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The Two Year (Old's) MBA

In the mornings, I pack my husband and two-year-old son off to their respective schools and sometimes, when the humor takes me, I wonder what would happen if they accidentally swapped places. In the interests of creative journalism, I’m prepared to take a punt and put some thoughts down as to how toddlers might view the MBA experience. I have a feeling that they might find some aspects of the lessons self-evident. I say this in light of the following observations:

Personality types:
Myers Briggs does not work on toddlers. All toddlers are Type A personalities. There is only “ME” in toddler world. They are attention-seeking missiles, they do not share, they do not play well with others and their way is the only right way. They find it next to impossible to form study groups.

Supply versus demand curves explained:
My husband struggles with supply and demand curves. My son, however, understands them very clearly and has no need to resort to nasty calculus for the derivation of equations. For him, demand is always infinite while supply is always limited.

Management redefined:
The Financial Times recently helped define “management” as “the messy business of getting organizations and people to perform.” Anyone who has spent more than two minutes in the same room as a group of toddlers will know that management is in fact “the art of herding cats.”

Underperformance is always over-generously rewarded:
Jack Welch’s remuneration package was built on expectations instilled during potty training, I’m afraid. Rewards for underachievement are common in toddler world, but never more so than when confronted with potty training. Sitting on the potty fully clothed is rewarded with hugs and praise. Sitting for more than 30 seconds is rewarded with Thomas the Tank Engine. Heaven knows how inflated expectations at this early age have shaped the current economic world. We haven’t yet needed to reward our son for “doing the business” but current expectations are probably in the region of buying him a car.

Having your cake and eating it:
A little like Martha Stewart, toddlers lack elementary techniques in deception: why leave half the cake (or perhaps, in this example, “the easy peasy homemakers’ frosted fairy cake”) on the bench when you can just take the whole thing. Martha Stewart’s sell-down of shares was lacking subtlety, sure, but wasn’t she just doing what we all would have wanted to do if we thought we could get away with it. Toddlers KNOW they can get away with it.

Charisma pays more than performance:
Rakesh Khurana’s research into the charisma of CEOs lacks only one further case study – Hallowe’en. The child who smiles the brightest gets the most candy. The world will always love a leader with big brown eyes. If the pendulum has swung in the opposite direction just now, we should feel reassured that charisma will be back in vogue very soon – it’s human nature.

The art of cold calling:
Ever had some unknown child suddenly come up to you, wrap his arms around your legs and gaze up at you as though he were mentally filling out guardianship transfer papers? Kids know how to cold call without the need for tenure. Please note that I’m not suggesting the professors climb over desks to hug the poor student called on to open the case but, you must admit, there is fantastic mental imagery associated with the idea.

It’s easy getting air time as a toddler:
Raising your hand and politely waiting to be called on is not standard toddler behavior. Your eyes and ears will always be drawn towards the shouts of “tractor, train, truck… tractor, train, truck….. tractor, train, truck.”

So there you have it, valuable lessons learnt even before undergraduate education has started. However, for those of you who may be thinking, “Darn it, instead of doing an MBA, I should have just had children,” think again. Kids are more expensive.

September 30, 2002
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