Great blog. Applying to HBS this year, but read this book and found it entertaining and disturbing at the same time. Your thoughts? http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/books/article4443213.ece
The Harvard MBA says:
I can’t tell you how many emails/questions/notes I’ve gotten about Philip Broughton’s new book, “Ahead of the Curve: Two Years at Harvard Business School“.
I guess part of running a blog called “Ask The Harvard MBA” is being called upon to opine about all things HBS.
I freely admit that I haven’t read the book. I’m not planning on enriching Mr. Broughton, though if he wants to send me a free review copy, I’ll be happy to post a follow-up.
What I will do is to address the specific criticisms of HBS listed in the Times Online review. They are:
1) A student guide advises prospective students not to bring guitars, literature and history books, or cynicism.
Criticizing a school based on a random quote from a student publication is just silly. As for the specific points, 1) HBS puts on a musical, complete with orchestra, every year. 2) Literature and history is a major part of courses such as “The Moral Leader” and “Business History”. 3) Cynicism and skepticism are just as important at HBS as anywhere else. When I was there, I wrote editorials criticizing the administration for a variety of sins and I was far from alone. At one point, our Editor-in-Chief and Publisher had to defy direct orders from the Dean not to cover certain topics. We certainly weren’t simply swallowing whatever the school was selling. You would think an experienced hack (an affectionate term Brits use for journalists) would look deeper.
2) The author is surprised by the number of earnest Mormons and former military men, whom he believes help create an oppressive atmosphere of “unquestioning obedience and creepy religiosity.”
VERDICT: Partially true.
HBS is run by Mormons. Kim Clark, Steve Wheelwright, Clay Christiansen…all members of the Church of the Latter Day Saints. The school is also full of military veterans, both on the faculty and in the student body. But it certainly doesn’t create an atmosphere of unquestioning obedience and creepy religiosity.
There’s no question in my mind that the administration would prefer unquestioning obedience and eternal fealty to the altar of HBS. The dirty secret of HBS, as with most schools, is that the MBA program is simply a means of generating alumni. That’s where the real money and influence comes from.
We would often joke about how the administrator much preferred the tractable (and more lucrative) Executive Education program to dealing with MBA students. It’s also true that the campus is frighteningly manicured to the point where the musical I helped write featured a scene with a sobbing Dean convening a meeting to discuss the unthinkable: The appearance of a dandelion on the campus.
But anyone who believes that MBA students are obedient and devout clearly doesn’t know how people actually think and act.
3) Students work on exercises that are filled with psychobabble like, “I do not take on the negative energy of the insecure…I stay centred…I try to model the message of integrity, growth and transformation.”
VERDICT: Partially true.
Yep, the school does have people do stuff like that. But jeez, nobody but a complete tool would actually take it without a grain of salt. And even psychobabble can hold a seed of truth. What exactly is bad about avoiding insecurity, staying centered, and promoting integrity, growth, and transformation?
4) A student writes to the school to apologize for urinating on another student’s door.
VERDICT: Probably true, but what of it?
My guess is that the administration told him to apologize or face expulsion. Given that choice, I’d do the same thing. But urinating on another student’s door is pretty tame. During one bachelor party, several of my classmates urinated on the doors of “The Golden Banana” strip club after the bouncers refused to accept our international friends because they didn’t have U.S. identification. That resulted in a band of police cruisers chasing down our chartered bus.
5) HBS graduates go to the school to make boatloads of money, but delude themselves into believeing that their actions are morally good. “Any notion that such jet-setting plutocrats are truly concerned about the rest of us, or the planet, or the future, is laughable.”
VERDICT: Partially true, but so what?
I went to HBS to make money. So did most of my classmates. No one has any illusions in that regard. But I will quote Gordon Gekko and state that, “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good.”
At this point in history, I think it’s pretty clear that Adam Smith was right, and that the invisible hand of capitalism is the best way to guide the allocation of resources. Business in general, and HBS in particular, are the instantiation of capitalism, the greatest economic system ever devised. (Cue patriotic music) We may not be Mother Teresa, but the function we perform has helped to lift billions out of poverty. Capitalism has helped more people in India than Mother Teresa, and I see no reason to be ashamed of it.
Damned pinko commies.
The grand irony, of course, is that after writing his hit job of a book, Broughton is now using his book tour to pimp out his new podcasting company:
“Delves Broughton is finally putting his MBA skills to use. After flirting with an idea for a ‘very high end laundry firm’, he’s now setting up a cutting-edge podcast company with a friend. ‘It is a turbulent frontier world, and enormous fun to inhabit, whatever becomes of our venture.’”
Look, the bottom line is that HBS is what it is: The world’s most famous business school, a fun two years, and a great place to network and get a well-paying job.
Yes, many of the students are arrogant (my wife has commented that HBS polished my existing arrogance to new, shinier heights), yes the administration preaches conformity and tries to eliminate the messiness of life, and yes, we’re not necessarily saints. But it’s silly for anyone to expect otherwise.
As for Mr. Broughton’s new book, an old saying seems apropos: “The lady doth protest too much.”