In the headline above I’m paraphrasing Winston Churchill, who is alleged to have said: “If you’re not a communist at 20, you’re a rogue; if you’re a communist at 50 you’re a fool.” In fact the quote in one form or another goes all the way back to Francois Guisot (1787-1874) who said during the French Revolution: “Not to be a republican at 20 is proof of want of heart; to be one at 30 is proof of want of head.” (Republican meant something altogether different from the GOP, of course.)
This quote, in its various iterations is saying: Society expects its young men and women to have ideals and seek to change the world. It expects the fire and passion of youthful optimism and its critique of the status quo, even if it is rash or naive. If the youth do not have that, what do they have? (Whatever they have, it’s worse than naivete.)
When you are in middle-age, then okay, it is expected that you accept certain compromises and adopt a measured cynicism.
Why is the quote important for MBA admissions? Simply, if you are applying for a full-time MBA program you are likely to be somewhere between 23-30; that is still in the age bracket where you should have fire in your belly to change and improve the world. If not, that means you just want to advance yourself and make boatloads of money, and while Adcom likes those driven to succeed, the whiff of narrow self-oriented goals is a golden highway to being dinged.
What does it mean to change and improve the world? See my previous post on this. It does not mean hugging trees in Roanoke or digging wells in Sudan or other “bleeding-heart” welfare-service missions, which, frankly, are a low credibility angle for MBA applicants.
It does mean using your new business and management skills for broader societal benefit, in addition to your own benefit.
Wider benefit that you create can come in developing a new product or service or business model that challenges and improves an industry. To take some famous examples: Herb Kelleher created a no-frills airline (Southwest) that brought air travel to the masses; Ted Turner (CNN) made global news sexy; Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook) developed a platform that brings social communities together in an unprecedented way; Niklas Zennström & Janus Friis (Skype) brought free voip calls to the world — and in the process decimated exploitative national telecoms parastatals.
These were not do-gooders. But they were industry “revolutionaries.” They didn’t look at their sector and say “I just want to be a senior manager and go up the corporate ladder.” Whether as startup entrepreneurs or sitting corporate executives, they were ready to challenge industry status quo’s to build something more ideal. That’s the kind of 20-something idealist you need to be for MBA admissions.