14 things they don’t teach you at Harvard Business School







I’m surprised by how few people have read “What they don’t teach you at Harvard Business School”.  This is an absolute gem that every entrepreneur and executive needs to read.  It was written by Mark McCormak in 1986.  I read this book a while back but I was just revisiting it and decided to write a quick summary about it.

  1. Reading people
    1. Fundamentals of reading people:
      1. Listen to what’s being said and how it is being said.
      2. Observe aggressively.
      3. Talk less and you will automatically learn more.
      4. Pay close attention to first impressions.
      5. Take time to use what you’ve learned.
  1. Creating impressions
    1. If you want to make a business gesture that will be appreciated and remembered by the other party, try:
      1. Doing something for one of their kids.
      2. Letting people off the hook when they have made a commitment to you but circumstances have changed.
      3. Driving a soft bargain when the deal is particularly important to the other party can create numerous longer term opportunities.
    2. Make business mentors and confidants – people you trust who you can seek advice from. Be totally discreet- anytime you talk about another person, the person listening will wonder what you tell others about them. Respect confidences.
  1. Taking the edge
    1. It is winning through intuition. It means learning what people want and finding a profitable way to give it to them.
  2. Getting ahead
    1. Learn to use three hard to say phrases:
      1. I don’t know: A self-effacing approach is invariably more effective than a know it all approach. It’s not a crime to not know something as long as you follow through and find someone who does know.
      2. I need help: It is a short sighted to insist on trying to do everything yourself. Don’t over do it.
      3. I was wrong: It’s not making a mistake that counts. How you handle mistakes, which you have readily admitted makes a far greater impression.
  1. The problem of selling
    1. In the old days, sales was considered the fast track to the top of the company. The reality is that nobody ever reaches the top echelon without exceptional powers of persuasion- salesmanship.
  2. Timing
    1. Knowing when to sell, when to present, when to send a card, when to ask for a raise all have to do with timing.
  3. Silence
    1. Silence either lets the other person talk or forces the other person to talk.
  4. Marketability
    1. It’s the connection between your product and the people who buy it.
    2. If you don’t know your product, people will resent your efforts to sell it. If you don’t believe in it, personality and technique can’t hid that fact.
  5. Stratagems
    1. The sales process can be varied by any number of different strategies. The key is to find the one that hits the right notes with your prospect, and enables you to close the sale.
    2. Never hesitate to remind clients of your glorious triumphs of the past. People like to deal with winners, and the buyer will be hoping that you can perform a similar miracle. If you have a great past, don’t be shy.
  6. Negotiating
    1. Negotiating involves questions:
      1. What is it, precisely, that you are selling?
      2. How long will the buyer enjoy the benefits of ownership?
      3. Where will your product be used?
      4. How exclusive will your product be from the buyer’s perspective?
      5. How much money or time will be involved?
    2. Negotiation is not an endurance contest where you try to outlast your opponent. The point is to reach a mutual agreement. If reduced to a contest of egos, it will always work against your position.
  1. Building a business
    1. Make an early commitment to quality in everything you set out to do. Start with your best, and work hard to keep that edge.
  2. Staying in business
    1. The real trick in building a business is to hire people who are smarter than you are in their particular area of expertise. You then reach a stage where you are no longer selling yourself, you are selling the company’s services. Instead of being the company’s expert, you become the expert manager.
    2. Being in business should never become so complicated that you lose sight of the overall objective – to make money.
  3. Getting things done
    1. The best time saver of all – the word “No”. You don’t need to be impolite when saying no, just final. Surprisingly, more people will appreciate a prompt idea of where you stand in relation to some concept.
    2. The most admired people in business are instant decision makers, who don’t study a proposal to death hoping the decision will make itself. In the long run, decision making is more intuitive than analytical.
  4. For entrepreneurs only
    1. Most new business people are more preoccupied with all the money they are going to make rather than the exact details of how they are going to go about making it. You increase your chances of success if you start out small, and keep it simple at first. If you study the success stories of all time, the vast majority started small and worked up gradually.
    2. Pay the people working for you as little as possible at first, but sell them on the future of the company and their possible role. Then, most importantly, keep your end of the bargain. If they do something that brings in good profits, give them a financial bonus, raise or additional perks.

In closing:

The paradox of business is that better you think you’re doing, the more you should be concerned.

What makes a champion in the world of business?

  1. They are profoundly dissatisfied with their own performance, and use any success as a stepping-stone along the way to even greater performance levels. There is never any complacency or basking in past glories.
  2. The very best perform at their highest level for major events. They have the ability to peak at the right time, rather than constantly trying to maintain a performance level.
  3. A champion never feels like he is ahead during the competition. He is on-edge and fighting behind, no matter what the scoreboard states. This translates into performance with slight edge to it.


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Patrick Bet-David
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