The dos and don’ts of starting your own business

His information technology and software company Kabisa won the NRC Carrière Helden award 2016/2017, which is a Dutch award for being an outstanding employer by, for example, offering the best possible talent development and working conditions for employees.  While being your own boss and starting a company is one thing, hiring staff and being an employer is quite another story.

“You don’t need a plan but you do need a client!”

With a big smile, Harm de Laat glanced over the collective group of MBA students. Not too long ago, he actually was one of them, a MaastrichtMBA student participating in an educational week. In his introduction talk he mentioned MBA director Boris Blumberg approaching him to host a presentation and share his experience, as a fresh graduate and seasoned entrepreneur. It is a perfect fit for this particular week, featuring Entrepreneurship and New Business Development. After a brief summary of his career so far, he explained what he aims to do in this plenary session. “We’re going to talk about building your own business,” he addressed the room. “What do you need to do?” As if in one breath, multiple voices said “quit your job!” while others were a step ahead by saying “you need a plan.” Harm started Kabisa with a business partner and the both of them went to a bank for help in designing a business plan. “They gave us a template on a CD-ROM,” he said. “What is a CD-ROM?” someone asked, which prompted an outburst of laughter in the group. Whether it was serious or just a light-hearted remark, it illustrated the positive mood of this session in bright and eager colours. It also showed how fast things change, and how fast technology can become outdated and redundant. “You don’t need a plan,” Harm then challenged the group. “But you do need a client.”

The “wantrepreneur”

“Who wants to be an entrepreneur?” Harm asked to get an idea of the ambitions in the group. He coined a few profiles to differentiate between various types of people everyone encounters one way or another. “There’s the intrapreneur,” Harm explained, “someone who has an entrepreneurial role within a company.” Lots of laughter again when he pointed towards the word “wantrepreneur” in his presentation, “someone who has a new idea every month but never acts upon any of them.” Have you taken the Marshmallow Challenge yet?” he then wondered. Most of the group were already familiar with the challenge, so Harm moved on to pointing out its lessons. “People have to collaborate instantaneously. There’s no time to go over and over and over ideas or propositions. You have to orient, plan and build.”

Timing is everything

Timing is a powerful element to someone’s or something’s success. As Harm de Laat shared his knowledge and insights about success as well as failure in entrepreneurship, the questions from students were met with equal enthusiasm and willingness to share.

No good theory without good practice

It’s a topic that kept everyone on their toes during the whole session. How creativity and entrepreneurship can be matched and proven fruitful, perhaps even in a conservative business environment. For Nadine Kiratli, this was her first introduction to a MaastrichtMBA student audience and non-purchasing professionals. After sharing her background and connection to Maastricht University, from a Business and Economics student to her PhD research and current tenure track as an Assistant Professor, the conversation and feedback within the group would become central as a lead over the course of the day.

Is creativity a new buzz-word?

Creativity in the workplace, in entrepreneurship, raises a lot of questions. Is creativity manageable and if so, how? Often people confuse creativity with innovation, so in order to make clear what the difference is, the group was asked to share their views on the concept of creativity. “A new way of doing business that adds value,” says one of the students. “Having an open mind to a solution of a problem, even if it is new to the company,” another student chips in. “It’s a thought process of developing new ideas.” “Creativity is recombining things that are considered not to be combined.” The answers were diverse and creative in their own right and all seemed to steer into the same direction: how to develop novel and meaningful business solutions? Nadine then posed a series of suppositions to which the group had to respond by individually choosing one out of two or three given options. After, they had to explain and validate their choice. An example: are people born creative (nature) or is it something that can be taught (nurture)?

Class experience

The lively session beheld a promise for the rest of the afternoon in which the students would engage in practical assignments involving entrepreneurship, creativity and innovation. For this particular instance, a selected group of professionals interested in joining the MaastrichtMBA were invited to join the afternoon session with the students and experience the real thing before making a final application decision for the MaastrichtMBA.

We spoke to Manuel and Ralph, two of the prospective students who were present that day and we asked them about their findings afterwards. Manuel participated in the first MBA Click & Connect Webinar on April 18th, which triggered his curiosity and helped him to register for the Class Experience. He and Ralph both work in a financial environment. Both are drawn to the MaastrichtMBA by its strong leadership skills development trajectory and the modular set-up which allows them to easily schedule study and work. Manuel was also particularly interested in the applicability of the programme, whether it is possible to obtain a new job, even before graduation. A question that could easily be answered by any of the students and alumni who have found new positions while studying. It’s encouraged to bring your job experience to the MBA programme and vice versa: practice what you learn, on the work floor. While Manuel was on “home turf” as a former UM student, Ralph has a different background with a strong commitment to be part of growth and change in society; a goal that can certainly be achieved with the MaastrichtMBA.

Entrepreneurship is an attitude

The last Breakfast Booster before the summer break had to be something special. Prof. Dr. Paul Iske, one of our business school’s professors, would certainly live up to that promise in a very engaging way with lots of humour. He founded the Institute of Brilliant Failures to create more awareness for the complex relationship between innovation and entrepreneurship, and how failures can be beneficial to future success. This morning we learned that failure is not a bad thing. Quite the opposite even!

Prof. Dr. Paul Iske started with an anecdote about the pointer he needed for his presentation but had forgotten at home. He then downloaded a pointer app for his phone which turned out to work brilliantly. It was a crowded room at Buitenplaats Vaeshartelt, and a good lift off for a talk about the stigma of failure, and how to change one’s perception and attitude.

Don’t forget to make mistakes every once in a while!

Everyone agrees we live in a dynamic and complex world. But how to deal with everything, at work, in our companies? Success is a main drive. We all need to be successful. But what about failure and making mistakes? The parameters required to be successful, are also imperative in how to deal with failure. Being agile and resilient matters. But we are creatures of habit who create patterns in our brain. Patterns keep us safe, or so we are inclined to think. We are afraid of failure, and afraid to make mistakes. That’s why we stick to what we know.

“We have to get out of our own canyon,” Paul Iske advices his audience. He explains how entrepreneurship and failure relate to one another. Entrepreneurship is an attitude that leads to the identification and exploitation of previously unexploited opportunities. Failure is just an option in a long list of entrepreneurial attributes, among which passion, stamina, intelligence and creativity stand out. Passion involves risk-taking, and risk-taking can involve failure. But it’s what could happen, it’s not written in stone. Again, fear of failure can keep us from expanding our horizon and step out of our own comfort zone.

The art of breaking patterns

A series of examples show how creativity and ideas can break patterns. Like in sports. In 1968 Dick Fosbury won a gold medal at the Olympics in Mexico City with his own high jumping technique, it was called the Fosbury Flop. In physics, his technique makes perfect sense, but in the minds of those who were used to regular techniques, the flop was daring, and revolutionary. For wordplay, this flop certainly turned out anything but a flop, and a huge success instead.

Paul Iske’s institute lists a number of interesting archetypes of failures, among which the Addiction, the Canyon, the Black Swan, Timing and the Elephant. Each archetype carries certain characteristics for brilliant failures from which new products or concepts found their way into society. Viagra is a failed heart medicine, but useful for ED. Those Post-It notes? The result of a failed attempt to create a new superglue. The connection between entrepreneurship and innovation, sometimes via failure, is an enlightening one, if we accept failure as an experience to learn from.

Learning Something New Every Day

Twelve new MaastrichtMBA students from all walks of life gathered in a classroom at Maastricht University’s campus in the first week of December. It was their introduction weekend to the MBA programme. Although they had only just met, a warm and open vibe of togetherness was already present, turning the session about Leadership & Learning into a very lively one.

Exploring brain capacity

Sonja Zaar, lecturer and researcher in the field of organisational behaviour and educational sciences, introduced herself to the group and promised a mix of information and entertainment, carried by the group itself via active participation in the various assignments she had planned. A first series of questions balancing myths and facts evoked amusement and laughter, as the group discussed whether people would use their left or right brain primarily. “It’s a myth, of course!” Sonja explained when curiosity for the correct answer grew bigger, “because the two sides of the brain are intricately co-dependent.” She supported her claim with an illustration mapping out some of the functions of our brain and body that definitely needed both sides of the brain. Another myth or fact kept the group bouncing off ideas and thoughts with their immediate neighbours in the room, as Sonja instructed. Do we use only 10% of our brain? “I sure hope that’s a myth,” Maurice Zeegers responded, and again the group burst out in laughter. Sonja Zaar had no trouble convincing the group of the fact that we actually use our entire brain, but due to internal and external factors we don’t make use of the full 100% all the time.

The myth of multitasking

The myth of multitasking was next. “My colleague Suzanne Dieteren will elaborate on this subject in her workshop this weekend, so I will keep it brief,” Sonja Zaar stated. Opinions differed, which even resulted in a banter between genders, when Robin Richardson said that women could definitely handle more tasks simultaneously. After this rather playful warming-up for the brain cells, it was time for a more serious approach of matters. “It is a fact that we can grow our brain,” Sonja continued. She asked the group for input. Suzanne de Vaal was the first to respond: “We can build a network with multiple connections.” Dimitriya Bozukova, who holds a PhD in Chemistry added: “Maybe blood vessels can grow when the brain is stimulated.” Sonja Zaar then pointed out two major facts. “The brain forms new cells throughout life, it’s called neurogenesis. The brain has the ability to change and adapt, and you can have control over it. That’s called neuroplasticity.” An illustration of a dendrite, which is a short branched extension of a nerve cell, showed that dendrites only grow with new information and new experiences. “If you don’t practice what you learn, there are no new dendrites”, Sonja Zaar concluded. Maurice Zeegers posed a question about creating a neuro network for practice. “Do we have to apply it or are neurons already growing?” Khalifa Almuttawa had his own thoughts about this new knowledge: “Longterm memory is like a hard drive then. Is it ever full?”

The group was focused on everything Sonja Zaar shared about the capacity of our brain, about neuropathways and the automated process that functions like a drawer for a domain. Or how a path can be reactivated to access knowledge. There’s the downside of creating habits, which results in bad habits like addiction. Addiction stems from a neuropathway with a physical impairment.

Different cultures means different understandings of reality

Sonja Zaar moved on to mental models, and the way we see the world. She asked the group to each draw an elephant and in advance she said that each drawing would show a different elephant. And it did. Her next assignment was for the group to form small teams, and for each team to think about a certain project. Each member would have a different point of view, and the goal was to be explicit about what each team member had in mind and to express those different views. The example of the half empty or half full glass was given. Is there fluid and if so, is it transparent? Does it have to be water? Why is it water, is it blue? Ahmed Mongeal liked the comparisons and expressed his realisation that everyone in this group comes from different cultures and as such, different understandings of reality.

Leadership at the core

Sonja Zaar created yet another level by inviting the group to think about the brain and its need for patterns, which easily might lead to optical illusions. The conversation entered metaphysical and philosophical domains before it reached the core essence of this session, namely leadership. “Leaders need to find the strong points of their team, for nobody has the same skillset in life. They need to look at what is the most workable for their team members.” The session then ended with some practical guidelines to benefit both brain and body and how to be receptive towards new ways of looking at things.

The Natural Process of Innovation

While it is freezing cold outside, the 46 attendees at Buitenplaats Vaeshartelt are taking care of a warm ambiance. They have been asked to leave spring early to attend the 2017 Winter Edition of the Breakfast Booster, organised by Maastricht University School of Business and Economics (SBE).

One of the first attendees is the speaker: evolutionary biologist Dr. Roy Erkens, who you can see is very excited about it. Also present is the Director of Postgraduate Education, Prof. dr. Mariëlle Heijltjes. Like the others, they are treating themselves to the large breakfast buffet.

Kick-off a special meeting

Diana Berdún Mingo, Marketing and Communications Officer at the business school, kicks off this special meeting. Why special? Because biology is not a common topic in the world of business and economics.

Erkens takes the floor and immediately asks the question that will be the focus of this Breakfast Booster: what can organisations learn from evolution? Evolution, the change in inherited traits within a population, is a traditional domain of biologists, however there are many parallels with business. “Evolution is a powerful tool that can serve as a reference for other areas” says Erkens, who wishes to emphasise that analogies do not always stand.

Evolution does not anticipate

Erkens uses the example that low back pain, a typical problem of our time, can be explained. The lumbar spine is not made to carry the burden of the (heavy) upper body because it is not too long ago that we were still walking on all fours. Economy also lends itself to such an evolutionary approach.

Change is an eternal constant in nature. To see that, you often have to take a step back because not everything is changing just as quickly. Take the ginkgo (Japanese nut tree), for example. In all honesty, it is a living fossil because that tree has not changed in millions of years. Viruses however, like the flu, mutate so rapidly that the immune system and vaccinologists are always running behind. This also counts for evolution in general. “Evolution does not anticipate,” Erkens puts aptly.

Survival of the fittest

Species – more like populations because species can develop independently of one another – change because their environment is changing. Whoever is best able to adapt will be the one to survive: the principle of Survival of the Fittest, created by Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) who was looking for parallels between Darwin’s biologic theory and his own economic theories. Therein “fittest” cannot be translated as “strongest” but better as “most adapted,” emphasises Erkens.

Variation as a source of change

Natural selection and variation are key concepts in the evolution of species. Within a population exists genetic diversity, or variation: the source of every change. Individuals have different genetic characteristics. Individuals with particular, let’s call them more successful, characteristics will survive more often and reproduce and thereby pass those characteristics on to the next generation. This is how a successful characteristic becomes more useful and evolves a species. “This selection method is actually a form of trial-and-error in nature,” explains Erkens. Nature tries out some variants, and those that work the best will survive.

Which animal resembles your organisation?

Change can take place slowly or quickly, gradually or suddenly. “How does it work within your organisation?” Erkens asks those present, who table by table must answer his question. “And with what animal would you compare your organisation, given the characteristics of that animal?” comes the follow-up question. At one table, Maastricht University gets compared to an elephant and at another to a lion because of her social and caring character.

Perfection does not exist

It is a mistake to think that evolution strives for perfection or even a higher purpose. Just because you can see a particular pattern in evolution does not mean that nature had a preconceived plan. And “successful” is a relative concept in evolution. How good are you in relation to others? That is what it is ultimately all about.

So cat, so mouse

Take a household wherein the mouse population has been able to thrive because of a lazy house cat. What happens when you introduce a fast cat into the household? The slow mice will fall prey to the cat. Only the faster mice will survive and reproduce. This is how you create a faster species of mice. Natural selection on a micro level.

On a similar note, when two men are being chased by a lion in the savanna, they don’t need to get ahead of the lion but just each other. That also counts for organisations. In a difficult and dynamic market, it is sometimes more important to stay ahead of the competition than to strive for perfection.

How flexible is your organisation?

How good a species (or organisation) does, always depends on their match with their surroundings. If the environment changes rapidly, a once successful species can quickly become extinct. Consider the dodo who watched its environment change too quickly. You can expect something similar to happen to organisations that continue to do the same things despite a changing environment.

Look at the DNA of your organisation. Why did your organisation become this way? Do you still function optimally in your current environment? Which threats are lurking and how are you going to deal with them as an organisation? With those types of (let’s call them existential) questions, attendees will go home. Or better said, to work. The workday has yet to begin!

Tuesday May 30th, Maastricht University School of Business and Economics will organise the Seminar on Personal Effectiveness – What can we learn from evolution? The seminar will be provided by Roy Erkens and Martin Lammers. More information can be found at: www.um-seminar.nl.

From the Head to the Heart

Each graduation ceremony is different, apart from its reoccurring rituals and attire. It’s the people involved that make the difference: graduates who during their MBA learning journey sometimes reached the limits of their time management skills, or found themselves at unexpected crossroads having to make tough decisions. And yet they made it to the MaastrichtMBA finish line, marking a new chapter, a new beginning in their professional lives.

Seven graduates were welcomed in the Auditorium of Maastricht University, this Friday afternoon the 30th of September. Their spouses, family and friends welcomed them with smiles and applause while they took their front-row seats. All men this time around, as Prof. dr. Mariëlle Heijltjes, Director of Postgraduate Education noticed in her speech, in which she emphasised this academic year’s theme Community at the CORE and the meaning of the word community for the MBA programme, its students and graduates. Her words coincided with the arrival of some current MBA students who had a few minutes to spare in between their class sessions. They sat in and watched the ceremony, and caught a glimpse of what would one day be their very own graduation ceremony.

Of course Dr. Boris Blumberg, Director of the MaastrichtMBA, did the honours alongside professor Heijltjes, with humorous yet truthful musings about life and the MBA in comparison to rocket science or even the military. He showed an example of how crucial good leadership and management are in order for things to go well and not end in disaster. “Everything is obvious once you know the answer,” he concluded.

Gert Cielen was the first graduate who got called on stage to receive his MBA certificate from professor Heijltjes. As he walked towards Boris Blumberg, he turned the tassel on his cap. Moving the tassel from the right to the left is a ritual performed in the spirit of profound symbolism. The knowledge gained is not just knowledge in the head, but in the heart as well. Cyrille Delahaye was next in line, he was recalled to stage later in the ceremony for also winning the prestigious Student of the Year Award, this time a shared position with Ron Jongen. Cyrille’s mother proudly held the beautiful bronze sculpture made by Babke Moelee in the reception room afterwards where everyone celebrated these graduates’ achievements.

Learning by doing

Amer Doha was third to receive his leadership credentials. Amer is 35 and from Italy. “I am also half Lebanese,” he smiled earlier when we sat down to have a brief talk about his experiences as a student. He has worked as a project manager in telecom for the past ten years. The MaastrichtMBA programme really changed his outlook on life. “This was a totally new approach for me, being an engineer. In the beginning I was just curious, but after the first module I realised this is the place where I wanted to be.” Case studying, PBL, strategy, organisation design: Amer felt he was always a person who prefers learning by doing, and the MBA programme fits his own persona like a glove. “What I’ve learned, both as a professional and individual, is to not see the concept by itself, but to learn what’s behind the concept and how to use it.” Amer also decided to start an IT consulting company in Switzerland, Netlink, along with a partner. It will be open for business next month. “I wouldn’t have come this far, if it weren’t for the MBA programme”, he said. “It gave me courage, and more self-awareness that I can do this. I have the knowledge, I know the way now.” Looking back on his time as an MBA student, he realises much has changed for the better since he started back in 2012. “There are even many more international students now, who provide the diversity you need for programmes such as these.”

Like learning a new language

Just before the group was whisked away for the group photoshoot prior to the graduation ceremony, Vincent Koel (41) also agreed to share his story. Vincent is Dutch but he works and lives in Münster (Germany). He remembered searching the web for an MBA programme and liked the modular setup of Maastricht University. Vincent works as a Sales Director for a company near Frankfurt. “When I started with the MBA, I was employed somewhere else,” he explained, “I’ve been in my current job for two years now.” He participated in two MBA international weeks, in India and Brazil. The informal, casual atmosphere of the programme surprised him in a positive way, and like the others, he learned a lot about himself. “It’s like a journey of discovery. Working with other people, the international modules have really been eye-openers for me. The process of learning is like learning a whole new language. I’ve learned to express myself better, and how to gain new insights. I’ve also learned a lot about discipline and communication these past years.”

Peter de Groot, Maurice Müller and Adrie Vreeke also received their certificate and turned their tassels, with Adrie appointed as the representative to speech on behalf of his fellow graduates. A 2015 MBA graduate, Abo Rassa, took the stage for an inspiring talk about “Life after MBA”. At the end of the afternoon, festive drinks and snacks waited in Ad Fundum, where the spirit of the MBA community showed its hospitality in an open and friendly way. “See you later” seemed to be the consensus everyone could agree on. A proof of the continuous nature of the MBA alumni network to which our graduates automatically enrolled as of this day.

Reinventing Leadership at Daimler

What leadership practices will allow us to succeed and excel in our business for the years to come? A common question for many organisations around the globe, but an extremely imperative one for one of the world’s largest automotive corporations. On Thursday afternoon, September 29th, Uwe Steinwender, Leadership Development Executive at Daimler AG, is engagingly addressing the group of more than 50 MaastrichtMBA students who gathered in one room for this week’s joint session in an MBA module that is all about understanding organisations in times of change. A highly interesting and intriguing workshop it turned out to be, as was testified by the many questions and numerous dialogues that arose among the participants.

Actively collaborating to design the Daimler Leadership 2020 programme. It was the proof of the pudding after a three-days round of discussions on leadership styles, organisational behaviour, structure, culture, and design. Facilitated by Prof. dr. Marielle Heijltjes, professor of Managerial Behaviour at Maastricht University School of Business and Economics, Associate Dean of Internationalisation as well as Director of the division of Postgraduate Education at the very same institute, the MaastrichtMBA students were taken on a journey this week to learn more about the “soft side” of organisations.

A sparkling mix of theoretical sessions and practical skills rounds was designed to build a general understanding of the different ways to introduce change and inspirational leadership. The outcome? A heightened awareness of the way in which the different parts of an organisation interact, better insights in how to address change, and a genuine conviction that adopting the right leadership practices is fundamental for any organisation to blossom.

The next step? Integrating learnings and walking the talk… Let’s wait and see what happens at work next week when our students are back on home soil!

Futurising the Business through Service Innovation

Each of our Breakfast Booster events serves a nourishing cocktail of great food, useful knowledge and room for casual networking. A formula that proves its value every time. Familiar faces and MaastrichtMBA alumni, but also first-time participants were drawn by the theme of this breakfast event. How to improve your business and customer relations always strikes a chord.

Dr. Dominik Mahr, Scientific Director of Maastricht University’s Service Science Factory (SSF) and Associate Professor at the School of Business and Economics hosted this Breakfast Booster workshop about service innovation and service design. The SSF was founded in 2011 for that exact purpose, to bring together science and experience, education and business. They seek enhancement of value-added services by forging alliances between the core competences of a company and what their customers and audiences expect or desire. After a brief introduction about the goals and projects of the Service Science Factory and their methods, Dr. Dominik Mahr offered the participants a one-hour experience that guided them along various stages of the process involved when actively looking to improve customer satisfaction after having dealt with the complaints.

Creating the empathy map

Things that go wrong when you’re traveling to or from your vacation destination… who has not been on this receiving end at some point in life? Participants were divided in small groups, where each person was assigned a specific task once it was clear what holiday travel experience in each group had been the worst. Observers made notes while two others performed a Q&A routine. Bottom line was to become aware of a customer’s perspective and to be able to complete a so called “empathy map”, which points out a range of emotions the customer might feel, from anger to sadness, disappointment, fear and hope.

René Katerberg, one of the MaastrichtMBA attendants, compared it to the Six Thinking Hats system of Edward de Bono. “The De Bono system is designed as a tool for group discussion and helps to establish clarity in diverse and maybe even complex thinking patterns. By separating different points of view or asking specific questions, the risk of confusion is minimalised. In our case it’s as follows: what does the customer think? What does he feel? What does he hear and see, and how does the customer respond? What will he say and do? I think this method works perfectly and helped us to reach our goal, to find a workable solution.” The problem their group encountered, was the absence of a boarding pass resulting in missing the flight. Their solution was a 24/7 Track & Trace procedure to monitor and give access in every phase of the services rendered.

Creating something tangible

Dr. Mahr pointed out that trends such as the sharing economy (AirBnB and Über) and smart mobility integrated via technology, can contribute to improving the customer experience. Gadgets for lost luggage, and apps for real-time tickets, for example. Each group was encouraged to visualise a prototype of their own service innovation idea by using Post-its, Play-Doh and Lego (!).

Anouk van Ingen and her colleague Glenn Bouwens represented the Arlanxeo company they work for. They both attended the Breakfast Booster event to get more acquainted with the Service Science Factory. It was the first time Anouk participated in a Breakfast Booster. She visits small-scaled network events every now and then, especially if the subject of discussion is of interest in a professional capacity. “The main objective is always the content”, Anouk explained. Attending this workshop was fruitful. “It was very interesting, especially because we wanted to learn more about the SSF in relation to the company we work for. As such I have already been able to implement what I learned that morning in my own work within our organisation!”

MBA alumna Marjan Dewitte (Inspirisol) feels it’s important as an alumnus to participate in these Breakfast Booster events. “You get to meet all kinds of people in an easygoing setup, with room and opportunity to work on a broad variety of themes and angles. It’s always interesting to share ideas, thoughts and experiences with people from different professional backgrounds. This workshop showed us how a bottom-up system succeeds in finding creative and applicable solutions. As such it was a very enlightening meeting.”

Learning as It Should Be!

While our current MBA students were already enjoying their well-earned vacation time, our MaastrichtMBA team was in full focus of welcoming an intake of fourteen new students from different backgrounds and countries. Pia Camardese, our MBA Programme Coordinator, helped initiate the three day MBA Introduction Programme. Workshops and lectures carrying the reoccurring theme of improving leadership skills, accordingly interspersed with R&R intermezzi and a nourishing lunch, kept our new group of students busy as well as entertained.

Diversity adds to the learning experience

“We’re thrilled with this new group,” Pia said, right before the final day about efficient learning would start. “The students are engaged, involved and very motivated,” and she continued by mentioning there are seven nationalities represented in the group. “We have students from the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Romania, Turkey, Zambia and China, which will no doubt provide for an interesting student ambiance and learning experience.” Pia made sure everybody was present and comfortable before Suzanne Dieteren, Business and Innovation Coach, took our new students on a rather practical yet highly valuable journey along mind mapping, speedreading and insights about improving one’s skills to advance leadership and business acumen.

Suzanne listed nothing but benefits at the start. Mind mapping and speedreading will change one’s behaviour, so one can be more productive and more efficient in their duties and responsibilities. She emphasised there will be less stress, and more rewards, whether monetary or in receiving encouragement and pats on the shoulder.  “After this workshop,” she boldly stated, “everyone will have doubled their reading speed.”

The myth of multitasking

She also debunked the myth of multitasking with a simple yet effective exercise. “Write down the following sentence: ‘multitasking is a myth’. Then place a digit under each letter starting with 1,2,3 under the m, u and l and so forth. Everyone agreed, this was a simple task. “But now,” Suzanne said with an obvious clue on what would happen written all over her smiling face, “let’s do it like this now: write each letter with the corresponding digit first until you’ve finished writing the sentence, and try to keep it up to speed. So write m and 1 before u and 2, then l and 3 and so forth.” The result? Moans, groans and laughter in the group, and Suzanne concluded with a simple “I rest my case” before initiating a lively group discussion about multitasking as opposed to the need to focus on one thing only.

More exercises, tests, dialogue and opposing points of view within the group reaped interesting results. Each student was given the Business Brain Book written by Jan-Willem van den Brandhof, in either a Dutch (Gebruik je Hersens) or English version. In this workshop, colours, visuals and creativity turned out to be imperative keywords for achieving success in conducting business in the most efficient and proficient way, which is what mind mapping is all about.

Flying colours all around

“Who uses mind mapping in their work?” Suzanne asked the group. Only one student, Marco from Italy, was familiar with mind mapping. “We can’t judge it before having tried it, and we should really try using our brain in new ways,” he encouraged the other group members. Speedreading however was less unfamiliar to the group than mind mapping, and Suzanne did deliver on her promise at the beginning of the workshop. After some exercise and handy tips, the students did increase or double their reading speed! At the end of the day, the Golden Triangle of Learning, which consists of speedreading, mind mapping and making a summary from memory shortly after an activity, would only benefit with an active posture and assuming an active position in one’s chair. “Reading is physical,” Suzanne explained, “if we want to do something fast, our body has to be in active mode as well.”

The workshop concluded with an assignment for the group. Students rightly concluded that the presented techniques can be very helpful in the two years of the MaastrichtMBA programme. To graduate with flying colours, one should try mind mapping and speedreading in a similar fashion!

Taste of Knowledge Event: The Impact of Innovation

Since the inception of academic life in Maastricht, four decades ago, the university has grown exponentially. As one of the youngest universities in the Netherlands, Maastricht University (UM) also ranks as the most international in the country. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that collaboration with others is one of the main pillars on which the UM builds its forte; collaboration manifests itself through communication and exchange of ideas, thoughts and visions. And there was plenty of the above during our Taste of Knowledge event on Thursday the 9th of June.

Connecting thought technology

Over a hundred participants gathered in Ad Fundum, where a huge Brightlands banner sustained the event’s connection to its campuses. Today’s Taste of Knowledge event was all about new – technological – developments and their impact on organisations and people. In the main auditorium, a discussion panel hosted by Marielle Heijltjes, our Director of Postgraduate Education, would bring to light the very essence behind Brightlands’s vision and ambitions. An introduction by Bert Kip, CEO of the Brightlands Chemelot Campus, explained the correlation between Brightlands’s diverse campuses and their networks. Most are of national importance and play roles in the art of transitioning organisational communities by recognising the fact transition is strongly positioned as a tradition to reckon with. The challenge is sustainability in every aspect of society. How do we connect organisations and corporate identities through advanced technology, without weakening the value of human involvement because after all, it’s the people that make the difference.

The plenary discussion furthermore included Twan Beurskens (Deputy of the Province of Limburg), Martin Paul (President of Maastricht University), Philip Vergauwen (Dean of Maastricht University School of Business and Economics) and Peter Verkoulen (Managing Director of the Brightlands Smart Services Campus). They exchanged thoughts about leaving our comfort zones as educational institutions in order to make progress, and the necessity to accept a variety in definitions and business models, facilitating ample opportunity and room for fundamental research as well as providing innovative knowledge.

Peter Verkoulen was happy to elaborate on his mission for the Brightlands Smart Services campus: “We aim to connect entrepreneurs, students and young professionals in our innovative environment of products and services to create new possibilities for businesses, research and talents. What people sometimes don’t realise, is the added value of bringing smaller and bigger organisations together so they can benefit from each other’s strong points and thrive by learning in reciprocity. By enabling these processes on our campus, we contribute to the well-being of those firms and organisations. The structure is similar for students and scientists. We work in various fields and disciplines, from healthcare to the public sector and SMEs. Our goal is to strengthen, encourage and establish relationships on levels of international business and knowhow. We implement what we learn once everyone on board realises we need flexibility in a rapidly changing world.”

After the panel discussion it was time for the theme sessions. Participants left for their chosen session of which two were conducted in English and two in Dutch. Customer service, technical innovation versus leadership, 3-D printing and how we’re influenced by neuromarketing were all very well chosen topics of interest.

Joint efforts are the recipe for success

Marion Hameleers, Executive Programmes Coordinator, shares how team efforts make these Taste of Knowledge Events vibrant and interesting. “It all starts during a brainstorm session at our department. We determine a theme and then we turn it into something concrete. We divide tasks and get to work. There are colleagues who contact and invite speakers, and other colleague who are responsible for inviting potential participants and keeping track of registrations. Still others arrange the logistics. Days before the actual event takes place, many of us are busy making sure everything is in order. We brief the speakers and participants, we take care of badges with names, information folders and everything else required to make it a smooth and well-organised day. At the event itself, our team is present to welcome everyone and make sure everything is taken care of. For this particular event every participant received a gift, a recipe book with healthy meals. Some colleagues spent quite some time preparing one of the dishes from that cookbook, the vegetable snack with the spicy avocado dip!”

An afternoon well-spent

Healthy food was a reoccurring theme during this Taste of Knowledge event. The session on “How can you be influenced in your choice for healthy food” showed the impact of policy making and marketing when we are deliberately steered into certain directions by offering us a specified range of choices. Choices that aren’t necessarily in our best interest. Dr. Raymond Smeets of Inzet Health Accompany deals with employees and health issues on a daily basis. He attended the session and could relate to much of what was being presented about obesity and the problems of calories and so-called “light” products. “It wasn’t new to me,” he answered, “because the problem of obesity in the workplace is becoming more and more apparent. From a neuroeconomics and neuromarketing perspective, however, my own observations got confirmed about the danger that lies in using light products. People think they consume less sugar, less calories, but the more they consume these light products, the more their sugar and calorie levels will increase. As a company doctor I would certainly advise employees to not use any light or dietary products, unless prescribed by a doctor. It was interesting to see how marketing tricks people into buying certain products. The consequences are huge when this affects one’s health and availability for the labour market.”

For Dr. Smeets and other participants, this Taste of Knowledge Event was an afternoon well-spent. For Marion Hameleers and her colleagues of the Postgraduate Education department it was another successful platform event that connected educators, scientists, entrepreneurs and business professionals.