From dawn till dawn – the 24h challenge

19 Aug 2019

Nothing stresses your leadership or teamwork skills like a group project. Nothing pushes you to make quick decisions and to push forward like an imminent deadline. Nothing combines the two better than a 24h Challenge. And I think I’ve had very few harder challenges than this one.

The challenge

The task, which weighs 30% in the Global Corporate Strategy course held by Sergiu Negut at the Maastricht School of Management Executive MBA, is deceivingly simple. In groups of 3 or 4, get data on a local dermocosmetic company, analyse it, and propose a strategic plan in front of the benefiting owner of said company to overcome some challenges they are facing, framing it around some of the concepts we’ve learned in class… all in 24 hours. However, simple does not mean non-complex, it just meant our crack team of dermocosmetic experts (obviously a joke!) needed to get from point A (resources) to point B (proposal) as fast as we could, without leaving too much to be desired.

Ever since I heard it first, I’ve hated the expression “taking it one day at a time.” I mean, how else are you supposed to take it, regardless of whether things are going well or not? But this assignment brought new meaning to the phrase: we only had one day! And I felt the need to cram 5+ theories into it, which were crammed into roughly 18 hours of lectures, which had 50+ books worth of knowledge crammed into them beforehand.

The process

It genuinely made me see how much time I usually waste in any given day, deciding whether to do a good job or to do it fast. Our team dynamics were equally productive and frustrating; we pushed through several difficult tasks and spent precious hours pondering about much easier ones. Much of the time went on debating the best way to approach issues, which highlighted our individual and collective inefficiencies, as well as our positive desire to keep the team together and on the same page.

The truth is, it made us boil down everything we thought we knew until we removed most of what we knew to be a lie. If you like, the project quickly robbed me of the comfort of my own skin (pun intended!), which is a crucial step when tackling something new. Like, do you think you know how a manufacturing company works, from production to distribution? You are sorely mistaken. At the same time, it forced me to focus on what really matters.

The results

Do you think understanding how a manufacturing company works from production to distribution is extremely important? You are, again, sorely mistaken. What matters is to keep the big question in mind and to try and plough your way through the piles of information that are weighing you down using the structures that you heard about in class (and maybe even read about in the course book or in the supplementary readings).

Regardless, if you have an end product and you deliver the strategic proposal, you’re left with this twin feeling of huge accomplishment and massive underachievement, which, I am told, is how successful people are supposed to feel. You feel like you’ve conquered the world but are not really sure how. You feel like you love all the people that you could have murdered just an hour earlier.

The revelations

You feel like you owe them so much, while simultaneously demanding worship for the benevolence of letting them live. Basically, I felt conflicted, because that’s what happens when you’re not used to boiling things down and focusing on results, and are just used to dragging them along until either projects sort themselves out or new, more important ones, come along.

If you’re a procrastinating, socially anxious, low self-esteem perfectionist, this assignment will expose you and help you overcome all of that, for your own benefit… That’s what it did to me. If you’re an analytic, well-organized, team-working leader, this assignment will show you and everyone that that’s an obscene myth… That’s also what it did to me.

The article was written by Vlad Pintilie, Deputy General Manager, BT Capital Partners and RO9 student. If you want to meet him and other EMBA students, you can now join one of our courses, for free, and see if the program is right for you. Check out our schedule and book a place.