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The Dating Write-Up:Best Practices for Finding Love in B-School

MBAs around the world study the Harvard Business School case Optical Distortion, Inc. to learn key lessons regarding the challenges of bringing an innovative product to market. However, there are hidden lessons to be learned in this case, ones that could affect the personal lives of MBAs over an entire lifetime-not just during the launch of a new product. That lesson comes not from the case protagonists Daniel Garrison and Ronald Olson but from the visually-impaired chickens themselves.

Optical Distortion’s product-contact lenses for chickens-was offered to farmers as a way to keep chickens from killing one another. Presented as a substitute to the gruesome practice of debeaking chickens, the lenses distorted the chickens’ vision so that the strict pecking order could not be enforced through cannibalism as is the usual custom in chicken society. Instead, the chickens would live peacefully and semi-blindly among one another as equals in their cramped quarters. These lenses promised to save farmers money and to keep more chickens alive. Garrison’s lenses never ended up being widely used, so you’re unlikely to see chicken contact solution being advertised anytime soon. However, these hierarchy-eliminating lenses have diffused widely among us humans in our romantic lives, and your dating optical distortion may in fact be ruining yours.

You may have a problem with Dating Optical Distortion if:
When you look at your MBA class and survey the dating prospects, you feel uninspired and disinterested. All the guys seem the same and no one really stands out as interesting to you.

In trying to evaluate dating partners, you can’t actually tell which of the people are serious about finding someone special versus the ones who are just playing for sport.

When deciding how to dress-for daily life or for a special occasion–you just want to fit in. You don’t want to call too much attention to yourself and you certainly don’t want to take any wardrobe risks.

You think that everyone shares your dating dilemmas. No one is going on dates, right? Wrong.
Dating Optical Distortion is when you can no longer discern between the winners and the losers in the dating world. You’ve lost the ability to tell who is a good potential mate-and who is just puffing out their feathers without any real rank. You no longer have a real sense of your own dating rank, believing that basically everyone is in the same situation. While Dating Optical Distortion is pretty harmless to those disinterested in finding love while in Business School, it can be devastating to those who are hoping to find someone special here.

Action Plan for Treating Dating Optical Distortion
Evaluate people as individuals-not with sweeping generalizations.
Rather than relying on generalizations like, “Women MBAs are too aggressive,” or “Guy MBAs are intimidated by their women classmates,” affirm the type of man or woman you hope to meet: “I’d love to meet an ambitious woman who also loves being treated like a lady” or “I’m excited to date a guy who loves smart women who can play on their level.” Having an open mind about your peers helps you interact with one another in a way that is much more likely to lead to genuine learning about one another.

Take a risk and step out
You are unlikely to get noticed by the gorgeous brunette in Section H if you always blend in with the rest of the guys (and winning the inter-section beer pong tournament or Rock Band contest does not count as standing out). If you’re interested in a woman, ask her out. Yes, this is the 21st century. Yes, we women are powerful and high achievers. But we still love to be asked out on dates. The simple act of asking a woman out on a real, old-fashioned date will set you apart from the masses of guys who simply hope a woman will get tipsy and pounce him after a happy hour.

Worry little about what others say
Business Schools are known to be highly efficient rumor mills. This can keep many people from dating anyone seriously for fear of becoming gossip fodder. However, anyone with any interesting romantic life of their own has little interest in dissecting the dating lives of others. Yes, there will be buzz if you start dating someone in your section. But if the two of you end up happy and married, those same people will be lunging for the bouquet at your wedding.

In conclusion, MBAs looking for love should date without fear and ignore the urge to just fit in with the cavalier hookup dating culture of Business School. While the occasional one-night stand can be exhilarating, it seldom leads to lasting love. If you’re interested in investing in your personal future-and not just your professional future-while in Business School, lead with a clear vision of what you want.and feel free to be a little cocky.

AUTHOR’S BIOGRAPHY
Kaneisha Grayson is a second-year at Harvard Business School and loves to dole out unsolicited dating advice. You can read more of her dating advice on her blog CrazyGirl Nation at //kaneisha.com.

September 14, 2009
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