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It's okay to fail, especially if disruptive innovation is involved


With more than 15 years of management and consulting experience, Elnura Hashimova has engaged with a broad range of industries including automotive, banking, insurance, hospitality, and consumer products. To enrich her professional skills, she recently participated in the Program for Leadership Development(PLD) at Harvard Business School (HBS) Executive Education—which led her to an unconventional hands-on learning experience at Starbucks.


Currently Elnura works as a senior business process consultant at Mazda North American Operations and as a strategic adviser for Bundle Network—a cryptocurrency exchange aggregation platform—started by a group of HBS graduates.


LOOKING BACK ON YOUR PLD EXPERIENCE, WHICH ASPECTS STAND OUT FOR YOU?

What stood out was the PLD methodology and approach. We didn’t study theory—we studied the failures and successes of leading brands and companies in the world. Analyzing four business cases per day not only strengthened my knowledge but also gave me different perspectives on disruptive innovation, globalization, organizational transformations, technological changes, and more. Learning from the failures of the strongest brands gave me a new strength—not being afraid to fail. Today I accept that it's okay to fail, especially if disruptive innovation is involved. While trying to improve or innovate, a stumble should not be considered a failure if we persevere and attack every obstacle head-on.


DID ANYTHING YOU EXPERIENCED IN PLD CHANGE YOU AS A LEADER?

PLD strengthened my values as well as changed my views and approaches. Module 5 in particular had a huge influence on me. It broke my arrogance—which actually came from having insecurities—helping me to understand what I really wanted and giving me the courage to do things I had never tried before. During this module, while I was discovering my "true north" and shaping my ideas on finding my deep passion in life, I realized that I wanted to build a brand that would become very popular and valuable. I thought about which global brand was my favorite, and I realized it was Starbucks. I was familiar with the company's philosophy, history, and strategies, but I couldn't understand how Starbucks maintained its leadership and its top-of-mind awareness. I decided that I wanted to do more than just learn about Starbucks—I wanted to experience the small details that make a big difference in the company. So, right after I completed PLD and received HBS Alumni status, I applied to become a Starbucks barista. I got the job, was promoted to shift supervisor after two weeks, and found out that one of my supervisor duties was to clean the store and bathroom twice a day. It was unexpected. At first I wanted to quit, but I knew that this experience would be vital, and I remembered what I learned in PLD—that leadership is not a position but rather a set of actions driving people to a better future. I worked at Starbucks for about two months, and it remains the most difficult work I have ever done. But while I was there, I developed an idea of how to build and maintain a top-of-mind brand with a great culture and environment for customers, employees, and all other stakeholders. Starbucks was a great learning experience for me, and the foundation of that experience was PLD.


IN YOUR OPINION, WHAT IS THE VALUE OF COMING TO A PROGRAM LIKE PLD?

For me, it was developing a great network of executives. Some of them remain close friends to this day, and I have worked on start-up ideas with a number of them as well. PLDers share very deep communication in which we respect and trust each other—that's a rarity in life. My network includes approximately 250 PLDers, and I can contact any of them without hesitation for advice or support. We understand each other on a deep level, and we can share fears with each other that we cannot share with even our closest friends. It's as if we were at war together—a war against ourselves. A war that destroyed our insecurities, our prejudices, and our old belief system so that we could rebuild ourselves.


IF A COLLEAGUE WERE CONSIDERING PLD, WHAT WOULD YOU TELL HIM OR HER?

Be ready to change the way you think!

Your brain is a sponge, and in order to get the most out of PLD, be prepared to absorb the knowledge that PLD offers. And if you panic or freak out, I'll be there for you.

Read an original interview here.

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