Similar to our warning that a project is not an accomplishment, today we’ll talk about what may be less obvious but is nearly as important. Capturing promotions on the resume is super important — it’s actually one of the main opportunities for optimization we see over and over when people go through our Reworking Your…
“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”
Again related to our recent post about an ethical situation we found ourselves in (you don’t need to start with that post but you can if you wish).
After weeks of pondering, the simplest description of the whole category of ethics for us is, “Can I trust you?”
This came about from reading merely the introduction to the book Skin in the Game* by controversial thinker Nassem Nicholas Taleb. (You can read the intro for free in the online preview, which is worthwhile no matter what.)
We’ve come across so many instances of ethics in the real world since considering this incident (in case you are sick of this discussion and wish we’d talk about something else by now… sorry/not sorry. this is interesting for us and we feel wholly relevant to an individual’s existence in the modern era).
The reason why ethics matters is that it helps you make decisions — for yourself, and also decisions on who you want to involve yourself with.
If a company offered you a job with a salary higher than you’ve ever earned, are you going to accept it regardless?
Or are you going to think about what that company does, and consider the value that it brings into the world?
Here’s one piece of seriously disturbing data from a survey of programmers that the site StackExchange conducted :
Perhaps respondents misread the question or were moving too quickly through the survey to think it through. As phrased, it sounds like the question says, “You have already identified that it’s unethical. What do you do?” If you’ve DECIDED that it’s unethical, then that right there is your decision. Isn’t it? You should not be involved in building software — or contributing to any task at work — if you’ve decided that it’s unethical. Yet 36.6% sounded like they were waffling. That maybe they’d go ahead and build it.
Yes we agree, there are a gazillion grey areas, but in this case it’s saying that you’ve DECIDED what the ethics are. Why is the answer then, “It depends”?
The main angle we can see in those 36.6% is that they are being honest and acknowledging that perhaps they might do it anyway. It’s actually likely that a good chunk of the 58.5% saying they would not build it actually would. In the real world, there are tremendous pressures and influences, and dealing with a hypothetical, it’s very easy to claim moralistic purity. If not building the software out of your convictions would cost you your job, we can totally see why it would be hard to stand up and speak out. There’s also the problem of power dynamics. If you’re just one guy (or gal) on the team, and your boss and all your teammates are going along with this, and you understand it to be greenlit and approved from above, then you’re inclined to assume that others have thought through the ethics and have determined that it’s OK to do it. Most people want to assume that they work with others who also are ethical. If you’re the only one perceiving an ethical problem and everyone else is all gung-ho and excited to blast forward with it, it would be very easy to second-guess your own worries and stay silent.
But those are exactly the situations where being brave and speaking up are so important.
Sometimes there is all this momentum in an organization and nobody stops and takes a step back. Everyone assigns the responsibility for moral policing to the overall group, assuming that everyone else has handled that task — yet it’s possible no one has done it. It’s so easy to get blinders on.
It’s like the H&M hoodie ad that came out in January with a picture of an African American boy in a sweatshirt that was just — no. That was so obviously insensitive that some people even assumed it must have been intentional as a way to generate attention for the brand. Because who could have seen that and not noticed how bad it was?
If you’re sitting in a meeting with thoughts of, “Am I crazy? Is nobody else noticing this THING that is wrong here?” then you NEED TO SPEAK OUT.
And you need to put some thought to big questions like this in advance. So that you are prepared and ready to take action if (when) the time comes for such action.
If the first time you’ve ever thought about these difficult situations is in the moment when you’re faced with one for the first time, then it’s likely you will fail to act, out of self-doubt or nervousness or not wanting to be wrong, and lacking confidence to stand up for your ideas. These things matter.
There was a thing on RadioLab about new types of media editing technology that are a little bit freaky in terms of their potential to do harm — but what was even freakier was the completely laissez faire attitude of one of the developers. Here’s direct access to the RadioLab stream if you are interested in hearing the whole piece:
Here’s a demo of an Adobe voice editing app that definitely raises concerns:
It’s basically PhotoShop but for audio.
But the chilling part in the RadioLab segment was where they talked about this technology:
And they interviewed one of the developers in this field, a CS professor at University of Washington named Ira Kemelmacher-Schlizerman (starts around 11:15). And the interviewer was basically asking, “Aren’t you freaked out about what this technology can do?” and the technologist woman answered with a virtual shrug of her shoulders. She said her job is a technologist. That’s it. She was fully unbothered — or she just had never considered the questions or her part in it before. (this specific exchange is around 20:05)
Brave Supplicant, please don’t be like that. In any context of your life, anywhere. That just hurts to hear.
Though honestly, her position of “I’m just a technologist” is probably not unethical.
These are the things that the real intellectuals are debating. It’s where Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg clash (the ethics of AI and how much trouble we’re gonna be in if constraints aren’t put into place, but hey Elon, even if they are, there will be people like this technologist who don’t see it as part of their job to worry about such trivial things as, like, how the tech they’re building can do harm.)
It all just makes the head hurt.
And in the end, we come full circle.
Are all ethical decisions completely personal? Is ethics defined by the individual only?
The technologist with the capacity-to-do-harm software is clearly not bothered. Her ethics say it’s OK.
Granted, there are BIG cultural implications in all of this; what is considered “unethical” varies TREMENDOUSLY based on what part of the world you’re from.
We’re not accusing the technologist of being unethical. We’re looking at stuff.
Any further thoughts coming from all you BSers on these topics? (If not, don’t worry – we’ll be moving along to other things very soon!!!)
*In the first draft of this post, we wrote the title as Sin in the Game which is sort of funny as a Freudian slip. Also: That link has a referral code, if you click it we get like a penny or something if you go on to buy. If you don’t want to make Mr Bezos pay us a penny that way, please just go direct to Amazon and search for the title yourself. You know how it works.
“So what does this have to do with Harvard?” That’s how we ended yesterday’s post, which we originally intended as advice for the HBS admissions process. The post ran long, so here’s the Harvard-specific part — however you really need to go back and read How to add greater value at work first. As we…
We talk all the time here on the blahg about leadership and having an impact, because that’s what business schools — especially Harvard, Stanford and Wharton – care so much about in their applicants. We single out those three schools but really, any school you apply to will respond well when they see evidence of…
Call us IdealisticSnark but the truth matters.
If the government isn’t telling us the truth then who can we trust? (Ironically of course, it’s the prevalence of distrust in the government that’s led to the political situation in America and the UK today – see this longread on statistics — warning, VERY longread — for insights.)
All that you have is your reputation.
Integrity is the currency of life. You know from your own experience that this is true in business and in personal affairs.
When you’re telling the MBA adcoms that “the network” is so important to you, well, the only way that there’s any merit to that claim — from their perspective — is if they can appreciate what you bring to the table. Someone who is only ever pursuing their own agenda with a disregard for silly things like facts is not someone you can count on as an advocate.
Just because someone is in a position of authority does not mean that everything they say is the truth. Just because they want you to believe something does not mean you should.
If you hear someone repeating something that you know to be untrue, say something. It doesn’t matter who that person is. You are entitled to say something.
You don’t have to start an argument. You can simply make a quiet assertion that you believe the truth is different from what’s been spoken.
Not so long ago, America was attacked on a bright September morning. In the aftermath of that event, a drumbeat to war began. At the time, based on the U.S. government’s assertions and what the media was propagating as the truth, many Americans were strongly in favor of going to war. We invaded another country (two, actually, though the first was perhaps more justified).
The premise for this invasion turned out to be faulty. It was a mistake. There was a momentary triumph as a dictator was run out, and then captured, and statues toppled. But then the real conflict began, and it never really ended. Lives were lost, many of them, on both sides and from countries all around the world. It was costly, on so many levels, and it continues to be as the reverberations of that action play out on the political stage and affect all of us.
America invaded another country on the basis of FALSE INFORMATION.
The majority of people believed that information to be true. Because the government said it was true.
Today, people are believing what they read on the Internet or what they hear from biased news reporting. The government is making statements that are categorically false, and that can be proven false in a heartbeat. Ridiculous claims about the size of crowds or totally unfounded assertions about voter fraud.
When the government pushed its false agenda in 2002 about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, millions of people believed it, and acted on it, and look what happened.
It may seem insignificant for an elected official to lie about how popular he is, but IT IS NOT.
If you hear someone say, “The President won the election by record numbers” or “More people came to the inauguration than they did in any previous year” then those statements are FALSE.
One of EssaySnark’s great regrets in life is that when we heard people talk in positive terms about their enthusiasm for going to war in 2002, that we said nothing.
It’s not like one ‘Snark speaking up would have changed the outcome. The momentum at the time was to war. However, it’s a moment that, looking back, we recognize that we committed a betrayal by staying silent. A self-betrayal.
Your voice matters.
You’re interested in changing your life. You want to improve your circumstances by getting an education. Based on these interests of yours, we have to assume that you are allies to facts. Intellectual integrity.
You don’t have to start a revolution. You don’t have to march on Washington. EssaySnark is not saying you need to have a particular set of political viewpoints. We try to keep politics out of the blahg. Heck, we’re not interested in becoming SJWs. But regardless of whether you consider yourself left-leaning and liberal or a conservative on the right, human decency and common respect means that we tell each other the truth. We should DEMAND this from our leaders.
What else can you do?
Read 1984 by George Orwell.
Doesn’t matter if you read it in high school. Read it again.
Or Animal Farm – a “National Day of Patriotic Devotion” sounds like it was lifted straight from those pages (if you have to choose one though, 1984 is probably better for the time).
Don’t watch the movie. Read the book.
It’s important to understand what propaganda is. We’re all influenced, all the time, but what goes on around us. Some forces out there are actively trying to make you think a certain way. Be independent in your thinking.
But don’t hide in the sand. Read the newspaper – yes, even the mainstream media has something to offer. The Guardian from the UK, or the Financial Times . A non-U.S. perspective can be especially helpful. Here in the U.S., you’ve got the LA Times , NY Times , Washington Post , Wall Street Journal . All of those papers employ journalists who do have ethics, who do try to be balanced in their reporting. Who value the truth. There are others too but those are a decent starting point – and yes, we know, most of them we’ve named are often accused of being liberal. Try to read from multiple viewpoints. (Tip: When you read an article on a news site, check to see if it’s listed as “editorial” or “opinion” – anything in those categories is going to be more subjective than a front-page article, which as a general rule should be reporting instead of pontificating on the issues. Consider the source. Don’t accept it as automatically true just because you read it in a newspaper – or on reddit.)
Being aware of what’s going on is important.
This stuff matters.
There’s this feature of the EssaySnark blahg where we will allow you to submit your essay for a possible freebie review right here on the website – out in the open, where everyone can see, and hopefully benefit, from the things that you could be improving. There’s this unfortunate habit of Brave Supplicants who are…
(Sorry to be posting late today, people!)
If you think that ethics don’t matter – or even worse, that the rules don’t matter and don’t apply to you – then you are not setting yourself up to lead others.
To illustrate, you can see as Exhibit A this opinion piece from a columnist at the New York Times . Yes, this is about politics, but remember we recommended just a few weeks ago that you should be paying attention to these things. (We’re not saying that you should have already read this piece; only that it’s relevant to a conversation about getting into bschool.)
David Brooks, the columnist, is a Republican.
The headline is “I miss Barack Obama.”
Yeah, that sounds strange.
Just to be clear: Republicans don’t like Democrats. They especially don’t like Barack Obama.
Why would a Republican be complimenting his party’s Enemy #1?
Well, you can read it for yourself. The gist of it is that he feels that Barack and Michelle Obama have integrity.
Here’s another angle: Brooks says that Obama cares about people, and also that he has a good process for making decisions.
Over the years I have spoken to many members of this administration who were disappointed that the president didn’t take their advice. But those disappointed staffers almost always felt that their views had been considered in depth.
That sounds like a quality of a strong leader, eh?
What about becoming a “hero”? We never thought of ethics in that context until we read about this guy: The professor from Virginia Tech who’s helped to bring attention to the crisis with lead in the public water supply in Flint, Michigan. His name is Marc Edwards. He teaches environmental engineering. He exposed a crisis just like this in the Washington, D.C. water system previously.
Here’s a quote from him in that article:
“I feel like I’m doing the job I was born to do,” he said. “I get up every day with such a sense of purpose I wish everyone could experience something like that once in their life.”
Well that’s pretty inspiring.
Here’s a TedX talk he gave on heroism if you want to see more of this guy.
If you want to be a leader in the world, then why not aspire to be a hero? (We’re serious.)
Having a foundation in humility, and empathy, and an ability to think rationally, and, yes, a strong ethical core, are all pretty foundational to any of this.
Ethics is a slippery thing. If you’ve thought about it at all, you’ve probably assumed that you’re already ethical. Something like 86% of people think that they’re more ethical than others. It’s kinda like driving: Everyone thinks they’re an above-average driver. Hmmmm.
We’re not saying you’re NOT ethical. It’s not like you are the one responsible for bringing down the world economies in 2008, right? Even if you worked on Wall Street at the time, it wasn’t YOU who was making those bad decisions and trying to get one over on others. However, we’re also guessing that pretty much everyone who did make those decisions wasn’t thinking about the ethical implications or what the consequences really were. That movie we mentioned recently, The Big Short, shows this.
You folks are the type who are saying you want to save the world. That’s awesome! It sure needs some saving right about now. When you put yourself out there, you can guarantee that you’re going to attract some challenges. “With great power, comes great responsibility,” goes that wonderful quote. If you’re seeking the privileges of getting a top-notch business education from one of the world’s best business schools, what are you going to do with it?
After Round 2 deadlines were past, we exhorted everybody to dive in with life. To get out of their comfort zone and step up to the plate and embark on all kinds of other annoying rah-rah cliches.
Today we’ve got a few links to articles we’ve come across to hopefully keep you motivated!
Next – we’re cheating a bit since this is actually linked from the first article (by the same author): The 8 Qualities of Remarkable Employees
Finally: Regardless of where you are in the process of applying to bschool – submitted in Round 2, getting started on next season, or gloating that you’ve been accepted already – it doesn’t hurt to do some reflection on leadership. Having a good idea of what this means for you – a working hypothesis, so to speak – can serve you well, not just in writing about your own accomplishment stories, and telling them to an interviewer when you are called for that important MBA interview opportunity, but just in general, as a means to figure out what that is to you, and how you can be more of that.
Then, apply it in your life.
Instead of using a Gandhi quote at the top of an essay, why don’t you take this opportunity to go be that change you claim you want to see in the world?
Bonus article, for anyone who’s not planning to resign in a few months to head off to bschool: How to Ask for a Raise
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, EssaySnark helped a Brave Supplicant with some applications to business school.
As some Brave Supplicants do, this person has stayed in touch with EssaySnark, offering updates about the journey and news of experiences and conquests along the way. Over the holidays, we had another such exchange with this person, and we hit them up to offer some advice to all of you still-in-the-midst-of-admissions BSers.
Today is Part I of the great response we got back.
Making the Most Out of Business School
You’ve done it! You got the acceptance call/email/letter, received the congratulatory pats on the back, and stuffed yourself silly for the holidays to boot. You’re now contemplating when to submit your notice to your boss. Life is good. (For the record, that was not my experience, quite the opposite, in fact. So if you’re still applying or worse—got the thanks but no thanks—hang in there, you’re in good company.)
I’m on the opposite end of the spectrum. I’m now 6 months out of business school, about to re-immerse myself into the workforce and reality after a post-MBA startup internship. I’ve had the opportunity to reflect on my business school experience.
Business school could be a remarkable and worthwhile experience, not simply an expensive one. Some of my peers thought it was a life-changing and transformative. Many who knew what they were going back to treated it as a two year-long vacation (I’m looking at you, firm-sponsored consultants). Others, more skeptical and cynical, saw it in purely transactional terms: an exchange of cash for the branding and prestige, as well as being part of the alumni network. Your mileage may vary. For myself, I found it to be a little bit of all of the above. As a career switcher with little prior business background, I found many of the classes stimulating and sought to expose myself to new experiences and take advantage of the resources offered. Here are a few things I discovered (or wish I discovered earlier).
Be focused or hypothesis-driven. When it comes to identifying what goals you want to achieve going into business school, be focused or hypothesis-driven, as consultants would say. If you know what you want to accomplish during business school going in (network into real estate with no prior background, land a cushy consulting offer, break into private equity), great! You can afford to be focused right off the bat for that first year internship. However, for those of us career switchers who don’t have a solid clue as to what we want to do, it pays to develop a hypothesis of where we think we would like to end up rather than having no concrete idea.[This of course is why many bschools force you to think about these things in advance, with the career goals essay! -ES]
Instead of recruiting for banking, consulting, corporate, and startups all at once, develop a hypothesis of what it is that you think you want to do, and develop a compelling storyline around that target industry. (There is a bit of Catch-22 involved. While you won’t know if you’d like an industry until you’ve tried it, you won’t get the chance to try it unless you pretend to the recruiters that’s what you wanted to do all along!) As someone who has advised foreign military on the ground, I developed the hypothesis that I would like to try investment banking because of the critical advisory role they play for their clients. It turned out to be a bad hypothesis for me personally as I found out over my first year summer, but even that has value: I had a concrete data point against investment banking and could cross it off my list of hypotheses with certainty as I went into my second year. And if your first year hypothesis turned out be right, well, you can just enjoy second year. (Quick note: 1Y and 2Y recruiting are completely separate. I saw many who struck out with their target industry 1Y, bounce back, and landed their dream job 2Y during the fall. Don’t be disheartened if you didn’t land your dream internship right away.) [Sounds like Round 1 and Round 2 admissions! -ES]
Business schools are breeding grounds for groupthink (By virtue of having made the investment to attend business school, most of us are a little risk averse and prone to follow the herd). However, it is OK to follow the herd if the herd is going where YOU want to go. This is where you have to be honest with yourself. The worst thing is to go on autopilot, go along with what everyone else is recruiting for, and then realize too late that you never felt passionate about it to begin with and have now wasted valuable time and energy.
While the focus has been on career goals, this hypothesis-driven approach applies to picking extracurriculars to be involved in. It is impossible to do many things well, and a common first year “mistake” is to join too many clubs right off the bat thinking that you’ll get to try them all. I made this typical first year mistake, which meant that I was not very active in many clubs and subsidized quite a few with my club dues for which I never even made an appearance later on. You have four semesters to try new clubs. Be targeted in your approach.
Make some lifelong friends. Quit snickering. This is tougher than it sounds. Business school by nature is competitive. It is competitive getting in. And guess what? It is competitive getting out with your dream job in hand. You will meet with people in a social setting one day and go head-to-head against them in interviews the next day. It is definitely possible (and desirable) to be authentic, treat your classmates with respect, and take a collaborative approach to classwork and recruiting. Don’t let the competitive dynamics of business school cloud over your friendly self.
As a friend advised me before I started business school, you can aim for breadth or you can aim for depth when it comes to building relationships. Anthropologist Robin Dunbar found that people could reasonably expect to get to know about 150 people socially (thank you, teamwork management class!). Depending on your class size, you will probably meet more. In the larger business schools, most people will be generally nice but in a shallow way. They won’t really care how you did in marketing class or that you landed a coveted internship. A handful will resonate with you in a meaningful way. Nurture and strengthen those relationships.
Though it may sound incredible, a lot of people seem to go through business school on autopilot and never develop any meaningful friendship (and that’s OK, people’s motivations for what they want out of business school differ greatly). I saw many people scrambling to hang out and try to make more friends toward the end of second year, which felt forced and awkward. I didn’t walk into business school with the intention of seeking out a group of lifelong friends. I just kind of fell into a group that shared a similar perspective, and over the two years of shared experiences—trepidation over taking exams again, stressing over recruiting, business school dating, honest conversations over coffee about our aspirations and dreams—the level of trust is there where I feel that they are akin to a personal board of directors. If nothing else, if you can walk out of business school with a core group of friends who are authentic and can offer you genuine, honest feedback, you’ve succeeded.
The soft stuff is the hard stuff. As a former Army guy, I had the veteran hubris to think that business school did not have much to teach me about leadership. I realized that I was wrong, much to my surprise. I initially set my priority in business school to developing hard, technical skills that I would need if I wanted to pursue a career, say, in financial analysis. However, I’ve come to realize that a lot of the technical skills that business schools teach tend to be academic, and the real technical learning comes on the job (“Beta? Just assume the WACC is 10%”). [LOL. -ES] Another epiphany that I had was the importance of developing peer leadership skills. The military exposed me to a variety of leadership and teamwork challenges, but it sits at one extreme of leadership culture. The decisive, direct leadership style that the military encourages functions because of the coercive nature of military hierarchy: the person telling you what to do outranks you. Early on in business school, as I was trying to cajole a small team of peers into completing a project, it dawned on me that I was facing an entirely different leadership challenge: how to motivate people who just don’t care. Nope, there was no Army manual for that. As my management professors were fond of saying, the soft stuff is the hard stuff.
Developing one’s leadership/teamwork style is a lifelong endeavor that starts before business school and continues afterward. There will always be new leadership challenges that don’t quite fit prior mental models. However, business school is a relatively safe, nurturing environment in which to test different styles and build one’s leadership foundation. Take advantage of business school resources such as experiential leadership workshops, executive coaches, international trips, and teamwork classes. Some won’t be worth your time, but some will be really worthwhile. You won’t regret it.
All you current BSers, we hope you found value in that! WE SURE DID! This particular former BSer always impressed us and this contribution did so all over again. We actually have more such “from the trenches” advice coming from this person, and from a handful of others, too!