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Election Madness

As can happen, I was sitting in a bar the other day and overheard a conversation that went like this:

“He’s not running. Definitely not-he just told me.”

“But he was running before the MBA program even started. He has been inviting people to parties everywhere. He even designed Analytics t-shirts.”

“Yep, but he is definitely not running in the section elections.perhaps he will run for SA President?”

“We will have to change his campaign t-shirts then, won’t we?”

“Yes-let’s get on the case!”

Madness has descended upon the RC year. Yes, the section elections are upon us and everybody has a twinkle in their eye. New friends are being hastily made, cakes are being baked for mass distribution, and sporting events are being organized as people hungrily scramble for the limelight. A couple of silly stories have already emerged.

In one section, two would-be presidential candidates organized section drinks at exactly the same time. It was only when they realized that they would only be sweet-talking half their potential vote base that they sent out a revised email with rearranged times (and no doubt rearranged positions). In another, some individuals have already assumed the role of section president, marshalling others in the section to book section dinner reservations for them. And, in the ultimate act of political-correctness gone mad, people were so keen to maximize their chances of winning an election that they took pains to point out to others that the post of WSA rep could indeed only be held by a woman (dashing the hopes of many “caring, sharing” males along the way).

A word of advice for the future politicians of this world: such overt hacking does not work. Be it an expertly delivered skydeck presentation or an invitation to a soccer game, people can always see through it. Easily! The sudden up tick in organized events has merely led to increased amusement at the expense of the organizer, not an increase in votes. If you really want to run for something, just be nice. You are much more likely to hold office if you can establish that you are not, in fact, a control freak.

There are also more pressing questions. Why would anybody want to run for a section position? Is it really worth it? Or, are people so fooled by the prestigious names of each title that they fail to recognize just how much tedium each post involves? Let me clarify: “Education Rep” is actually a fancy phrase for “Faculty Gopher;” “International Rep” is simply an excuse to fight the rest of the section who will now ignore the international habits of the class; and “President” should actually be called “The Mediator For Anything And Everything At The Expense Of Any Life.” Even worse, why would anybody want to run for Senator? You are not an actual Senator, and sorry, you will not go to Washington. What your job actually means is that you serve as the representative to a Student Association that is so powerful it managed to lose the only battle that was worth fighting: grade disclosure.

And it goes on-a litany of pompously titled, universally ineffectual positions. There’s something for everyone, and it’s completely crazy. Why not create a “Feline Board Member” to help out the wider cat-loving community in your section? Or, perhaps a “Director of Climate Change” to make sure that the air conditioners are set at the right temperature during class? And where is the “Mens’ Rep?” What HBS has forgotten is that simply renaming positions does not get around the fact that scarcity value is critical to the positions’ prestige. By having so many (18 in each section), all are worthless, no matter how much responsibility each entails. And employers know this.

What’s more, many will have taken this time out not only to learn about business, but also to have a break. We are starting a two-year oasis before a lifetime of work. For most, the next time off will be retirement. Is it really worth sacrificing these two years to make sure there are enough rubbish bins on campus? Aren’t our resumes good enough already? We did get in here, after all.

Surely everybody here must realize the issues around elected positions at HBS? So why still the clamor for recognition and responsibility? An article in a recent Harvard Business Review quoted a former McKinsey Managing Director as saying: “The real competition out there isn’t for clients, it’s for people. We look to hire people who are first, very smart; second, insecure and thus driven by their insecurity; and third, competitive.” This explains a lot. For so many, Harvard Business School is simply the next rung on a ladder of achievement, upon which people have climbed without hindrance or thought, their insecurity driving their need to succeed and be recognized for their success. “Conveyor belt mentality” dictates that what has worked in the past will work well in the future, hence the madness: people are so keen to do something that they will gleefully accept section positions, without once thinking about the implications for their life at HBS or considering just how important or worthwhile they are.

However, the rest will realize that this is a time to reflect and learn, not to achieve; we have the rest of our lives for that. I doubt there is anything here worth running for. Employers are not going to hire you because you were a Section President, or even the best WSA rep on campus. Relax, chill out, and have fun. In the words of Van Wilder, “You shouldn’t take life so seriously, you’ll never get out alive.” If you understand that, you are on track for an enjoyable two years. If you don’t, you are best off at a consulting company.

September 25, 2006
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