To the Harbus Editor:
As a first-time reader of HARBUS and a non-HBS student, I was both positively and negatively surprised by the September 8, 2008 issue which gave overwhelming coverage to the book “Ahead of the Curve.” An entrepreneur (or journalist) could not ask for a better endorsement than to see their published work not only all over business networks, but also across the pages of his alma mater’s student-led newspaper. In the new media world we find ourselves in, it’s fair to say that all advertising is good advertising, and “free advertising” is even better. In this sense, it seems that in critiquing and intensely focusing on the book, you have found even more readers/customers for Mr. Delves Broughton.
While I was heartened by the apparent embrace of the book and the issue (in so far as the Harbus contributors read the book and analyzed its content), I was shocked by how much attention HARBUS gave to the book. In other words, it appears that the Harbus felt that the best way to ensure that copies “flew” off the racks was to mimic Mr. Delves Broughton and provide blanket coverage of his book. Though I am new to the Cambridge area, even I know the depth and breadth of the kinds of issues that HBS graduates confront head-on around the globe. HBS’s influence is enormous on business issues. That’s why it was somewhat shocking to see so much attention paid to a book that costs $24.95. From my understanding, HBS graduates tend to face decisions that amount to millions and billions of dollars and the resuscitation of failing businesses or strengthening of already-flourishing ones or the discovery of new markets- not basking in arguments over whether or not the HBS experience has value. As the book’s author noted, it indeed has value – not only personally for him as Dean Kester quoted, but also professionally, as seen in the waves his book is making. This is perhaps at HBS’s expense or, if you look at it another way, a positive thing of the school.
Even so, discounting the enormous coverage given to the book, I was also taken aback by the lack of opinions regarding the kinds of missions that can be accomplished at HBS. For example, if Mr. Delves Broughton did not study in a vacuum, why wasn’t there any discussion of the kinds of projects that his fellow classmates are now working on? Any serious assessment of his book might have capitalized on an opportunity to show current students and graduates that HBS fuels more than disillusion, as it appears that many of the current students could benefit from the knowledge that there are more experiences to be gained than fast track jobs on Wall Street. For starters, Mr. Delves Broughton’s former industry – the news business – could have been used as a case example, with insight from ex-Harvard professor Clark Gilbert, whose previous studies touched on disruptive technologies that changed the competitive environment for newspapers and likely made Mr. Delves Broughton reconsider his career stability as a journalist.
(Full disclosure: I also worked in the sales and service department at a newspaper called the Palm Beach Post [West Palm Beach, FL], which has faced incredible pressure in the last couple of years to downsize and attempt to reinvent its news products. Receiving memos about downsizing and buyouts and layoffs was truly upsetting, and seeing people I admired affected by those decisions, equally so.)
In other words, I was impressed by the Harbus’s decision to embrace the challenge of reviewing this book, but disappointed in the “HBS vs. Him” thrust of the arguments made in the articles that followed. This is a self-serving argument, much as the author’s book may have been a self-serving project. HBS is far larger and more influential than one person’s book, but at the same time, perhaps there was a learning opportunity for HBS in the pages of The Harbus. Sadly, I do not feel that the opinions expressed perceived the opportunity – only the threat – and rather than seize the chance for some more rigorous reflection, chose instead to guide students on the topic of whether or not to buy the book. In light of one hundred years of HBS history, if I understand correctly, it seems that this issue missed the point.
Response from Harbus Editor:
Andrew, in deciding to dedicate an issue to cover Ahead of the Curve, the editors of the paper were very much aware that this would most likely bring more publicity to the book. It’s a dilemma we believe many news publications have and grapple with constantly. In the end, the book had already received unprecedented coverage from more influential media outlets like The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Economist, Bloomberg, etc. and though admittedly being covered by the Harbus did add fuel to the flames, we believed that the issues raised by Mr. Delves Broughton required discussion and reflection from a more intimate and internal point-of-view. The book centered around the very experience each student goes through every day and understanding this from various perspectives from the HBS Community was important given the questions raised by Ahead of the Curve.
That issue of the Harbus was a bit skewed towards coverage of the book because we wanted an exhaustive and comprehensive dialogue around the topic. However, if you’ve followed all the other issues of the Harbus this year, you will see that we’ve also dedicated a great amount of space to the work many in the HBS community have undertaken to truly make a positive difference in this world.
HBS is not perfect, but sometimes too much attention is placed on the flaws of the institution to the neglect of the many wonderful and generous individuals who also call this place home. It is our mission at the Harbus to not skirt from tackling these difficult but necessary questions while also highlighting the many meaningful contributions HBS students make in the community and the world at large.