Mona Lisa Meets the Oxford MBA Program

Mona Lisa meets the Oxford MBA Program

photo credit: Tookie Graham

What does the Mona Lisa have to do with an MBA from Oxford University? That’s what I was wondering, too….

We recently had the chance to visit our daughter at Oxford University, where she’s studying for her MBA. When we arrived, her “Entrepreneurship” elective was just getting out, and students were talking about an exercise they had done in class. When I heard “Mona Lisa”, I was naturally curious!

One of the students explained to me that their professor had projected an image of the Mona Lisa on the board up front and asked the 330 students in the room to take a minute to discuss what they saw with those around them.

Next, after quieting the room, he asked his students to stare at the Mona Lisa for a full five minutes without talking. (“No complaining! At Stanford they have to do this for twenty minutes!”) Then again, they discussed what they saw.

As you can guess, their comments about the Mona Lisa went from superficial and conventional with their initial viewing, to thoughtful and discerning with their second. It only took a few extra minutes to go beyond the obvious and gain some interesting insights. 

This is not unlike the difference between drawing what we think we see (or remember, or know about something) versus drawing that same thing once we’ve learned to “see like an artist”. Seeing like an artist is all about careful observation and letting go of preconceived ideas.

The relevance of this exercise to business and entrepreneurship is to see the value in slowing down enough to study things carefully, so as not to miss important details by making rushed judgements.

The Oxford MBA is a one-year intensive program, so you can bet they don’t waste time with anything of marginal value to their learning. In other words, pay attention…. this is important!

This concept has applications not only to business and art, but to critical life skills, including understanding others who may have opinions different than our own.

Try this exercise with your students and challenge them to think of different ways they can apply it.

Slow down. Be quiet. Observe. Seek to discover what may not be obvious at first.


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