5 Things I’ve Learned From Stanford (So Far)
Remember Shirzad Chamine? Last summer, his letter to future Stanford first-years was made public, after being circulated among first-years for nearly a half century. Well, another Stanford student has jumped into the fray, authoring his own manifesto in the pages of Medium. Dubbing himself “bharat” (likely the pseudonym for first-year Bharat Ayyar), the author takes a more clinical look at his lessons learned. Forget Chamine’s dark night of the soul; bharat focuses on leadership and time management here.
His biggest lesson – based on its placement – involves being aware of personal bias. “The basic idea is this,” bharat writes. “When we make decisions (or even moral judgments) our brains take shortcuts that usually produce the right answer but sometimes lead us astray.” By this, he means that we can fall victim to the usual suspects: “availability bias, confirmation bias, loss aversion, escalation, primacy and recency effects to name a few.” The result is that we often rely too heavily on experts or discount possibilities or feedback based on suppositions. To design and lead organizations, bharat argues, we must take this awareness and establish process and expectations to avoid these preconceptions.
His early months also forced him to confront the basics – lessons that are easy to understand and extremely difficult to implement. One question that confounded bharat was the “Why should I follow you” conundrum: “It is no easy task: finding a style that is not only effective but also authentic to who you are.” Foundations were also critical in bharat’s view. “…our answers to the big business questions — where should we compete? what makes us different? — need to be clear, consistent and accessible.”
Finally, bharat emphasized how important it was to manage his time and energy. “I have never felt busier than I did during the last three months,” he joked. “What I realized — late, but not too late — was that I needed to make time for reflection.”
Initially, bharat just barreled through, as assignment kept being piled on him. Eventually, he needed to step back. “I found myself in the frustrating state of feeling both busy and unaccomplished,” he writes. “I needed to slow down. I needed to reflect. I needed to make time to crystallize what I was learning, to extract meaning from experience, and to appreciate the progress that I was making.”
It also forced him to let go of being perfect and focus on what really matters. “When you try to do everything, you can only give a sad fraction of your best effort,” bharat observes. “In order to really focus on some things, you have to ignore — or really suck at — other things. So while you’re at it…you should really suck at the things you care least about.”
No, it isn’t as poetic or universal as Chamine’s wisdom. But if you’ve been accepted into business school, take heed of bharat’s advice. Manage your blind spots. Emphasize the basics. And, of course, suck at the right things.
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