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What gives Us the right?

Recently, I attended a conference with many other students from HBS. I was shocked when I overheard a student rudely tear apart the business model of seasoned entrepreneur’s latest venture. The speaker was clearly too professional and gracious to do anything other than nod politely, but it made me ask myself an important question. What makes many of us think that we have the right to dish out advice and expect other people to listen?

How much do we twenty-something HBS students really know about business theory and, more pertinently, business practice? Does classroom knowledge of finance and a couple of years ‘work experience’ qualify us to tell a respected professional how to run his or her company? And, if not, then why do we act as if it does?

It is relatively easy to pretend to be financiers, read a case and say, “Revenues are below projections, this management team clearly doesn’t know what it’s doing.” But how many of us have actually stopped to think about what goes into meeting those projections? And how many of us think we could meet them if we found ourselves in the management team’s shoes? How many of us have the ability to effectively negotiate and close a contract, play and win in corporate politics, successfully handle interpersonal tensions and still manage to have a life?
Unlike the HBS classroom in which we are trained, the real world is not a risk free environment. We cannot dish out off the cuff opinions and categorically expect people to listen and thank us for our precious feedback. Have our egos grown too big? Have we all had too much success and too little failure? Or have we all been brought up being told how wonderful we are, and never told that we are wrong?
It appears that few of us realize just how lucky we are to be here at such a young age. Perhaps it’s time for us to ask ourselves what gives us the right to expect anything.

January 28, 2002
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