Adjusting to an IIM life - Osama Ahmad, IIM Bangalore

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    Osama Ahmad graduated from IIM Bangalore and holds a Bachelor's degree in Electrical Engineering from Indian School of Mines, Dhanbad. He was awarded a pre placement offer in Strategy & Operations division of a leading consulting firm considering his performance as a summer intern. Prior to his IIM stint, Osama worked as a Business Analyst at Mu Sigma and was an active member of AIESEC International. He served as the Vice President of Forum for Communication and Leadership, IIM Bangalore.

    I am constantly asked by those outside the campus about the most prominent thing one would notice if one stepped inside an IIM (Indian Institute of Management). Many of those asking these questions are aspiring students who want to understand what the IIM life is all about. And then there are those who try to unravel the mystery of the huge attention solicited by the IIM brand name. The core idea of the question is invariably the same – what is it on the other side of the wall that transforms bright individuals into smart managers and leaders? During my two years at IIM Bangalore, I recognized that if there was one thing that the campus had instilled in me, it was a tendency to quickly adjust in the environment I was in. Let me get this out in detail. A couple of disclaimers to begin with. First, nothing I say is absolute and the experience could vary across individuals. That after all, is one of the first things that you learn when you attend your first class at IIM – Almost everything is subjective. To expect everything in black and white and willfully ignore the grey areas is to be naïve (Engineers have a tough time gulping this down their throat, having availed the luxury of marking only one out of four options as correct or solving a numerical problem for a precisely correct answer). Secondly, although I might try to generalize my views at times for all IIMs, I can only honestly speak for what I experienced during my two years of stay in IIM Bangalore. The term IIM therefore might be used with some amount of laxity, when actually the connotation might be specific to IIM Bangalore.

    Cutting across to the story. One of the most difficult adjustments that one has to make, as one steps inside an IIM is that of being punctual – the quality of being on time. Outside, most of us are programmed to be late right from the moment we get up – put the alarm on snooze, get late to work, say a sorry as and when needed, and move on. In the little reverence we show for others’ time (and even ours!), not being punctual is largely taken for granted. Inside IIM, this pervasive disease is dealt with strictly. All submissions have to be made on or before time (all deadlines are specified in the format of hh:mm:ss), which can be easily tracked by sophisticated integrated systems, precisely to the last second. Attendance systems simply won’t register post the exact time, neither can an examinee enter inside an examination hall. The bright side however is this – almost every individual gets up and running with the system in a matter of weeks. You might argue what other choice does he/she have? Well, you might have got it right.

    The second adjustment that students often make is that related to working in a group. I call it peer management, equivalent of people management in an organization; only more complex because almost everyone is equally competent or at least so he/she thinks! The beauty of the batch mix at an IIM (if you want to call it that) is that it covers the entire demographic spectrum. You have the old ones who bring in years of work experience and the fresh graduates who have never witnessed a corporate environment. You have the supremely confident ones and the meek, shaky ones. There are the extroverts who would grab every opportunity to voice their views, and then there are the introverts who prefer to keep silent. Despite all the differences, the nature of the relationship between peers is symbiotic. Almost everyone can teach you something – not necessarily Financial Accounting, but simply the art of staying calm and unflappable in the face of a raging storm (which is almost all the time in an IIM!). Similar challenges are faced when trying to convince project groupmates of your specific view point on a given subject. It is not too late before one realizes that if there is a place where one can learn the art of negotiation and of convincing others while also taking criticisms (extremely vitriolic ones, at times), it is inside the campus.

    The third adjustment might simply be referred to as Affair Management. It is probably the most intangible of all adjustments that we go through on the campus. There is no way one can derive the maximum out of two years on the campus by being in poor health. Amidst endless cups of coffee and other beverages consumed to keep up the alertness level, health remains highly vulnerable and is an oft ignored asset. As the level of exertion goes up, so should the effort to keep oneself in good shape. Similar fate befalls families and dear ones, who are often forgotten and relationships begin to crumble along fault lines. The bright side is that as with most things, almost everyone moves along the learning curve in each of these aspects in the course of two years and finds oneself better adept in managing affairs.

    The last one is what I call Uncertainty Management. Graduating from a mindset of seeing everything in the binary, studying at an IIM developed in me a sense of appreciation for the fuzzy nature of most things in the world. I vividly recall how I had complained to my rather-friendly manager about a sheer “lack of information and data about the client” during my days as a summer intern at a consulting firm, only to receive a prompt reply that read, “Dear Ahmad, That’s exactly why we hired you!”. The two years at IIMB significantly raised my willingness to undertake risk. From being an extremely risk-averse individual who would almost always prefer to ‘play safe’, I transformed into someone who now believes in the age-old adage of ‘No risk, No gain’. Of course, one has to be prudent while taking risks, but those graduating from an IIM usually have a better theoretical framework and often more resources at disposal, to ensure that at least the obvious bloomers can be avoided.

    Since I began with a disclaimer, I’d take the luxury of ending with one. None of the adjustments come about in a day. One often has to undergo a painful process of metamorphosis before good habits become exactly that -  a habit. Very few individuals however, complain about those two years on the campus, knowing fully well about what they had signed up for. That, therefore, is an extremely important decision to make. The idea of pursuing an MBA deserves deep thinking and introspection by the candidate. Once you are sure you are willing to toil hard to change for the better, let the grind begin!

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