Advice To The Next Generation Of MBAs

Shirzad Chamine

Shirzad Chamine

Like all others before and since, Chamine’s peers discovered that they were certainly no better – and probably no worse – than their classmates. More important, they learned a lot about themselves…especially after they left campus. “It is harder to see the more gradual internal changes in terms of your personality, confidence and attitude,” Chamine wrote. “These internal changes, I believe, are much more important than the specific academics you learn. Most people end up realizing how much they have changed only when they start their summer jobs… We tend to forget that the GSB is a very unusual place, with extremely high standards. After a year here, these standards will become internalized in you.”

Chamine’s first year also left an indelible mark. His letter would foreshadow what he ultimately became: a writer, and teacher. He founded CTI, the largest coach-training organization in the world, and authored the best-seller Positive Intelligence. Occasionally, he returns to Stanford to teach.

Among business students, his letter is how he’ll ultimately be remembered. Written by a man who’d put his baggage behind him, it reminds students not to take schooling – or their classmates – for granted. As Chamine wrote early in his letter, “Welcome to the GSB. This will probably be the most memorable and fruitful year of your life.”

Here are some of the key points that Chamine makes in his letter:

Academics: “Most of us come in here as perfectionists and feel very uncomfortable doing a so-so job on anything. The sooner you give up this habit, the happier you will be. You can spend your hour on carefully reading an article. Or, you can spend it on skimming five articles. Or, you can it spend it on skimming three articles and getting to know a classmate a little better in the spare time. I tried all three of these methods but my own preference is for the latter.”

What Really Matters: “A study of GSB graduates of about 20 years ago tried to find factors correlating with future business success (measured, arguably, in current salary). It found the factor most closely related to success to be sociability, not grades or thoroughness. My own experience has been that most of the minute details taught in GSB courses will never be used. It is the general understanding of the basic material that counts…It is therefore best to take the fullest advantage of the GSB’s grade policy. To get a P [Pass], you often only need to know half of the material covered. By focusing only on what you personally want to get out of each course, you free up time for other things.”

Keeping Your Perspective: “…some of us had a lot of fun working hard, some of us were miserable at it. What made the difference was our perspective. If you work hard because you have to, because you are afraid of not passing, because an ugly monster in your nightmares keeps reminding you that the world will come to an end if you don’t pass, you can easily resent the experience…But if you constantly remind yourself that passing is not the issue, that you are here because you want to learn and grow, then your experiences will be much more enjoyable.”

On Poet Classmates: “I envy the experience of some of my poet classmates who were challenged the most last year. They climbed a taller mountain than the rest of us did. They learned more and grew more.”

The Dangers of Groupthink: “I have a lot of respect for most of my 300 classmates. But I think as a group we were often unwise and immature. Keep reminding yourself that just because everyone else is doing something, it doesn’t mean it is right for you. I experimented with going against the mass psychology many times and gained more confidence as time went on…You don’t need to be in a study group, you don’t need to turn in every homework, you don’t have to appear bubbly and social all the time, you don’t have to interview with investment banks and consultants, you don’t need to be conservative and safe in class discussions, you don’t need to hide your sensitivity, confusion or vulnerability.

It is ironic how many of us come here with a strong sense of individualism and then end up conforming to the enormous pressure of group norms. I think part of it is because we respect our classmates too much to believe that as a group they could act stupid. We also respect them too much to not need their approval.”

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