Friday, February 21, 2014

Ahead of the Curve by Philip Delves Broughton

 When Philip Broughton arrives at Harvard Business School, or HBS, to study for his Masters in Business Administration, or MBA, after ten years as a journalist, he's in for some culture shock. Quantitative analysis of business cases stretches his computer and math skills to their utmost, and only his extensive travels have prepared him for the mixed bag of fellow students with whom he must team to succeed.

Broughton gives us some background on his upbringing and his journey from England to Massachusetts to attend Harvard, and a bit of history on the school, as well, before jumping into a narrative about each of his classes covering two years of study.

Random takeaways:

A bit of advice we could probably all benefit from in our lives, "HBS is not about letting everyone do everything. It is about forcing you to make choices. What are your ambitions? What are your obligations? Do they tally? If not, what should you do to change one or the other? How should you spend your time to get what you want?"

My first time encountering the Forer Principal, "In 1948, the psychologist Bertram Forer created a personality test for a group of students and then gave them an analysis based on its results. He asked the students to rate the accuracy of the analysis on a scale of zero to five, with five being a first-rate description of their personality. The average rating was 4.26. But Forer had played a trick on the students. He had given each one exactly the same analysis, once he had cobbled together from various horoscopes."

Think of that next time you're taking one of those Facebook personality quizzes.

An interesting bit about why Microsoft's balance sheet was always cash-heavy, "Bill Gates said...'The thing that was scary to me was when I started hiring my friends they expected to get I soon came up with this incredibly conservative approach that I wanted to have enough money in the bank to pay a year's worth of payroll, even if we didn't get any payments coming in."

We could all learn something from Gates about having a decent emergency fund for the tough times.

A passage I found amusing from his description of his journalistic experience in covering the G8 summit in 2003,

"It was a sunny day and everyone sashayed along to reggae and chants of 'Kill George Bush.' Among the twenty five thousand marchers were Zapatistas from Mexico, Maoists from Italy, French high-school teachers, Palestinian nationalists...a large British contingent organized by the Socialist Worker newspaper...furious about the war in Iraq... A Belgian kid in a Jacque Chirac rubber mask said he was there to celebrate the 'good dope coming out of Afghanistan' since the American invasion..."

And if you're looking for a sign as to where the stock market is headed,

"Ray Soifer...had been keeping track of the relationship between the condition of the American equity market and the percentage of Harvard MBA graduates choosing careers in financial services. Ten percent or less was a long-term buy signal. Thirty percent or more was a long-term sell."

I'll let you do the research to see where we are right now.

A book that left me feeling as if I'd gotten a mini-MBA myself. Interesting glimpse into life on the other side.

By the time he graduates, he still hasn't found a job, disdaining some of the financial services, banks and consulting firms as "soulless", and I have to wonder what he found to offset the $175,000 cost of getting his MBA, aside from writing a novel and this non fiction work.

Many times, while reading one book, the author's comments or direct references points me to another. In this case I've put One Smart Cookie about Mrs. Fields and Michael Porter's Redefining Health Care on my want list at the library

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