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How to Waste a Good Title?

If you have been following this column for some time, you know that I care deeply about certain issues. So you may also understand why I was so strongly disappointed by the last book I read. You see, it’s a pity, but some people just don’t realize how strong a responsibility it is to choose a title. Once you use one, it is lost to others for decades. Plus, your book has to live up to the potential of the title. My guess is that former HBS professor, Mark Albion, should have been more careful when he entitled his last book “Making a Life, Making a Living.”

I was actually expecting a lot from the “savior of B-school souls” who decided to leave his successful career to pursue more meaningful options. I’m happy to report that the difficult choices he made did not change him that much; he still is the marketing expert he used to be. As they say, nobody reads, and when they read they don’t understand, and when they understand they forget.

So who cares? Well, I care… Because even if this book is well written, full of inspiring quotes and interesting stories, it fails to deliver on its strong promise.

According to the book, only social entrepreneurship seemed to “make a life.” As one of my sectionmates would say, I could not disagree more. I believe it is an overly simplified answer to a very complex issue. I’m a great fan of Ben & Jerry’s, but selling socially responsible ice cream is not the only way to make the world a better place, nor to bring purpose in one’s life. You can bring a tremendous value to the world by being a banker, a lawyer, a consultant, a writer, a CEO, or anything else. True value derives from faith and passion. It flows from your sincere dedication to make a difference.

Is Mark Albion contributing more as a social entrepreneur than he was as a marketing professor? I don’t know. But just because he found his personal path doesn’t mean he has to market it as a universal truth. The whole challenge of the life/living dilemma comes from the absolute freedom and absolute responsibility each of us has in making his or her life decisions. Suggesting that the ultimate solution to one’s inner doubts lies in “social entrepreneurship” completely overlooks this issue by providing a cookie-cutter answer. As a result, it could strongly mislead some people and prevent them from bringing their full value to the world.

Don’t misunderstand me. Mark Albion’s book, like his life, is a courageous one. Through this high quality work, he is tackling what I believe will be a major challenge for each of us in the years to come, and any contribution to this field is welcome. It’s just that I would have appreciated less hype and more integrity in dealing with such complex issues. After all, isn’t integrity the foremost quality to bridge our conflicting aspirations?

February 19, 2002
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