Book Review

What they teach you at HBS by Philip Delves Broughton

I have always longed to be part of big and established institutions be it corporations or universities. That longing faded when I got there with bitter disappointment.

A while ago I decided to read two books: “what they teach you at Harvard Business School” (HBS) and the other one was “what they do not teach you at HBS”. As a proper management consultant, I thought that was mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive.

I chose to review today the former.

What the book is about

This is a genuine book. While the author – Philip Delves Broughton – did his best to be politically correct and subtle, I was able to sense silent suffering. The author himself is a tenured journalist who graduated from Harvard. This book is a memoir for his two years on campus with his family.

Broughton speaks about his first day and his last day, he also describes case studies throughout. He talks about guest lectures too.

The book is quite brutal as the author dared to qualify Harvard as a “factory for unhappy people”. He wrote long chapters about the burnouts, the booze-luge, and the high-flyer, and more.

What I liked it

This book’s authenticity does not solely apply to Harvard. It actually applies to large institutions that operate like cauldrons of capitalism. I appreciate the audacity of the author but also the extent to which one feels his discretion.

The book contains a number of life lessons and sociological observations that I appreciate. The author appears to be sensitive and highly empathetic. He chose to share with his readers the identity crisis he was going through on campus asking a number of times who he was.

In a nutshell, I very much related to the writings of this author and his shy struggle to emulate or become an arrogant person with ego problems and a huge sense of entitlement.

I like how courageous he was stating that HBS (and the like be it in education or the corporate world) claims to constitute a safe environment for innovation and failure where as it is filled with judgement and bias.

This book is not anecdotal as the author strengthened his observations with research and citations from other people.

The book offers management lessons as well that are written in a witty fashion, yet, they stick. Some are about negotiation skills, others about finance, and many more.

Comparison is the death of happiness

We are all we have

When we look back, the big things will look small, and the small things will look big

What I did not like

The book is a little long for the key messages it conveys. A few chapters seemed tedious with no clear messaging so I often wondered “so what”… However I always think about the long hours put into the manuscript, and the fact that initially the author might have written the book to foremost heal himself.

I recommend that you read this book if you have been accepted either for a degree or for a position in large (American) institutions. If you have been there for a while, this book is also for you. As Broughton tried to heal, you may feel that you are not alone.

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2 thoughts on “What they teach you at HBS by Philip Delves Broughton”

  1. Joanna is no ordinary book reviewer. She always shares a part of herself with the readers of her reviews to create a highly personal three-way connection between author, reviewer and herself. This connection brings rare richness and insight to the topics she reviews

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