Perception and Responsibility

September 22, 2009

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about the implications of my admission to one of the best schools in the world. Maybe the Core has squeezed all the numbers-juice out of my brain, and the Problem Framing / Careers duopoly is not sufficient to stimulate my softer side. Maybe I'm still humbled by a recent trip to an event hosted at HBS, where the Yale brand commanded mad respect. Or maybe I've taken to heart recent calls to action we've received from our staff and classmates. Personally, I appreciate Ivan Kerbel's Orientation challenge to be aware of the way the world perceives us, to do our part to shape that perception. Likewise, I've heard a consistent message from the leaders of the Banking and Consulting clubs: conduct yourself with dignity, and don't embarrass us. Now, I don't precisely agree with Ivan's assessment (but that would be the subject of another blog post), and I'm certainly not a banker. Still, I agree with the underlying themes. We can pretend that substance obviates the impact of form, and appearances don't matter because, hey, we got in to Yale. But that wouldn't be very SOM, a place where we're encouraged to keep our eyes truly open. We are being trained to know the expected value vs. opportunity cost of each decision, even if our preferences end up trumping the data. Similarly, we must consider the image we project, how that shapes Yale in the minds of others, how it relates to our shared values, and the impact such perception will have on each other's lives. Implicit here is the notion that we now have a shared responsibility to each other. Perhaps you're a cynic, and think this is all a bunch of fluffy nonsense. We're here for one reason: to get better jobs. All the talk of "doing well by doing good" is either marketing doublespeak concealing the true (profit) motive, or the whiney drivel of tree-hugging hippies. If that sounds familiar, I'd like to congratulate you, as you must be very clever to have snuck past our astute admissions committee, who tried their best to keep you out. Congratulations, scumbag. For the rest of us, I think the analysis boils down to this: How do the best attributes associated with Yale line up with my personal values? Virtue is meaningless without sincerity. You can't pretend to share Yale's values, you have to discover which ones you share, and express them. I ask myself which of the following I admire or aspire to:

  • Integrity

  • Intelligence

  • Success

  • Stability

  • Compassion

I'm starting to internalize the reality that, quite often, I represent Yale, so I'd better exude the qualities of the name that I aspire to share. Ultimately, this is how an organization's "mission statement" or "shared values" becomes more than banal marketspeak: when it's members buy in, and hold themselves and their peers to the standard. Because you have different associations with the Yale brand than I do, my list of virtues above is most likely different than yours. Recognize that this is an example of strength in diversity. If we establish a dialog about core values, we will all learn from each other. Note that, by "dialog" I don't necessarily mean more preachy blog posts! Dialog can take place on a more subtle level if you know how your values resonate with this community, and encourage others to live up to that standard. In short, have confidence in your character. Let people know when you appreciate their behavior, and when you don't. Live up to the name.

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Guy Guyadeen