Jeff Bezos has seen your behind. Then again, so have Tim Draper and Lou Gerstner, although Dean Clark has not. How is this possible you ask? Well, it all relates to a little place I like to call “Burden Auditorium – Cavern of Bad Manners.” You see, in most of the speeches I’ve been to on campus featuring prominent individuals like those listed above, I’ve noticed a common factor. About half an hour into the talk, people start streaming out of Burden regardless of whether our guest has imparted his final words of wisdom. Hence the statement above: Jeff Bezos has seen your behind…as you make sure that the door doesn’t slam it on the way out of Burden.
Burden Auditorium brings out the worst in the HBS community. It’s the kind of place where a seemingly good kid who won’t leave FRC to go to the bathroom, let’s call him say, Jack Thomas, suddenly cuts loose with a special one-two combination. First, Jack forgets to turn off his cell phone only to have it ring during the speaker’s heartfelt account of the tough times in Peoria before he made it big. Then, right in the middle of the speaker’s buildup (“I’m going to tell you the key to success…don’t follow the crowd…in fact, when I was at HBS less than 10% of my class wanted to be a multimillionaire, the 90% in the herd only wanted to be millionaires”), Jack noisily makes his way to the back of the hall and leaves. The result? Let me spell it out for you: Jack’s Exit = Offended Alumnus = A diminished institution.
I know better than anyone that sitting through some of the presentations in Burden can be, for lack of a better word, a burden. I always go with high expectations but find that I’ve become too ADD to manage sitting through an hour long speech by a single person without anyone else “building” upon his comments. Also, the frequent gaffes in the sound system are both annoying and embarrassing. Worst of all, the Q&A session that concludes each speech tend to drag on when six questions in a row come from our brethren in Section I. These factors are certainly suboptimal on a stand-alone basis, but when one adds the cellphone/early exit combo to the equation, they become unbearable.
I’ve got to believe that if any of us is privileged enough to someday see things from the other side of the podium, most would expect greater courtesy from the students than we are currently granting to our guests.
From this perspective, it probably makes sense to either stay through the entirety of the presentations in Burden or skip them and ask friends for the highlights later on. Plus, there’s another issue that supercedes the matter of courtesy: I talked to Jeff Bezos and he really doesn’t care to see your behind. He’d rather show you his segway.