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Impressions of a First Year Candidate

Oh Foundations, where have you gone? I’ll forever look at August Thyssen placing his son in a straight jacket, needing a team of nine to open my distribution locker, and hearing rumors about which class is my section with a fondness that can only be matched by Al Bundy’s reverence for his high school football days.

I’m sorry, I have to be honest. I loooooved Foundations. I’ve taken away a lot, even stuff beyond a lifetime of organic greeting cards that I fully intend on sending to my family. But – and there is always a but – there are some things I’ve noticed that are frankly exactly what I expected.

The Slippery Slope of Slippery Slope
If I had a dollar for every time a person said “Slippery Slope,” I’d have a HBS Building named after me. The term – ahem, clich‚ – “slippery slope” is obviously the new Hoola-Hoop/Pet Rock of HBS, and can be heard more often in class than whispered “Me Me Me’s” and foot stomping from shark candidates who think that Foundations counts for something.

What ever happened to clich‚s like “synergy” or “empowerment” that everyone could understand? For the longest time, I thought that Slippery Slope was a ski resort in Vermont, until a former strategy consultant shed light on my confusion.

For those who don’t know what Slippery Slope means – which is equivalent to being ignorant of air – it is a metaphor that explains a series of events, the next worse than the previous, that sinks someone (or a corporation) into a deep and inescapable hole of despair. Like quicksand.

The term is apparently used for everything from describing a series of ethical decisions of a conflicted CEO to cleaning kitchen surfaces. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Slippery Slope (now that I get it), as it has given me the goal to use it unabashedly in a tapestry of clich‚s that somehow resemble thoughtful and considerate participation. Something like:

Just to build off of Susie’s statement, I think the protagonist’s lack of clear vision has placed him on a slippery slope. In looking at the exhibits of this case, the fact is, the facts speak for themselves, just like the Beech Nut Case. In looking at the long range view, not just the short range view, we can see that all in all, we are left with the question, and I’ll throw this out to the class, what is capitalism and how can we make moral and ethical decisions within its framework?

Then, I would imagine, the class would break into wild applause, perhaps even tears. If delivered confidently, use of the Slippery Slope can automatically elevate one to Baker Scholar.

Surely before these two years are over, an ambitious MBA will devise a means to license and profit off of the “Slippery Slope” phrase, and I will pound the desk of the job I had before HBS with my skull (coincidentally the same desk of the same job I will have after HBS), wishing I had done the same.

Why Are We Clapping?
There are things that deserve clapping, and there are others that do not. Aretha Franklin deserves clapping. A triple lutz, deserves clapping. A plane successfully landing does not deserve clapping. A good haircut does not deserve clapping. Walking upright, well, you get the idea.
And then there is the murky gray area: HBS classroom applause. I’m starting to wonder if, rather than completing a rigorous curriculum in capitalism, we are confined to a Gordon Asch conformity experiment in lots of ninety, and even worse than that, taking loans to participate.

Nowhere in the admission materials did it mention that I would have to clap after every comment made by a student. Frankly, my hands are starting to chafe. Not to sound Seinfeldian, but how do I know I want to clap? After the first week of Foundations, I’ve placed everyone on a two clap quota, and that is completely discretionary.

If you are superb, and I mean really a superstar, you’ll get a “clap clap”, and that’s really all, maybe a grin. Basically, I’m trying to prevent us from sliding down a slippery slope of clapping before it’s too late for all of us.

If Everyone Else Is Going to Leave Their Cell Phone On, Shouldn’t I?
The in-classroom ringing is rampant, and is rising towards epidemic proportions. One would figure that after four phones rang during one of our introductory Foundations presentations that the message would sink in to place one’s phone on vibrate.

Since it hasn’t, it has become my social responsibility to randomly call people in my section during class to reduce their class participation grades. Yes, I know, James Burke wouldn’t do it, but Friedman would, which makes it okay.

The author, Allen Narcisse, an Iowa native, bombed his first warm call, and hasn’t slept properly in three weeks, not in that order.

September 16, 2002
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