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Lessons from B-School: Thoughts on Kindness

October 15, 2012
Robert H. Smith School of Business Class of 2014

Robert H. Smith School of Business Class of 2014

Lessons from the Crypt: B-School

So. What do I have to show you for six weeks of business school?

Sheaves of paper: cases, splattered orange and green with highlighting juice. Returned problem sets. A Financial Accounting book littered with Post-it Notes. An analysis of Netflix’s 2011 Annual Report (my opinion: if you have Netflix stock, hold it).

And a few words of wisdom. Rest assured, they’ve been borrowed from others.

Irrational behavior does exist. But it might not be what you think it is. The bases for your decisions (wages, time off, happiness at work or at home) are not irrational. However, not knowing why you make your decisions, or going against your own decision-making criteria, can be examples of irrational behavior. When used as a basis for decision-making, things like altruism are not irrational behaviors.

Sometimes, companies can leverage respect for human rights into a competitive advantage. For example, in response to a concerted campaign by human rights groups regarding the sale and distribution of blood diamonds, De Beers could have immediately chosen to respond in a positive way and only sell conflict-free diamonds. Could a proactive response have earned it an edge over its competitors?

Not every decision is a good one, and not every good outcome comes from a good decision. Likewise, not every bad outcome comes from a bad decision. Luck exists. However, if you make your decisions carefully and well, you’ll be more likely to consistently earn good (or positive) outcomes. Over time you’ll be more likely to come out on top.

On Winning and Losing–and Kindness

So often, people believe that decisions and competition must result in a win-lose scenario. Two common pieces of discourse, especially during the political season: the win-lose, and the very lazily thought out “middle is the best” solution.  Have you ever encountered a winning solution when you didn’t expect it? Or have you ever had to decide between two wonderful things — that would have improved your life no matter what?

The winning and losing discussion can go in a million directions. But my favorite direction is kindness. Disclaimer: I didn’t learn these things in b-school, but you should definitely listen to them anyway.

Ubuntu: A person is a person through other people. Your existence is defined through the lives of others. In other words, your humanity exists because of other people. Do yourself a favor and take two minutes to listen to Desmond Tutu speak to a group of students sailing around the world on A Semester at Sea.

The Altruism Algorithm: One Radiolab episode, The Good Show, is a terrific hour-long investment in listening ecstasy (thousands of amoeba that band together to become a slug? Really? And…. altruism?!). The Good Show investigates goodness/niceness/kindness through the investigation of altruism. One of three segments chronicles the life and work of George Price, author of the Price Equation, who attempted to explain why one creature might engage in the truest form of generosity: sacrificing its life for that of another. In one sense, we learn that altruism can never truly exist. Why? Your choice to help another is advantageous to you because in the end you are really helping yourself.

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