Sunday, September 08, 2013

Inside HBS: "kill, f^^k or marry"

I recommend this long NYTimes article about recent efforts at Harvard Business School to increase gender equity. If nothing else, it provides some insight into HBS and "elite business" culture. The contrast with East Asian business culture couldn't be more stark -- the emphasis at HBS is on getting your (possibly superficial or wrong) opinion out there as assertively as possible. Talking assertively is, by itself, considered a good thing regardless of content. This is a problem for many women, but it's also a problem for good decision making at firms ...
NYTimes: ... Some students, like Sheryl Sandberg, class of ’95, the Facebook executive and author of “Lean In,” sailed through. Yet many Wall Street-hardened women confided that Harvard was worse than any trading floor, with first-year students divided into sections that took all their classes together and often developed the overheated dynamics of reality shows. Some male students, many with finance backgrounds, commandeered classroom discussions and hazed female students and younger faculty members, and openly ruminated on whom they would “kill, sleep with or marry” (in cruder terms). Alcohol-soaked social events could be worse.

... By graduation, the school had become a markedly better place for female students, according to interviews with more than 70 professors, administrators and students, who cited more women participating in class, record numbers of women winning academic awards and a much-improved environment, down to the male students drifting through the cafeteria wearing T-shirts celebrating the 50th anniversary of the admission of women. Women at the school finally felt like, “ ‘Hey, people like me are an equal part of this institution,’ ” said Rosabeth Moss Kanter, a longtime professor.

And yet even the deans pointed out that the experiment had brought unintended consequences and brand new issues. The grade gap had vaporized so fast that no one could quite say how it had happened. The interventions had prompted some students to revolt, wearing “Unapologetic” T-shirts to lacerate Ms. Frei for what they called intrusive social engineering. Twenty-seven-year-olds felt like they were “back in kindergarten or first grade,” said Sri Batchu, one of the graduating men.

Students were demanding more women on the faculty, a request the deans were struggling to fulfill. And they did not know what to do about developments like female students dressing as Playboy bunnies for parties and taking up the same sexual rating games as men. “At each turn, questions come up that we’ve never thought about before,” Nitin Nohria, the new dean, said in an interview.

The administrators had no sense of whether their lessons would last once their charges left campus. As faculty members pointed out, the more exquisitely gender-sensitive the school environment became, the less resemblance it bore to the real business world. “Are we trying to change the world 900 students at a time, or are we preparing students for the world in which they are about to go?” a female professor asked.

... The men at the top of the heap worked in finance, drove luxury cars and advertised lavish weekend getaways on Instagram, many students observed in interviews. Some belonged to the so-called Section X, an on-again-off-again secret society of ultrawealthy, mostly male, mostly international students known for decadent parties and travel.

Women were more likely to be sized up on how they looked, Ms. Navab and others found. Many of them dressed as if Marc Jacobs were staging a photo shoot in a Technology and Operations Management class. Judging from comments from male friends about other women (“She’s kind of hot, but she’s so assertive”), Ms. Navab feared that seeming too ambitious could hurt what she half-jokingly called her “social cap,” referring to capitalization. ...
The goal of equalizing female representation at hedge and venture funds, and in aggressive areas of finance or entrepreneurship, will be challenging. A recent Crimson poll of the Harvard freshman class revealed:
Crimson: ... The gender gap was also apparent in career choice. Men were far more likely to hope to eventually work in finance and entrepreneurship than women, while women were much more likely to aspire to careers in nonprofits and public service, health, and media or publishing. [ Note: these are super high achieving HARVARD kids in the survey, not state-U types ... no one has more "privilege" than they do, so I think it's fair to conclude that they might be expressing their relatively unconstrained actual preferences here. ]
See also Having it All , Creators and Rulers , Credentialism and Elite Performance.
Creators and Rulers: ... I went to Harvard Business School, a self-styled pantheon for the business elite.

The average person was:
- top decile intellect (though probably not higher)
- top decile emotional intelligence (broadly construed - socially aware, self-aware, persuasion skills, etc.)
- highly conscientious / motivated

Few were truly brilliant intellectually. Few were academically distinguished (plenty of good ivy league degrees, but very few brilliant mathematical minds, etc.).

A good number will be at Davos in 20 years time.

Performance beyond a certain level in the vast majority of fields (and business is certainly one of them) is principally a function of having no cognitive and personal qualities which fall below a (high, but not insanely high) hygene threshold -- and then multiplied by determination, of course.

Conscientiousness, in fact, is the best single stable predictor of job success for complex jobs (well established in personality psychometrics).

Very high intelligence actually negatively correlates with career success (Kotter), probably because smart people enjoy solving problems, rather than making money selling things -- which outside of quant trading, show business and sport is really the only way of being really successful.

There are some extremely intelligent people in business (by which I mean high IQ, not just wise or experienced), but you tend to find them in the corners of the business landscape with the richest intellectual pastures: some areas of law, venture capital, some cutting edge technology fields.

Steve Ballmer - for instance - might deafen you, but he would not dazzle you.
PS I don't know much about Ballmer, but others claim that he is actually exceptionally intelligent, as are the other MSFT billionaires Gates, Allen, Simonyi. None of these individuals has an MBA ;-)


David Coughlin said...

I'll take off on a tangent here. The learn-to-raise-your-hand seminar makes me a little sad. I work with people, clowns really, who try to demonstrate their speed and skill by jumping conversations, leaping to the next shiny fact they can find [or pulling them out of the ether]. I spend a lot of time trying to unf'k they crazy problem setups that they arrive at. Jumping around is fine for forum conversations, but there is a lot more value for me in shut-the-hell-up-and-think-it-through quietness when I am really trying to solve a problem. This applies even to problems that require community understanding. Someone has to find a way to present a consensus opinion, coherent from end to end rather than generate a laundry list of superficially related, at best, facts. Is HBS really worth the quon if they don't improve your metaskills [knowing when to hold 'em, and knowing when to fold 'em]?

TimothyBates said...

HI Steve,

What's the Kotter reference?

PS: To avoid cherry-picking, one should note counter-example Bill Gates. He is way higher up on intellect than Ballmer (He and his girlfriend would have "physics trips" where they would critically examine theories and facts; he's got a patent for a space-based fusion-powered generator tapping the magnetic field generated by accelerated plasma). Under Gates, MSFT increased 50 × ... under Ballmer it fell.

steve hsu said...

I think it's this guy's work:

TimothyBates said...

The 2000s certainly saw massive wealth-transfer from those who create it to those who simply got control of it, but the Kotter self-promotion page seems more like a Harvard Business School how-to guide for wealth transfer (convincing others that bad is good), than a reference about IQ correlating negatively with wealth. My prediction is that in any culture where IQ shows anything other than a significant monotonic upward correlation with income, GNP will shrink and smart people will try and leave: Happy to take bets.

Postscript... I went to the amazon preview of Kotter's best seller. It's basically a list of pat phrases for managers to dole out in the hope of defusing those who resist.. For instance this gem of a non sequitur, eliding the considered caution of an expert (the Head Penguin) with "fear":

"At one point, even the Head Penguin suggested that the right step might be to slow down. But Alice wouldn't hear of it.

"We are constantly at risk of losing our courage."

Orwell would have been happy including this in Animal Farm, I am afraid.

LondonYoung said...

I wonder what a scatter plot of "correlation of IQ and wealth" vs. "median, or average, wealth" looks like ...

Diogenes said...

The American elite is compared to that of other countries a bunch of unreflective, obedient, pushy c***s, and this is the direct result of its elite uni unique admissions criteria.

Is this a revelation?

The US is the most classist society in the developed world but is also totally classless.

Diogenes said...

anyone who writes "try and leave" rather than "try to leave" has zero credibility on IQ matters.

Diogenes said...

the correlation is least in the US of any developed country LY.

Diogenes said...

770 but never applied to b-school. non-elite ug (despite similar sat, etc.) and no connections. god bless america.

Diogenes said...

"- top decile intellect (though probably not higher)

blah, blah, blah -- and then multiplied by determination,
of course."

Again ideology shows its hideous face. If this is true, it is true in the US only.

It is impossible to get into an ug course in business or law at Oxford or Cambridge if one is not in the top 1% intellectually. It is impossible to get into a grande ecole, u tokyo, etc. without the same, impossible.

The MBA is a joke outside the US for the most part. Intel is headed by a man with an ug degree in econ and a Stanford MBA. VW is headed by a PhD in mech eng. Is GM? American exceptionalism.

5371 said...

You would be safe taking bets because that correlation, measured in the coarse-grained way you must be using, would exist in any society where it could be measured. Smart people, meanwhile, are likelier to leave anywhere than non-smart.

Cornelius said...

Parity does not mean equity. This article is more about reaching gender parity at HBS, than about reaching a state of equity.

Two points about top business schools
1. HBS is very different from all the other top business schools. Just like Harvard College, HBS does a great job at getting the rich and famous to attend, mostly the rich. These students are not representative of the typical MBA student, but they certainly seem to get the spotlight in this article.

2. MBA students at top schools are probably as smart as typical Ivy League undergrads. A large fraction of them attended top schools for undergrad. Low EQ types often associate high EQ with low IQ because that's the correlation you find in the STEM fields vs the non-STEM fields - an example of the availability heuristic.

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Anonymous_IV said...

Why? This usage of "try and" is a long-established English idiom and there's nothing wrong with it in informal settings such as this one.

ESRogs said...

> The average person was: top decile intellect (though probably not higher)

1) HBS's latest incoming class has a median GMAT score of 730 (
2) Mensa, which is supposed to represent the top 2% of the population, accepts a GMAT score above the 95th %-ile as qualification for membership (
3) A GMAT score of 730 is at the 96th %-ile (

Putting it all together, the median HBS student is at about the 98th %-ile in IQ. So the quoted HBS alumnus is underestimating the rarity of their classmates' intelligence by a factor of 5.

ESRogs said...

> Steve Ballmer - for instance - might deafen you, but he would not dazzle you.

No comment on his ability to dazzle, but Ballmer certainly does have a high IQ:

"In high school, Ballmer scored a 1600 on his SATs and was a National Merit Scholar.
As a college sophomore, Ballmer finished in the top 100 in the prestigious Putnam national math competition, and ended up graduating magna cum laude in applied math and economics."

ESRogs said...

Gates might be smarter, but Ballmer's certainly no slouch. See:

Diogenes said...

it is a long established stupid idiom, if it is long established.

Diogenes said...

More rot from Chevy.

Compare divorce rates of STEM types to that of high EQ types.

Hacienda said...

Yet for all that, it's the US that is leading edge in women in business. Go to an E.Asian country and how
many women do you see in business lead positions.

Something like craggy masculinity vs smooth masculinity. Craggy men have edges and footholds that allow
people to climb up the mountain side. Smooth men have smooth surfaces that allow no one up the side.

BTW, whose gonna unlock the mysteries of gene based intelligence. The Chinese or Americans? I'd bet
100 to 1 its Americans or some combination of Chinese/Americans. Surely not Chinese by themselves.

stevesailer said...

A fellow who worked for me in the 1980s went to Microsoft and became a good friend of Bill Gates. He reported that Gates was extremely intelligent, far more than the dazzlingly bright founder of the firm where we had worked.

Anonymous_IV said...

Try and get used to it, then :-) [not quite identical with "try to get used to it", according to] No natural language is logical, and all are full of once-idiotic idioms. If your mission is to get rid of stupidities in English, you might start with the its/it's nonsense, which so many people get wrong because it _is_ wrong: the possessive of "it" *should* be "it's", like almost every other possessive in the language.

Diogenes said...

only the stupid idioms bother me. and the mla and chicago manual of style and almost all american professors of english are morons. but i'm being redundant. to be american is to be crass, pushy, and illiterate.

the morons have a tell. if all else fails it always succeeds. it is a sine quo non of imbecility, namely, the formation of the genitive case for singular nouns ending in s with and apostrophe rather than an 's. When I see Jesus'. Xerxes', Dickens', Caius', Odysseus', Athens'...I know the editor is a moron.

and you are among those dummkopfs. "it" is a pronoun. you would like to see "hi's" and "she's" and "I's"? or maybe "her's", "mine's",...

oregonlocal said...

No. That is correct American English style.

David said...

In terms of overall accomplishments, I think HBS attracts the most impressive people out of ANY grad program (med, law, phd, non-mba masters). They may not be the smartest, but they are the alpha males and go-getters who worked at highly competitive firms, kicked ass, did well at top colleges, had substantive leadership roles, and are very well-rounded. Basically they have all the attributes of future leaders.
My STEM Phd friends love bashing MBAs, HBS in particular, but I'm sure it's rooted in deep envy and resentment.

steve hsu said...

HBS churns out > 800 MBAs per year. Compare to the PhD output of top 5 math + physics departments in the US, which produce less than 200 per year. One year of HBS grads vs five years of top math/phys guys. So 15 years of MBAs should be compared against ALL the top math/phys guys produced by the US since it became a scientific power. In the latter population you have people like Jim Simons (richer than any HBS grad?), Ed Thorp (early hedge fund billionaire, invented options pricing before Black Scholes, now taught at HBS), people who invented the computer (Turing, a Princeton PhD; he also helped the Allies win WWII!), semiconductor (Intel founders like Noyce -- created more value than any MBA?), laser, superconductors, quantum computers, created atomic weapons, individuals who win Nobels and Fields Medals and will be remembered in 100 years. I suppose it depends on what you are impressed by, but even if you restrict to making money (highest net worth) and creating great companies I think the HBS guys could be on the losing end.

MBAs typically take over existing business built by real entrepreneurs who most often do not have MBAs. How much value do they really create? Jobs vs Tim Cook? It's not just STEM guys who are suspicious of HBS value. Ask most entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley.

oregonlocal said...

Don't forget that Ed Thorp systematized card-counting strategies to beat blackjack in the 1960's.

David said...

Steve, I agree with most of what you wrote. I don't disagree that top math/physics Phd's have added more substance to the body of human knowledge than MBAs. I was pretty clear in my earlier post that Phd's are smarter than MBAs. My point was that people often underestimate how impressive, accomplished, and well-rounded HBS MBAs are due to sensational articles like this, along with stereotypes about MBAs in general. For the past decade or so, the top American students from the top colleges have heavily gravitated towards finance, consulting, and recently tech, NOT STEM Phd programs. The latter is now mostly populated by foreigners. And a good chunk of the people who got jobs at goldman, mckinsey, blackstone, bain capital, and other highly competitive firms, ended up going to elite b-schools.
Furthermore, as recruiting numbers indicate, top firms highly covet MBAs from elite schools. You may think it's bogus, but this is reality. Admission to these programs acts as a power signal to employers because it indicates that the person is not just smart but also possesses the right combination of work ethic, leadership, and the communication skills needed to succeed in business. Even Peter Thiel, who openly bashes higher education, only hires people from a handful of schools for his macro hedge fund, clarium capital.
Finally, my last point was a bit tongue in cheek :) However, I do have a good friend who is doing an economics Phd at Harvard, and he has expressed dismay and jealousy at how much fun the HBS MBAs have it, while being guaranteed a good job after graduating.

David said...

Steve, I agree that the extreme outliers in human intelligence are almost never doing an MBA. When I look at the most brilliant math students of my generation (Reid Barton, Gabriel Carroll, Daniel Kane, Tiankai Liu, Brian Lawrence, Evan O'Dorney) none of them are or will do an MBA. Such a notion is probably laughable to them.
Having said that, it's not so clear to me that finance is getting second-tier talent. For one, look at all the quants from top schools who have gone to bank trading desks, prop trading firms, and hedge funds. The list of these firms is too many to count: de shaw, two sigma, aqr, citadel, jane street, jump trading, getco, etc. These people made the transition because they were burned out by academia (tenure track jobs are few and far between and the government doesn't subsidize science like it used to during the Cold War), and quite frankly the compensation at these firms is so attractive that it's nearly impossible to turn it down.
I also think the MBA is a dumb signal in that it doesn't measure actual raw skills. But then again, at the upper echelons of business, even in say private equity, it's much more about network and access to deals than it is about raw intellectual horsepower.

Diogenes said...

You have no clue.

Diogenes said...

Nietzsche was rabble. Ressentiment is a real phenomenon, but whatever resentment the STEMs have for the MBAs is more regret, regret that they pursued a passion rather than money per se.

It is true that there are many high IQ professors who couldn't have made it outside academia, but those many are a minority.

It is also true that those academics who believe their research is important are usually delusional.

But it is still the case despite its imperfections that academic preferment and status is the closest to meritocracy the US has.

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