Learning and Responsibility
Spoiler alert for our RC readers: EC year feels very different from RC year.
Okay, that’s perhaps not much of a spoiler; you have probably heard it by now. But I would like to share a bit about how it feels different.
I am conscious of the difference because, like many ECs, I spent part of my Thanksgiving break working on final papers for some of my classes. As an RC, I did not write any papers (unless you count a brief essay for TOM).
What strikes me about EC papers is how much they can interest their audience—and by “audience,” I mean not primarily the professor but the practitioners whom they concern. For my IFC (Immersive Field Course), we will present our papers on the road in January to groups of leaders in-country who are eager to hear our analysis. (At least, the professors tell us that our guests are eager; stay tuned for updates in February.) For another class, an executive whom I interviewed sent me a message after our conversation; he asked how he could use my paper to inform an upcoming presentation to his board in which he needs to propose a new strategy.
Gulp. I am just an EC at HBS. I am no expert. My first instinct is to ask: How could I possibly have anything to say that would be useful?
But then it occurs to me that our education here at HBS is supposed to be preparing us for precisely this: sharing insights even when we are not experts.
To be fair, EC papers are relatively low-risk opportunities for intellectual experimentation (if that executive’s board disagrees with my analysis, they are free to ignore it). But I suppose they could be the next step in our formation as leaders: from case discussions in the classroom (which, I trust RCs have figured out by now, are also low-risk opportunities for intellectual experimentation), to papers in which we actually get to share our analysis with decision makers, and—before we know it—to the “real world,” in which we will be even closer to the decision making—perhaps even in the driver’s seat.
It is, of course, vital for us to maintain our humility throughout all these phases. On the other hand, humility does not preclude us from giving answers when people ask us questions. On the contrary, we must do our best with the training we have received to “make a difference in the world.” Like it or not, lots of people out there in the world want to hear what you have to say.
So, RCs, good luck “plowing through 25 hours of in-class finals” (to quote the 2019 HBS Show) this month, and remember: it’s worth it to get to the other side. Before you know it, you will be an EC, you will have the chance to define your own scope of analysis in your academic work, and perhaps you will even shape some organizations through your scholarship.
It’s preparation for the real world.
Gabriel Ellsworth (MBA ’20) came to HBS from HBS, where he worked for five years as a research associate, most recently as a casewriter with a faculty member in the Strategy Unit. This summer, he interned as a consultant with the Boston office of Bain & Company. He read English literature as an undergraduate at Yale, where he also studied Japanese and French. Gabriel is editor-in-chief of the Harbus and a proud HBS Show Koala. As a young boy, he fantasized about becoming a novelist, but he quickly realized that he did not actually have any ideas for novels.