Empty the cup and begin with an open mind

4 minute read

‘One ring to rule them all, one ring to find them. One ring to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them.’ - J R R Tolkien

A tad dramatic quote from my Pembroke College fellow, many generations before me, and yet a childhood favourite of mine. I begin with this quote because not only does it reflect romantic literary genius, but it captures the very sentiment of what a journey at Oxford means. Profession puts us on a fixed path where we strive forward to perform and excel but do not realise that we are slowly bound by the darkness of ignorance. We either think what we are doing is enough and great, or we don’t have time to reflect otherwise. We stop challenging ourselves and our full potential, and we fall into a race for that coveted one ring. Nothing is darker than self-consuming ego and this is where the challenge of continuing education begins, to empty the cup and begin with an open mind.

If you are someone who has already realised it then you are enlightened but, if you have not, do not worry, you will soon enough. One way or another we find that learning is the only way out of the black box, and during my time on the Oxford Executive Strategy Programme, I realised how varied learning can be depending on the environment. I had already completed two post-graduate degrees, led a conglomerate, and used strategy every day, so when I took the programme expecting to merely enhance my abilities, I found myself overwhelmed with the perspectives and energy; and I was left wanting more. The weeks of reading and exercises did not disappoint, because the more I progressed, the more I learnt about something ‘that I had already learnt’. That is the gift of knowledge made extra special by learning from the best, amongst the best and at the best place. As Dean Soumitra Dutta said, ‘Oxford is a gift to the world’.

So just as our dear friend Tolkien would say, I embarked as a Lord of the Rings and realised I was a hobbit in the world of knowledge with much held behind. Maybe it’s the ‘imposter syndrome’ speaking, for I have been leading hundreds of thousands of lives for 18 years, but my word of advice to all is to let this syndrome hit you when it comes to knowledge, it will not disappoint. With imposter syndrome, or boss syndrome as my programme experience taught me, I found sound grounding to voice my work experiences, learnt to move between living leadership to narrative leadership and back, and more importantly, discovered the delight of knowledge sharing. As professionals, we forget that we have a plethora of knowledge as gems locked away but when shared, these gems come together to form jewellery.

The strategy programme allowed me to directly challenge my best ideas with some of the best in the field, Andrew Stephens, Richard Whittington, Trudi Lang, Sue Dopson, Eero Vaara, Marc Ventresca, Felipe Thomas and many more. But most importantly, at Saïd Business School, the recognition and respect are mutual for what you bring into the classroom, to their learnings and professions. That was beyond my expectation, and it helped me discover more about my abilities than I had even pre-conceived. I rubbed shoulders with the best too as fellow cohorts, learning from their long journeys of acquired intelligence across a whole range of industries, nations, roles and diverse cultures. Many of them I have the privilege to call friends, and that is the gift Oxford Saïd gives you. My ability to see, build and implement strategy has been enhanced many folds.

Embarking with the desire to learn from the best, I found a place to show I belong, and that I have even more to give. Today, I am a contributor to the Oxford Executive Strategy Programme, enabling the learnings and knowledge quest of others. And I encourage people to learn the way I did, not just because they will learn from me, which is delightful, but because they will find the thirst to keep learning and keep coming back for more. You do not just develop through continued learning, but you do so through a broad impact on your profession and your networks. How best to develop yourself than in a space providing unparalleled diversity, global outreach through the Oxford Business Alumni (OBA) Network and enriching learning content? In this world of complexities and rapid change, we need innovative solutions, starting with self-development. My fellow Oxonians will agree, where better to self-develop than Oxford?

Oxford Executive Strategy Programme