Just a few of the attendees in the BEMS class of 2017

The 5 Things I Learnt At Harvard Business School

This past month, I was fortunate enough to take a short executive course at Harvard entitled ‘The Business of Sport & Entertainment’ delivered by an incredibly talented (and funny) faculty member, Anita Elberse. The course was an intense 4-day program attended by a group of 60 people, including founders, executives, actresses and athletes. We had stars from the NFL, NBA, Rugby, Football and Hollywood which made for a great dynamic of interests.

The course content consisted of a study of 10 cases and a deep dive into the merits of each. From the blockbuster strategy employed by Disney or LeBron James’ gaming masterplan to The New York Metropolitan Opera Theatre’s blueprint to engage a younger audience. Each participant read through the cases and we all discussed each at length. Everybody was given an opportunity to contribute with her own approach and impressions.

Beyond the course content, there were patterns that emerged as the group discussed the topics. Here are the 5 things I learned.

1. Diversity breeds diversity. It was incredible to see such a wide range approaches to what would often seem a ‘lay-up’ case study. The array of people and backgrounds in the room each contributing made for an impossible census. We really did hear every viewpoint imaginable, which made for lively debates. We need more of this, in both the workforce and our lives in general.

2. People don’t think in frameworks. Opinions led the discussions, very few people used decision models or frameworks to argue their point. So, although Amazon is filled with literature about business modelling and decision frameworks, it isn’t how we tend to think. For better or worse, we use our intuition, our gut and raw experience to drive decisions.

3. We should do more autopsies. Studying cases independently and then discussing them as a group made for a far greater learning experience. The lecturer guided the discussion but was open to hearing any approach shared. In working life, we don’t do enough of this. We don’t often take the time to really explore our thoughts and opinions on a given decision or situation. We will now.

4. Without risk, there is no reward. So much of what makes a business work is in the ‘hidden truths’. It’s not on the surface or in the data, it’s hidden, deep in a brand’s DNA. We drive our decisions by trying to avoid risk whilst maximising returns. The reality is, that doesn’t exist. There is risk in everything, it’s about picking the right times to take it on.

5. Experience sells. From the porter you meet on arrival, to the faculty support staff; the Harvard team do a great job of ensuring you feel welcome. They’ve mastered the end-to-end experience and make sure you’re constantly delighted. The facilities are perfect, the food is exceptional and the campus is immaculate. It all adds up to the star brand power of Harvard and ensures the overall event that much more valuable.

When applying for this course, I was originally added to the waiting list, after a brief follow up, the faculty team very kindly added me to the attendees. For that, I’m very grateful. The course delivered above and beyond what I expected, the knowledge gained can immediately be applied in my workplace and the people attending inspired me to continue learning.