No offense, Columbia, but this is a crappy essay question and we’re surprised that you are using it. But maybe the admissions committee knows something we don’t. Here’s what we do know: Most people’s essays about “a leader you admire” totally and completely suck. Or perhaps that was the whole point. Maybe Columbia is using…
“EssaySnark! I’ve done so much stuff!” The worst thing in the world with an MBA app is a datadump instead of a resume. When BSers hear that their resume can be only one page long, there is often a) panic, b) resolve to include everything anyway. If you’re tweaking your font size down in an…
We’ve kind of been hitting this theme a lot so far this season and partly that’s because you come to EssaySnark for the goodies you can’t get just anywhere. Nowadays, with the admissions offices being (slightly) more transparent with how they handle their admissions processes, and with more and more admissions consultants out there hawking…
If you missed Part 1 of this topic, go read it here first and then continue on. So here’s the thing: When you’re truly differentiated, you kinda know it. You might be the type of person who realizes that you could come across as braggy in certain situations if you’re not careful, because…
This is another follow-on post to the “3 Innocent Mistakes” that we wrote about previously. You need to become the type of differentiated applicant that the schools want to see. You need to have a multi-dimensional approach. Stories of leadership and impact are ever more important in this day and age – but unfortunately, from…
As we’ve offered in previous posts, the answer to that is “yes and no.”
We’ll just leave this up for now.
The only time a dean goes from a higher-ranked school to a lower-ranked one is when there's something amiss at the school they're leaving.
— Essay Snark (@EssaySnark) June 11, 2019
— Essay Snark (@EssaySnark) June 11, 2019
Ah ok – not effective immediately – he'll stick around at Wharton thru end of 2019-20 academic year. Odd it was announced this way though. Did USC people jump the gun? Why didn't this news come from Wharton first? Not handled well – poor leadership here. https://t.co/9zH2v3mm5Q
— Essay Snark (@EssaySnark) June 11, 2019
Like, how did it happen?
“Hello, Wharton HR? My name is Jane, I’m calling from human resources at USC Marshall. We wanted to get a reference on someone that works there, Geoff Garrett? Do you have a sec to answer a few questions for me about his employment?”
Dang, are we turning into a tea channel?
— Essay Snark (@EssaySnark) June 11, 2019
OK gonna let it go now.
This may be in the category of pop science but we believe there could be some truth to it.
We blahgged recently about trends in the bschool landscape focusing on specific new faces in the deans’ offices at certain top schools.
As we did the research on that post, looking at the “About the Dean” pages on many school websites, we were struck by the differences — and couldn’t help but be reminded of some studies that are related. Here’s some contradictions for you:
- From USC Marshall: Narcissistic CEOs and Financial Performance: Study Reports Higher Stock Prices and Earnings Per Share if the CEO is Narcissistic (July 24, 2014)
- From HBR: Size Does Matter (in Signatures): Companies led by CEOs who have large signatures—an indicator of narcissism—perform worse than ones led by CEOs with small signatures (From the May 2013 Issue)
(It’s likely not going unnoticed that both of those studies came out well in advance of the 2016 U.S. Presidential election.)
The tl;dr of those articles, especially the second one, is that indicators of narcissism, as exhibited by a large signature on a company’s annual report, or (first link) the size of the CEO’s photograph in that report or — we’re extrapolating here — on the company website — can give an indication of corporate performance. Those headlines appear to be citing contradictory results (the first study is claiming higher stock price; the second article discusses lower results compared to peers; they may or may not be measuring the same things though).
What we do know is that how a school presents its dean is a reflection of the person who holds that office at the school at least as much as it is a reflection on the school.
We also have strong experiences that anecdotally cause us to claim (without a known study or direct proof to back it up) that whoever is leading an organization is imbuing their character and values throughout the entire place.
If you have a narcissist at the top, then that creates one type of culture.
That doesn’t mean everyone there is a narcissist; in fact, it’s unlikely that you’ll have two narcissists operating in close proximity or sharing power in any meaningful way. Having a real narcissist at the top means that that person is sucking all the oxygen out of the air and it’s highly unlikely they would tolerate the antics of another narcissist in their midst. More common is that the narcissist surrounds him- or herself with astute and flexible types who know how to manipulate the narcissist in their own right — but who probably aren’t technically narcissists themselves. It’s too difficult for two of that type to co-exist peacefully.
And certainly we’re not claiming that any bschool dean is cut from the same cloth as the current so-called leader of the free world (ugh).
But it can be an interesting exercise to go wander through the pages of “About the Dean” at the schools that you’re interested in.
Here are some questions to ask (Pro Tip: If you’re really interested in this exercise, you might even want to jot down notes of your perceptions and first impressions as you navigate through each of these steps on any particular school’s site):
1. How easy is it to find this page? When you come to the first page of the school’s website, are you presented with information on the dean straightaway? A link? A picture? Or do you have to go hunting through the menus to find it?
2. When you find the menu system where the “About the Dean” page is located, how is it organized? What message do you get from the actual structure? In what way are they presenting the public with info on the dean, versus info on the school, and/or the entire leadership team as a unit?
3. When you go to the About the Dean page, what is your first impression? What is being emphasized? What do you get front-and-center when you first view the page? How are the design elements used? What is the size of the headshot — and how many photos overall do you see of that person when you browse around on the site?
4. You can do the same thing with the school’s social media, and with the dean’s professional social media if he/she has any. What do they post about? What do they want their audience to think about them? If they don’t have a visible social media presence, does that say anything meaningful? It’s likely a deliberate decision if they don’t, which on its own merits is not positive or negative, but it could be something to think about.
School websites are obviously developed through a myriad of minds; some schools use the same marketing platform and so their sites tend to look quite similar to one another, and the design choices that an individual school has within that software platform is thereby constrained. All schools have teams who produce the website, from the IT perspective down to the layout and navigation, and certainly the content that appears on each section and often each page is frequently written by different people across the functional units. So it’s not like the dean is the one who made the decisions on how the whole site is constructed or the messaging behind any individual component.
But you can bet for certain that the dean’s office is responsible for the content and presentation of all the information on the About the Dean page and probably that whole “administration” section of the site.
Clearly EssaySnark has opinions and impressions on individual schools and the respective deans running them, and we’re not going to contaminate your own possible first impressions if you decide to run this experiment for yourself. We are DEFINITELY not claiming that any school leadership is incompetent or that there is rot at the top of any of these business schools. We are by no means insiders and we’re not commenting on competence or ability. We’re just talking about how the schools are presenting themselves, and one perhaps interesting angle for you to examine as you go about your task of researching programs.
We would never suggest that a BSer not apply to a school based on who’s sitting in the dean’s office — heck, we even tell you not to be prejudiced against a school based on a bad experience with admissions.
But yeah, we have opinions.
If you’re really interested in the human side of business, then investigate for yourself what the school is about. When a school talks about culture and community, see if you can poke around under the hood and find out for yourself what that might mean. How are they walking their talk? What are their priorities? There are lots of ways to learn about the target of your interest beyond simply accepting the statements that they make at face value.
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.