What the Top 3% of Harvard MBA’s Did To Become Rich — That You Can Do Too

How much money do you want to make at your job?

I can guess it’s probably six or seven figures, and for those of you ambitious enough, maybe even eight.

What if I told you that you could make as much as the top 3% of Harvard MBA graduates, who make 10 times more than the classmates they graduate with? Sounds like a ton of work, or some trick, right? Well actually, you’re in for a surprise.

As you can imagine, Harvard only accepts 15% of applicants into their MBA program. You’re the cream of the crop if you make it in. And upon graduation, your bank account awaits a median starting salary of $130,000. You think you could live on that?

But actually, the graduating students at the top of the class end up with significantly more money in their pockets than the rest of their peers because of one simple thing: they write down clear, specific goals and a personal vision.

The Study

Mark McCormack, a wildly successful entrepreneur and founder of the International Management Group, describes a study conducted on Harvard MBA’s in 1979 in his book, “What They Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School.” The study simply asked these MBA’s: “Have you set clear, written goals for your future and made plans to accomplish them?” Sounds simple enough, right?

The study found that:

  • 84% of these students didn’t have specific goals,
  • 13% of the MBA’s did have goals but didn’t have any formal method of committing to them
  • Only 3% had clear, written goals with a plan to accomplish them.

Guess which group had to make the most bank runs with cash falling out of their pockets? (Hint: not the 84% with no specific goals).

The researchers interviewed the students from this graduating class again in 1989, and found staggering results. The 13% with softly-committed goals were earning twice as much as the 84% with no goals at all.

But, the real winners from that graduating class, were, you guessed it, the top 3% who had clear, written goals; they took home ten times as much as the other 97% of their class combined.

You might be thinking, “So what? They got lucky and were all crazy smart Harvard people anyway.”

Yes, while the data from this study won’t guarantee that writing your goals down on paper will make you richer than the rest of your classmates, you can’t ignore their ultimate benefit:

Having clear, written personal goals help you to navigate through the gauntlet of information thrown at you everyday, and to figure out what you actually want to do, so you can get out there and achieve it.

Well, what if you don’t know what you want to do? That’s completely ok. Your goals and vision for yourself should and will change.

Make sure to keep it in a spot where you can update it. The most important part is to just get your initial thoughts on paper.

The Process

I started writing down my personal goals over a year ago when I interned at Northwestern Mutual. Like you might be now, I was skeptical at first. I didn’t want to have to deal with this extra “work.” But I played along, and to this day continue to update my goals and vision every few weeks.

Actually having it written down helps me to focus on building daily habits or working on small tasks that, over time, will (hopefully!) lead to the achievement of my goals.

Give it a try. At the very least, you can give yourself a clear understanding of what you want to accomplish in your future.

Here’s how you can get started….

Write down what you want to work on or accomplish by the end of 2015. We only have two months left so this should be relatively easy.

Then, write down what you want to do or accomplish in 2016. It could be anything: read 2 books a month, practice your basketball shot 30 minutes a day, start your own business selling dog pajamas by July, or get a Harvard MBA. Just write it down and be as specific as possible.

You’re not done yet though! Write down where you see yourself 5 years and 10 years down the road. Obviously this will change, but it will give you an idea of your ideal life and force you to think about how you can get there and make it a reality.

Think about what job you have, where you live, how much money you make, what type of friends or family or significant others you want to have around, or what kind of pets you have. Write down real numbers too!

Also, don’t underestimate yourself. If you want $10 million in your Bank of America account by the time your 35, figure out what you have to do to get there that you’ll enjoy doing. The more specific the goals, the better chance you have of achieving them.

Congrats! You now have clear, well-written goals and a vision for yourself for next year, 5 years down the road, and 10 years in the future.

The key: consistently update your goals to reflect changes in your thinking.

What you want today might be completely different than what you envision for yourself a year from now; You can always adjust how you’re going to attain these new goals.

Make sure you’re in that top 3%! If you play your cards right, maybe you’ll even end up richer than those Harvard MBA’s. All of them.

Originally published at danstern.co on October 27, 2015.

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