TEDxHEC PARIS 2021: “à Point” an Intersection Between HEC’s French Origins and its International Base
Almost 200 people followed the five-hour long TEDxHECPARIS centered on the intriguing theme “à point”. To answer the invitation, nine people from all wakes of life deliberated on concepts as diverse as Hokusai’s painting The Great Wave, sexism in marketing and the (board)games of life. The quality of the oral deliveries made all present forget last year’s cancellation due to the health crisis.
It’s been a two-year odyssey for MBA student Karan Nimrani to complete this April 29 event of global renown. The co-organizer of the school’s fourth TEDxHEC Paris has had to battle with bureaucratic challenges and the consequences of the global pandemic which forced him to postpone the 2020 edition. “My team and I were attached to the idea of an in-person TEDx event, so when we found ourselves in the same sanitary situation in the third quarter of 2020, we finally decided to push it to April 2021,” Nimrani notes. “It was a revelatory journey in itself.” Top of his agenda was to unite as diverse an organizing team as possible. In its broadening out, the event reflected the richness of the previous TEDxHEC held two years ago under the theme “Crawl, Walk, Talk”. “TEDx has historically been an MBA-led event,” said the former engineer, “but I wanted to change that. I believe that an event that stands for the democratization of ideas would stand to benefit from a team as diverse as itself.”
Nimrani thus brought together members from the EMBA, Master, MBA and Specialized Masters to organize the sometimes tricky waters of the event: “The team was truly representative of the diversity of thought within HEC Paris.” This unity, incidentally, reflected a video Nimrani had co-produced for his January 2020 arrival to HEC alongside his cohort, with the motto: “Truly diverse yet united by their core values.” It also echoed the opening words of Dean Eloïc Peyrache: “People with very different backgrounds, speaking several languages, nourished by several cultures, will be at the heart of finding solutions for the business challenges ahead and having an impact. By organizing this TEDx event, you will be contributing to this drive to overcome those challenges.”
The theme Nimrani, fellow-organizer Fabrizio Contartese and their team chose had people scratching their heads at first: “For me, à point represents a point of inflexion,” explained Nimrani. “The precipice of transformation. The tipping point between raw and overcooked, between order and chaos, between regressing into our past and stepping into the brighter future.” A poetic understanding which could have been inspired by Charles Baudelaire’s poem La Charogne: “The sun shone on this carrion. As if to roast it “à point” and to give back a hundredfold to Mother Nature.”
“Share a Dream”
The nine speakers, retained after a long selection process, offered disparate interpretations of à point. International celebrity cook Francis Mallmann waxed lyrical in his talk: “à point is one of the most beautiful expressions in French,” said the Argentine, owner of nine world-class restaurants. “Close your eyes and join me in a dream of a life where everything is à point. Life is a duality of joy, suffering. There are many moments in my life where I feel à point, that point where I learn from my failures, never from my successes. Is your life medium-rare or well-cooked - dry, with no blood?”
HEC Associate Professor Jeremy Ghez turned to the world-famous painting by Katsushika Hokusai, “Under the Great Wave off Kanagawa”. With this, he illustrated his thesis that, in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the business environment was “ripe for disruption”, or à point: “This painting represents chaos and turbulence - how appropriate these days, right?” The co-director of the school’s Center for Geopolitics warned that a tsunami was coming, one he had predicted even before the global health crisis had gripped. He turned to the picture, which sold for $1.6 million in April: “What is so appealing in this painting? It’s that it gives us the impression that we are omniscient, that we are omnipotent and that we have all the foresight we need to survive the coldest, most turbulent and most chaotic business environment.” Yet Ghez warned that the business community is fleeing “the bigger picture” and seeking refuge in resistant bubbles: “Getting to the big picture demands that we burst these bubbles…It can be painful, but so empowering when you’re there.”
Breaking the Corporate Bubble
Overcoming one’s fears to reach an ultimate goal was at the core of the presentation by Terri Duhon. She chairs the Risk Committee for Morgan Stanley and entitled her talk “The future is Corporate”. From the start, she admitted: “The negative corporate images are there for a reason. Many people have come to think of corporates as bureaucratic thoughtless zombies stepping over dead bodies to get to the profits.” Duhon’s remedy to make such an image evolve? For corporations to adopt a new culture, facilitated by hiring work candidates with the following four principles: “Choosing your employer wisely, taking ownership of your career path, learning how to give and take criticism and, finally, managing teams by giving people a voice such that appropriate challenge is encouraged and ideas become robust.”
The kind of courage needed to take these steps helped Alexandre Cadain place games at the heart of his work. The cofounder and CEO of World Game, who graduated from HEC in 2015, insisted in his presentation that “everything in life is a game”. “But we don’t see it.” So he and a collective of scientists and artists created an association devoted to designing alternative games for the future. Why? Because, for the moment, “only a few can play this game, the interaction is competition, and the goal always is to win.”
“As we continue to play by those rules,” Cadain warned, “we are risking our very extinction and a collective GAME OVER.”
Easier to Crack an Atom than a Prejudice
Having the courage to change rules - that’s what Marion Vaquero displayed in attacking sexist marketing campaigns in France since 2018. And not just because the founder of Pépite Sexiste felt abused by gender stereotyping throughout her upbringing – but also because she had to answer to stereotypes concerning twins at the same time. The self-described “feminist marketing activist” shared with the audience an intimate retrospective on confronting both girl-boy clichés and stereotypes about telepathy between her and twin sister Charlotte. “Growing up with a twin had been my way to discover stereotypes, and twin stereotypes feel similar to gender stereotypes. But you don’t need to have a twin to see how gender stereotypes are everywhere… Yet, gender stereotypes are the cement to gender inequality.” In 2018, Vaquero decided to launch Pépite Sexiste, “my tool to expose everyday sexism I was confronted with in marketing.” Today, the association has 18 branches across the world - and counting. The road remains long, however: “As Albert Einstein said: ‘It’s harder to crack a prejudice than an atom’”.
The challenges remain daunting, concurred the nine speakers. But, just as Francis Mallman invited all present to join him in “a dream of a different life where everything is à point,” so HEC MBA candidate and speaker Gianluca Bacelliere urged the audience to share in his own dream: “I believe in a world where a woman can be a fireman and where a boy can be a princess. A world of love, acceptance and tolerance.” And the multicultural professional in M&A concluded: “Let’s build it together.”
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