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Comments (16)

Jul 29, 2020 - 3:48pm

Interesting read +sb

To live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering.

  • 6
Jul 30, 2020 - 12:21pm

Totally agree with what he's saying. Maybe that's an unintended side-effect of the high opportunity / transaction costs of school these days? You read these stories of folks who went to top schools in the 70s who say, "Oh I just applied and went there. Paid for the whole thing by working in the summer." If that was the game these days I think I'd be much more inclined to pursue things that I was more clearly interested as opposed to min-maxing my career prospects

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  • Prospect in IB - Gen
Jul 30, 2020 - 2:13pm

Agree with this. If my parents are paying upwards of 160k, it's hard for me to risk that on pursuing my own business or trying to start something interesting and fulfilling. Could turn out well, could be a great experience, but nothing's guaranteed. If I was paying for school myself, I'd feel even more risk-averse, because I'd have loans that I'd have to pay off as soon as possible.

Jul 31, 2020 - 1:54am

Totally agree with his message, but this guy has a PhD from Harvard and an MBA from HBS - peak optionality!

  • 3
Most Helpful
Jul 31, 2020 - 8:04am

Really interesting read. The whole concept of excelling at each stage to open new doors to provide potential outcomes vs. "risking" a more linear path in the a primary area of interest to become expert, category thought leader, etc.

How do you know which path to choose? I think a lot of it comes down to personality. Both are filled with really smart, achievement oriented individuals. One is typically more creative than the other.

Optionality Excellence - this person, at a very young age, desires achievement for the sake of that approval stamp. S/he uses step one success to get to step two. Do really well in HS, get accepted to a top college. Do really well in college, get hired by leading firm. get hired by leading firm to get to the next leading firm, and so on. It's formulaic. There may or may not be any interest in the steps along the way (I think that's sad).

Targeted Excellence - likely spent more time exploring (or just knew) what s/he wanted to be when s/he grew up. Designed a plan to get there. Even if it seems to be a circuitous route (lots of business owners with many fails along the way), They are constantly moving forward with new ideas, value creation, solutions because ultimately that's how they can monetize IP AND, it's the only way they know how to operate.

Both can be wildly successful. Both can fall on their face. The important thing is to figure out which one you are. I imagine each would be miserable living in the other's world.

I'm in the Targeted Excellence camp. Oldest brother is in the Optionality camp. I started a business early on. He did the F500/HBS/MBB/Corp Exec route. He's very successful. He would tell you he went MBB post MBA because he didn't know what he wanted to do. Now, as a 60 year old, he's of course focused on excellence, is a thought leader in an industry he loves (and has been deeply involved in for many years)

Both can play out quite well. Just be honest with yourself and determine who you are. Most people would have told me I was crazy (my dad actually did many times), but I was driven to create something which has served me well. Different strokes.

Aug 2, 2020 - 2:39pm

I liked the read but also think differing mindsets behind similar decisions should result in different evaluations.

For example, the prof says that pursuing optionality is folly for those who have clear dreams they could pursue instead, which I agree with, but I'd also say the population of people who have found a singular area of intellectual spark or passion that drives them (regardless of what they wrote in their application essays) is rather small--especially at a place like HBS, which probably has several multitalented people. But sure, if you're in love with coding or have a great medical startup idea and are pursuing IB -> PE just for optionality instead, that seems like a misfire.

The other aspect is some people may know what they want to do, and it's generalist-style variety. The upside of PE and consulting is that even if you verticalize, you're probably still using analyses that are broadly applicable, or your vertical is defined widely enough that you're covering a swath of subsectors, each of which requires a fresh set of eyes to analyze through. Some people need that variety to feel fulfilled--to analyze auto parts resellers and midstream oil companies both under the Industrials umbrella rather than exclusively focus on the management of ball bearings production (not that there's anything wrong with the latter!).

My last point is that "label-chasing", prestige thirst, whatever you want to call it is to be derided for various reasons, most of which should probably be addressed through introspection and therapy, but I think criticism of those mindsets is independent of pursuing routes with optionality. You can strive to be a PM at the "best" tech company (ugh) and still have those same issues.

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