Friday, December 16, 2011

Axiom 15: The Harvard Advantage

Harvard is America's oldest university and boasts one of the most impressive lists of successful graduates in the country. First I'll explain why Harvard graduates are so successful and then I'll show you how you can take advantage of their resources.

Why are Harvard graduates so successful?

Undoubtedly part of their success is a bi-product of strict admissions standards, exorbitant tuition costs, and a network of wealthy aristocrats at their disposal. However these things will only help Harvard graduates get their foot in the door somewhere, it won't necessarily make them successful at what they do. I believe the real value of a Harvard degree lies within the actual education students receive.  

Harvard's MBA program is the best example of how exceptional the school's educational process is. It is heavily centered on case study. Emphasis is placed on problem-solving instead of memorizing dates and statistics. Case study allows students to examine real world problems to see what went wrong and what went right. After working through hundreds of these case studies students are prepared to go out into the business world and deal with pretty much any potential problem that can come up.

This concept in connected to the 10,000 hour rule I wrote about in Axiom 11. Once students have acquired 10,000 of studying real world business problems in school they are to well equipped to deal with real-world problems when they graduate. They have already worked through similar situations in school and are familiar with all of the possible outcomes.

The Harvard difference can be best illustrated by the following quote:

I walk down the street. 
There is a hole. 
I don't see it. 
I fall in. 
It isn't my fault. 
It takes a very long time to get out.

I walk down the same street.
There is still a deep hole.
I pretend not to see it.
I fall in.
I pretend it's still not my fault.
It takes a long time to get out.

I walk down the same street. 
There is still the same deep hole.
I see it.
I fall in anyway.
It's a habit.
I get out quicker this time.

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole.
I see it.
I walk around it.
I don't fall in.

I walk down a different street. 

-Portia Nelson

If the quote above was an actual business situation the Harvard graduate would already be familiar with all of the possible outcomes based on research. A mainstream college graduate might actually work through the scenario blindly as it reads and make mistakes until the correct solution is found. Hence the phrase, "Smart people learn from their mistakes. Geniuses learn from the mistakes of others".

 How can you use the Harvard advantage?
  • The Free Method - Learn about your field of interest through a case study approach using the resources readily available to you. This could be talking with industry experts, watching documentaries on television, researching on the Internet, etc. Study about the history of your field and focus on how companies and individuals reacted to problems. Keep in mind that case studies are timeless. So a business failure is just as relevant in 2011 as it was in 1811. 
  • The Inexpensive Method - Check out the resources available at the Harvard Business Review website. They offer books, a magazine, blogs, courses, and other materials that can offer you a more structured way to study cases in your field of interest.  
  • The Expensive Method - Get a professional certificate online from Harvard's Extension School. Many people don't know that they can get a professional certificate from Harvard by simply taking five classes online within three years. The best part is that registration is open to the general public without any requirements for admission. They currently offer five fields of study: Nanotechnology, Strategic Management, Religious Studies, Sustainability, and Web Technology. Imagine how much more your résumé would stand out with a Harvard certification on it!