Category Archives: Ethics & Community

Learning from “Decisive Moments that Shape a Harvard Business School Education”

HBS has a long-standing video on its site: “Inside the Case Method,” talking about “decisive moments that shape a Harvard Business School education.”

It’s a promo for the HBS MBA of course, highlighting its main point of distinction: the case method, which, according to HBS creates “special moments that pull everything we have learned into focus. When theory, practice, experience and talent all come to one sharp point — a decision.” And so on.

For the Harvard MBA admissions applicant this is a worthwhile watch for a few reasons:

1. It is good insight into how b-schools work and think, that is, background on the culture and attitudes at play, including overall assumptions and ethics. This point to what is expected of the next class too, and therefore what HBS Adcom is looking for when it accepts or rejects.

2. It is a view into the dynamics of the business school classroom, and the requirements of individual and group-based learning. The MBA applicant well-positioned to work in this way, is well positioned to be admitted.

3. It is exposure to the case method of teaching. HBS is “ground zero” of the case method, but actually almost every school uses cases to a significant degree, so it is useful for understanding all b-school pedagogy, and therefore what makes sense to say to enhance admissions prospects.

Footnote: the case method has been under some scrutiny, and voices have been raised that Harvard did not adequately prepare its graduates to assess risk / business failure (ref the 2008 recession and fallout). See sample stories in Forbes and Bloomberg News. But, to me it doesn’t look like HBS or the case method was more at fault than any other elite school or any other teaching approach was (or wasn’t).

 

Cost Accounting the INSEAD Way

Although it is still the off season for MBA admissions, and I keep a low profile at this time of the year, I couldn’t help myself from posting this piece of balanced “what-it’s-all-about” thinking from an INSEAD class:

 

The MBA admissions angle: as go professors so go admissions committees, and be assured on this particular topic that MBA Adcoms don’t offer places to one-dimensional workaholics. While you, the applicant, are frantically seeking to prove yourself professionally, they on the other hand are looking for applicants who can balance work, leisure, family and community (both while at school and after.)

From the video:

“It’s a cost to not be home to support your spouse when they are ill.
“It’s a cost to not be able to see your child taking the first step.
“It’s a cost to losing your health while you climb the corporate ladder.
“It’s a cost to not spend enough time with your parents while their clock ticks away.

“Money falls from the sky! It will find you. (So don’t fixate on it.) Be generous with your time, energy, ideals. Do the right thing. Be decent. Create value.”

 

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective MBA Applicants

Motivational guru Stephen Covey died on Monday from complications following a bicycle accident in April. Covey is best known for ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’ which sold over 20 million copies in 40 languages. The book (and tapes, CDs, video razzmatazz etc.) has many critics. But seeing as the soundbite “seven habits” has become pretty much synonymous with success-lingo, I long ago thought of writing down my Seven Habits of Highly Effective MBA Applicants.

I realize now is my chance, so here they are:

Habit 1. Know thyself. This is of course the Oracle at Delphi, but Covey wasn’t original either. The fact remains that self-knowledge, particularly in this case knowledge of the parts of yourself that count for MBA admissions—and being able to find these attributes in your profile—is the core of MBA admissions success.

Habit 2. Be yourself. Another old saw, but no less true for being so. If you don’t apply as “you,” you lose the authentic power of your own voice. Many applicants try to apply as someone else, or the “ideal” applicant. Being dinged for being you is hard. Being dinged for being someone else is pathetic.

Habit 3. Gain and demonstrate experience. Successful applicants have sought out and embraced significant experiences (work and other.) You don’t need to have traveled to the International Space Station to have had a significant experience. You just need to have taken the life chances that came your way, and be able to talk intelligently about them.

Habit 4. Develop and demonstrate character. Experiences, particularly challenging ones, create character. Good character is not just good ethics. It is the fully rounded resource base for individual decision-making and action that leads to positive choices for the individual and those around him/her.

Habit 5. Assume and demonstrate seniority. Successful applicants have reached for opportunities to become senior in their spheres of activity. Seniority is not a job type or a salary level; it is any position that implies responsibility, influence, and leadership of others.

Habit 6. Be bigger than you. Successful MBA applicants have walked the walk of doing something that is not entirely self-oriented. As I’ve written elsewhere, you don’t have to have fed the starving in Ethiopia: almost any form of unpaid community involvement counts.

Habit 7. Simplify. Push yourself to know what’s really important to say in your application, and say only that. Don’t throw everything at Adcom and hope something sticks.

Habit 7+1. Covey added an eighth habit, see below. My eighth is: A touch of class. You don’t need to listen to Dvorak while pruning your bonsai and sipping chai tea (see Habit 2.) But if your favorite book is Harry Potter and your favorite show is Phantom of the Opera and you spend a lot of time on your sun tan… while there’s nothing technically wrong with this, you leave your competitors a lot of room to beat you.

For the record, these are Covey’s seven: Be proactive. Begin with the end in mind. Put first things first. Think win-win. Seek first to understand, then to be understood. Synergise: learn to work with others to the benefit of all parties. Sharpen the saw: keep yourself physically, mentally and spiritually refreshed through such things as exercise, reading, prayer and good works. He later added the eighth: find your voice and inspire others to find theirs.