen by the boss you couldn’t choose in the first place. These 6 months are thus part of a simulation exercise where you can’t choose who you’ll work with. And how are these groups formed? In the absence of verifiable sources of information, I’d love to say it’s randomised, but then this post would end right here. So here’s to speculation!

One of the many pearls of wisdom I’ve learnt in the past 6 months is that there are two major aspects that make a team great at work – Math and Chemistry. The variables involved in the math are categorical in nature and represent the skill-sets and/or work experience of the student. The criterion is to eliminate the possibility of duplication in a group. For instance, no group has two chartered accountants (CAs). The institute tries to be as stringent as possible with this rule, but then there are so many of the infamous, though widely popular IIMs (Indian, IT, Male) in the class, this sometimes doesn’t work out. But the bottomline is to bring in as many diverse backgrounds and varied experiences as possible in every group. Add to this the fact that being a strongly opinionated person is almost a prerequisite to receiving the congratulatory message from the ISB admissions office, and you have the perfect recipe for WAR. It’s almost as if everybody has agreed to disagree beforehand. And that my friend, is precisely the challenge you face first up when u decide to get back to school. Tell me a better way (read “easier way”) to prepare oneself for the challenge of working closely with strangers and getting things done under extreme deadline pressures and I’d be goddamn interested.

Once the math issue is addressed for the majority of the populace (I did pity the CA-less groups during Investment Analysis homeworks!), its time to get some Chemistry into place. It’s not a breakthrough innovation that the attitude of “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” is the backbone of a great team. But then, how do you ensure good chemistry between people who haven’t even met each other ever in their lives? Well, you don’t! The institute just takes care of the math and then sits back to see the drama unfold as these strangers go through high-octane debates, discussions, fights, fallouts and eventually labour-division in search of the optimal strategy to get things done with high quality under insane timelines as a group. It doesn’t require a rocket scientist (or an MBA for that matter!) to find out that the optimal 3rd term strategy is for the accountant to do the asset valuations of Corporate Finance while the engineer optimizes the Operations homework.

Interesting stories do the rounds on campus gossip regarding study group meetings – from potential dean-listers arguing over 4th decimal errors in a 2% weightage assignment at 4 AM to the group that allotted turns for every member to go and drop the report in the submission box on time. Top talent typically struggles at teamwork, and you get to see ample evidence of this theory at bschool. Egos get hurt, allegations are made, responsibilities are shirked, commitments are questioned and competencies are challenged. But… the work gets done. Through this entire milieu that lasts for more than 30 hours a week for half a year, few people find out they just can’t tolerate that Page-3 celebrity attitude in some, while a few others find that special person they can’t live without for the rest of their lives! The moderately lucky fellas like me get to enjoy good company at 4:30 in the morning over a heady combination of Heineken and Haldiram!

THAT to me, is diversity!

One thought on “Of arranged marriages, math and chemistry (@ISB)

  1. Ha ha ha ha ha.. I have no idea who you are or how I landed on your blog but that is funny as hell. Esp the part about dean-listers arguing over 4th decimal errors in a 2% weightage assignment at 4 AM. Do write some more. 🙂


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