He is a mentor and judge at the Leman Program on Creativity and Entrepreneurship at Harvard University, a member of the Cultural Leaders Network at the World Economic Forum, an adjunct professor at IE Business School, and a core faculty at the Master for Design and Innovation in IED. He is a mentor in leading start-up programs, including Endeavor, Startupbootcamp, Arts at MIT, and others; the founder of the Art & Tech event series and part of Cotec's 100 experts to promote innovation in Spain.
Nir is the author of the Japanese book “Renaissance of Renaissance Thinking ‒ a New Paradigm in Management” and the host of the podcast "Shaping Business Minds Through Art."
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Q&A WITH NIR
Define your experience in the MBA in one word.
What were some of the main challenges that you encountered on your way? How did your master program and IE help you through these challenges?
I guess the main challenge is cultural differences. Israelis are very direct. We say what we think, for good or ill, without sugar-coating. With Israelis, you always know where you stand; we believe that honesty is the best way to progress. Often it is being perceived as rude. Joining my first group [we were six different nationalities], I needed to learn how to frame my thoughts, how to adapt to the group, and, more importantly, listen more before responding. Since a big part of the MBA program consists of group work, you need to learn and adapt. In addition, there are many professors whom you can ask for advice or tips on how to manage communication better.
How did your experience at IE prepare you for your professional career? In what ways do you think the program has changed your life professionally and personally?
I have always had my own companies and never really got to work in a corporate environment. The case studies method, the managerial tools, and methodologies gave me a more structured approach to business. I learned quite a lot from the technical notes we were asked to read, but many lessons came from listening to my colleagues in class.
What was networking like in the program?
Networking opportunities are endless. You can do it all day and night :). But one thing I learned is that networking is a verb, not a noun. You actually need to dedicate time for it, manage it, and cultivate it. It is up to the individual to do so. Going to a bar is one way, but having quiet, one-to-one meetings helps build better and more meaningful relationships.
The problem is that you don’t have time to do it all – my recommendation – invest in networking. Not only for professional reasons, but to earn friends for life.
What was your favorite memory from your time at IE?
There is no one specific moment, really. There were so many small beautiful moments that all ties into one immense feeling.
If someone was considering going to IE, what would you tell them?
Don’t think twice.
What is one thing you wished you knew when you were a student? What advice would you give to students who are about to begin the program?
Time flies. Seriously… I know it sounds cliché, but the program passes by so quickly. Make sure to prioritize what you want because it is impossible to attend all the events, classes, or competitions with all the offerings you have.
Above all, take the time to build relationships with people… before you know it, you are saying goodbye – some you will meet later in life, some never.
Tell us about the IE alumni community and the impact they have had in your life and/or career. Why do you think it’s important to engage with the IE alumni community?
With the type of work I have, I get to travel quite a lot (Pre-COVID), and in almost every place I land, there is someone. Often, we meet as friends and oftentimes it also creates opportunities to work together. So, I get to speak at their companies’ events or run workshops with them – it is fun, and I guess the other participants feel the warm, friendly vibe that we bring as IE alumni.
Can you tell us more about your podcast The Artian?
Sure. When we think about the classic entrepreneur, we tend to think about computer science, business, or engineering graduates. Artists rarely come to mind as successful founders. But unicorns such as Beats, Airbnb, Snap, Patreon, Square, and others were founded by artists!
Since one of the arts’ core values is originality, there is a lot to learn from artists’ ways of thinking regarding business innovation. Because people make innovation, not tools, right? In this podcast, “Shaping Business Minds Through Art,” we explore how artists think, why art can influence business, what innovators and business leaders can learn from artists, and much more. This is a series of interviews with a wide range of people from artists, entrepreneurs, or business professionals that all have one thing in common: relationships to art.
I got to interview highly successful people including Jim Mckelvey, co-founder of Square, Lauren Mccarthy, an artist who work a lot with tech, Nico Daswani, the Head of Art and Culture at the World Economic Forum, and many more.
Not only being a founder of The Artian, you’re also adjunct professor at IE, can you tell what a typical day looks like for you?
I wish there was one! We are working on so many projects as a team and myself as an individual. I might start my day giving an inspirational [virtually] talk about the role of art in business to China or Japan [where I was fortunate to publish a book]. Then will start editing the week’s episode, will jump on a series of calls with potential clients.
In my teaching period, I will review the forums during the week, and since I teach in the online/executive programs, I often teach on Saturdays. So, hectic days, but very fulfilling.
What has been your favourite moment of your career so far?
“No one leaves the room unchanged when they listen to Nir. Nir’s conference is really mind blowing. No one expects to hear in a business conference about art…”
“Nir takes you on a mind-blowing journey to the importance of art in the lives of established business figures and how it stimulated their creative thinking”
These types of comments make up for all the hard work. It’s being able to see the impact the keynotes, workshops, and training have on participants. While the younger generation often speaks about the hope the message gives them – to know that they can connect art with business, creativity with technology, the older generations connect the messages to their inner child and they see a different creative vision.
In class, with students the impact is different. The “Start-up Creation” course excites them about entrepreneurship. And the best part is when they consider it as a professional path – it is really rewarding!
What’s a valuable lesson you have learned throughout your career?
It is all about people. All the methods, processes, methodologies in the world won’t help you if your team is not engaged, if they don’t believe in your vision, and if you don’t treat them with respect.
You know what? Another tip for future students – in my own humble opinion, the most critical classes your MBA will offer are leadership, soft skills, and people management. For one simple reason – the higher you go up the ladder, the less technical you need to be, and more of a people person you should become – work on yourself as early as possible.
Are there any daily habits that you attribute to your success that you’d like to share, especially now with COVID-19?
Discipline – COVID has forced us to change our whole life, but one must build his/her own discipline. I woke up regularly, started my working day at the same time before COVID, quickly created a working environment in my house, and adapted myself to online lectures.
Resilience – There is nothing logical about becoming an entrepreneur or artist, for that matter, because all the chances are against you. So, you need to develop your resiliency muscle. I mentioned to myself that everyone is in this together. Through years of ups and down with other companies, I always ask myself, “what the worst-case scenario (professionally, of course) is?” and I work backwards.
Optimism – always ask yourself – are you a person of opportunities or obstacles. Yes, COVID-19 is a tremendous challenge for so many, yet, at the same time, it gave you opportunities. I interviewed Jim McKelvey during the pandemic, an artist and engineer who co-founded Square – a 100 billion dollar [May 2021] company during the 2008 crisis. He kept emphasizing how a crisis is the best time to build something new.
At The Artian, the team launched the podcast, reworked a new website, developed new training, and on a personal level, I launched a new course in the GOMBA and reworked my book. We took the time to do internal work we kept postponing. Besides, companies have become open to have online lectures – so now you get even more opportunities.
The “now” is always a good time to create.
What’s the best career advice you have ever been given?
I will try to describe it and it relates mainly to accountability.
When we blame someone, we tend to point one finger. What we often don’t acknowledge that physically we have three more fingers that pointing at us [go ahead – try it while you are reading]. One person told me, very early in my career, that before you point one figure to blame someone else, remember that there are three that point at your direction, so ask yourself what you did? Did you do everything possible?
This lesson taught me accountability, responsibility, and integrity. I keep coming back to it.
TO CONNECT WITH NIR, CLICK HERE
CLICK HERE TO CHECK OUT THE ARTIAN
READ Renaissance of Renaissance Thinking ‒ a New Paradigm in Management