Tag Archives: Leadership

‘Dedicated to the things that haven’t happened yet and the people who are about to dream them up’

I spent a few minutes today catching up with the Stanford GSB Dean’s “State of  the School, Fall 2010” message, which anticipates the GSB’s move into the new Knight Management Center in Spring 2011.

What caught my attention, from an MBA admissions perspective, is the inscription on the new cornerstone of the new center. How is that for clarity in what Stanford GSB is looking for? Dreaming up — and presumably then building — new things is, literally, the cornerstone of the institution.

So if you are applying to Stanford GSB, you need to have some idea of what (ambitious) business or organization or innovation you may dream up, why it’s important to the world, why you are the person to do it, why SGSB can expect you to succeed, and a sense of how they can help you.

Is this saying, “think small?” Is this saying, “comfortable career track?” “Sure, we want to educate you so you can be a trader in an I-bank, or telecoms strategy consultant…?” I think not. They are not demanding mainline entrepreneurship exactly, but they are demanding those ready, willing, and able to build big new things in the world.

It’s also worth spending the 4 minutes it takes to watch Dean Saloner’s presentation, below, because he integrates key elements in the business school education framework, from perspective to foundations to critical-analytical thinking to innovation to personal leadership in a very joined-up way. As an applicant, it’s worth pausing to think how this simple pattern can be used to structure stories and events in your own life that you are trying to tell Adcom about.


‘If you aren’t an idealist at 25, you’re a rogue; if you’re an idealist at 50 … you’re a fool’

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.