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What’s Enough, Part II

Often when people from outside our community think of Harvard Business School students, certain stereotypes come to mind. We are workaholics. We are arrogant, long on form, and short on function. We care more about personal achievement, money, power and status than just about anything else. Do these stereotypes reflect our true nature? We were determined to find out.

Last week we offered quotes from some of the greatest minds in human history, including Greek philosopher Epicurus and the papa of poultry, Harlan “Colonel” Sanders. These quotes were intended to get you thinking about what is important in your own lives. Is it money and material possessions? Love? Family? Meaningful work?

This week we asked you to respond to an 8-question survey, carefully calibrated to provide deep insight into the core values of the community. You blew us away with your overwhelming response to this poll, and we thank you for your participation.

Survey Says…
After updating our Excel ToolPaks and running a rigorous regression analysis, a couple of issues are clear. One, no one will ever respond to our polls again. And two, there is an incredible untapped market for gorilla massages here on campus.

Other important results also emerged. Questions 1 and 2 were about balance. We asked you to estimate the amount of time you would spend working once you hit 40. More than 80 percent of you anticipated working at least 50 percent of the time. 12 hours a day, 365 days a year certainly seems excessive. But you also seemed to recognize the importance of other priorities in your life, and acknowledged that work might get in the way of family, friends and travel. This self-awareness should help you avoid the “regrets” described in question 2.

Question 3 was about the role of the natural world in your lives. 65 percent of you opted for a gorilla massage over being kicked by a mule, bitten by a rattlesnake or tickled by a porcupine. We can certainly understand the allure of a gorilla massage. Gorillas, after all, are our second closest genetic relatives. They are known to forge and reinforce social bonds through a regimen of social grooming, in which one gorilla will groom the other by combing through its fur with its fingers and teeth – sort of like a spa treatment. And gorillas can grasp and manipulate objects with both their hands and their feet – basically two massages for the price of one.

But we ask you to consider some other gorilla facts. Remember that male silverbacks can grow to almost 6 feet tall, and weigh more than 500 pounds. A gorilla’s upper body is 6 times more powerful than that of a human, allowing it to lift, break, and squeeze heavy objects – like a tree, or your spine.

Neither a mule kick nor a rattlesnake bite is a barrel of laughs. But these traumas, though unpleasant, have limits. Compare this to the gorilla massage. How can you relax when you must constantly consider the possibility that your 500-pound gorilla masseur could go ape on you at any moment? The potential for grievous injury really has no limits.

Let’s consider the best case scenario. Your hirsute masseur administers a very pleasant deep tissue massage and sends you on your way. But what about the downside? You are again in the middle of a very pleasant deep tissue massage. Suddenly you smell a strong odor. Did you know that adult male gorillas have large apocrine glands in their armpits? These glands produce a pungent odor when the gorilla is either excited or stressed. Excited? Stressed? Either way, this experience is not going to end happily.

Your investigative reporters prefer the gentle touch of the porcupine. The average porcupine is rounded and slow, weighs less than 20 pounds, and uses its spiky quills to defend, not attack. The best case scenario involves a bit of dainty-pawed tickling and a few giggles. If things go badly, you take a quill to the shin and cuff the little rodent aside. It isn’t so easy to cast off a gorilla – what happens if he decides the massage isn’t over yet?

Question 4 was about money and material possessions. We asked you “how much money is enough,” and let you fill in the blank. Some of you provided a dollar figure, ranging from $100,000 per year to “infinity.” But most of you focused instead on the objectives you hope to meet with your future income. These objectives included providing for your families, facilitating travel, supporting charities and achieving a level of personal and professional independence.

Questions 5 and 6 were about money versus principles. Not surprisingly, the vast majority of you would not sacrifice your leg to the wood chipper at any price. Clearly this question was a red herring. There are fundamental moral issues at play, and these issues are especially prominent when the stakes are so high. Question 6 was more provocative. If not a leg, how about a pinkie? The pinkie is almost a vestigial organ, the appendix of the hand. It is useful mostly for drinking tea, pinkie swearing and hitting the CAPSLOCK button. Would you be willing to cast aside your principles for a big payout, especially since the cost was so low? The poll showed that you find pinkie removal as objectionable as leg removal. Principles, not money, won out.

Question 7 was about the role of music in your lives. Most of you seemed to agree that a song can indeed be made more hummy, through the simple application of beat-boxing, doo-wopping, tiddley poms and the humble cowbell. Also, no one told us to “go to hell,” unlike several respondents to question 6.

Finally, question 8 was about the importance of meaningful work. We asked, “When will you be doing what you want to do?” This question raises a lot of issues – how do you build skills and pursue your passions, meet your obligations to family and creditors, and navigate a down economy? But almost 40 percent of you expect to do what you want to do immediately after graduation, and more than 80 percent of you expect to reach this objective within 15 years.

Reflections
This poll provides some critical insight into the true nature of our community. But it has its limits. Like the tender tickle of the porcupine, this investigation just scratches the surface. What is important? What is enough? For our beloved Turk Turkee, enough was a shiny car door in which she could admire her reflection. For the rest of us, “enough” is more complicated and intensely personal. As you continue to contemplate the questions from the poll and the broader implications of what is enough for you, consider attending “What’s Enough: A Dialogue Between the Harvard Business School and the Harvard Divinity School,” scheduled for Tuesday, April 6 from 4 to 5:30 p.m. in Aldrich 112.

April 4, 2010
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