What They Don’t Teach You At Harvard Business School Summary

1-Sentence-Summary: What They Don’t Teach You At Harvard Business School teaches why succeeding in business has less to do with accumulated theoretical knowledge through schooling and books, and more about people and communication.

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Are you the type of student who struggled through coursework in college? Maybe you watched as many of your friends breezed through their college years with what appeared to be great ease. Or maybe you were that student who others secretly envied because you managed to balance school, athletics and social life as skillfully as a highwire juggler in a circus act.  

Whatever your deal was, or is, and even if you can manage to ace all of your exams in your business curriculum, applying these lessons out in the real world, is a whole different matter.

What They Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School: Notes from a Street-smart Executive equips you with some great tips and tricks for navigating the business world. You will learn from some of the best experts who’ve traveled the road of building and running a successful business. And they do it REALLY well!

Here are 3 things I’ve learned to walk and talk like a business savant:

  1. Learn the personalities, attitudes and what makes your business colleagues tick in order to predict their behavior. 
  2. Listen to your feelings – discomfort and rejection are signals to spur on your efforts.
  3. Approach work and play with the idea of realistic balance in mind and don’t deviate from that pattern. 

Let’s take a walk on the path where others have been and learn the secrets to great businesses!

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Lesson 1: Glean insights from your business colleagues by listening and paying close attention.

When first starting up a business it’s very easy to be quickly consumed at the onset by numbers and growth. It can become obsessive. But it’s really more about people, isn’t it?

To get ahead in any business venture, whether that business is selling a product or hiring a working staff, the key is to identify who it is that you’re doing business with. It’s a good idea to take some time and figure out what it is that makes them tick. What is it that drives the people that you are dealing with? What are their motivations, aspirations, and fears? 

Know their personality and you can better predict their behavior. For example, that slick businessman type, (AMC’s popular series Mad Men’s Don Draper comes to mind) won’t display that persona to everyone. He’ll have several facades in his toolbox. He will talk to his boss, clients, employees and family all in different ways. 

If you can be aware of these multiple fronts, you’ll know there’s much more to the slick veneer than meets the eye. There’s always a lot more going on beneath the surface. But to discover the depths of someone’s personality, you really need to listen closely.

Lesson 2: An unpleasant tone in someone’s voice or a feeling of discomfort can be useful tools.

Imagine that you’re on the verge of closing a deal. Everything seems to be coming together nicely and you’re just about to sign off. All of the persuasion and negotiating have finally paid off. It’s not uncommon at this point as you’re about to clinch the deal, that you get that feeling that something is a bit off. You can’t quite put your finger on it, but something just isn’t sitting well with you.

So what is your response to these feelings? Do you ignore them and continue, or do you hold the horses and rethink it? 

Some discomfort is a perfectly understandable response and learning to trust these feelings is something that can be beneficial in business practice. It’s okay to feel uneasy and apply the brakes, particularly when there’s a large amount of money or something valuable at stake. 

It could be as slight as the tone in someone’s voice or maybe their posture or eye contact. It’s okay to take another day or two to think about it. And remember that when it comes to rejection in business, it’s rarely personal. Very often it’s about the product or service itself.

Lesson 3: Be sure to allocate time for activities and playtime in your schedule – read, exercise or just decompress.

Too many executives seem to always be on the move, closing deals and running around after new business. Many of them leave little room for hobbies, playtime or just taking some time to relax and power down.

It all really comes down to managing your time. The trick that some busy people have learned is working the playtime into your schedule. That can be meeting up with friends at a favorite restaurant or hang-out spot or getting in a round of golf or a game of tennis at the club. 

The author, Mark McCormack knows something about R&R during the time he was heading up IMG. Mark always made time to read, exercise, socialize with friends or just decompress. If he had a commitment at 7:00 a.m., he’d wake up at 5:00 a.m. and take time for some uninterrupted reading. While some would’ve taken the extra time to sleep in. 

It’s important that once you’ve established a schedule, that you keep that schedule and only deviate if absolutely necessary. 

This will eventually become part of your routine. In the end, this management advice will better equip you to run and maintain a successful business. 

What They Don’t Teach You At Harvard Business School Review

I thought What They Don’t Teach You At Harvard Business School was just okay. It’s true that business schools can’t possibly teach you everything that you will encounter in the real world of business. As I read through the chapters, I found myself often thinking that many of these lessons really apply to all life in general, not just in the business realm. I’ve never been to business school, but don’t we regularly interact with people where these lessons will apply? I found much of the material common sense and intuitive for anybody who deals with people day-to-day. Still, there are some good reminders for us.

Who would I recommend the What They Don’t Teach You At Harvard Business School summary to?

The 22-year-old college graduate with her sights set on an advanced degree in business, the 40-year-old entrepreneur looking to launch a new product line, and anybody who deals regularly with the human animal.

Last Updated on September 1, 2022

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Jim Farina

Seeing as he was a longtime reader and writing course student of mine, I was thrilled to see Jim write 20 summaries for us in 2019 and 2020. Hailing from Chicago with a full-time job as a manager and a family, I've watched Jim go from complete writing obscurity to having his work read, improve, and even featured on places like Better Marketing, the magazine I ran on Medium. He's now freelancing part-time, writing great stuff for companies like Best Buy and Bloomingdale's, and his first screenplay, Martin Eden, made quite the splash in several competitions.