What They Don’t Teach You At Harvard Business School: Book Review

Like an astute mentor, What They Don’t Teach You At Harvard Business School details vivid business situations to help us get a grip over the “real world.” In this master piece of sorts, Mark H. McCormack , the legend who birthed the sports management and marketing industries, teaches us how to use “people sense” in negotiation, time management, and reading ourselves and others.

The theme of What They Don’t Teach You At Harvard Business School is that even graduates of the most esteemed business school in the world often do not have “people sense,” which is critical to successfully navigating business situations aka “people situations.” In his book, McCormack anecdotes the lack of people sense he observed in Harvard graduates, as well as successful business executives in various industries during his career. In the light of McCormack’s experience, What They Don’t Teach You At Harvard Business School intends to fill the gap between the curriculum of prestigious business schools and street knowledge, and it does that with reason and eloquence.

I believe the strength of the book rests in its simple, clear, and straight forward writing. McCormack is not afraid to call bullshit what it is, so it may at times appear harsh, when really it is just honest. The quote below from P, 42 of the 2014 edition published by Profile Books Ltd in London gives a taste of McCormack’s honesty.

The Most Important Personal Asset in Business

Obviously, the real answer is common sense. But if you don’t have it already, you probably never will, and there’s nothing I can say here that is going to change that.

More than a few times, my husband caught me smiling like an idiot while reading this book – I would credit that to McCormack’s writing and storytelling style.

On the flip side, the book’s weakness lies in its lack of placement in the present time. As in, it was published in 1984, which means it could do with an edit of how current technology affects “people sense” and “people situations” – both positively and adversely. One example that stood out to me is the criticism of visual aids on P, 130. In today’s age, a Snapchat, YouTube, or Instagram guru could seriously challenge McCormack on his following observation.

I’ve never seen a bad idea sold because of great visual aids, and I’ve never seen a good idea good unsold because of lack of visual aids.

What They Don’t Teach You At Harvard Business School is divided into three parts: People, Sales and Negotiation and Running a Business. Personally, I found the first part to be the most relevant to my everyday job responsibilities and short term career goals. Sales and Negotiation also packs a punch, but Running a Business resonates the least with me. Nonetheless, it is an insightful read and a great resource for someone entertaining the idea of starting an entrepreneurial venture.

Some ideas presented in the book are fundamental in navigating the first five years of one’s career, that is why it could be mandatory reading in college. McCormack presents most of his ideas alongside concrete and insightful examples, which allowed me to recall and reflect on similar situations I have come across at work and in social gatherings. Through his vivid writing, McCormack compels his reader to reflect on daily business and social communications, and learn from them. Bonus: he does that without trying too hard.

Some of the concepts that stayed with me are: don’t be a “time thief,” focus on the “listen talk ratio,” observe “fringe times,” avoid “business immaturity,” get over the “love-me-for-myself-syndrome,” “find a star and make them a friend,” “negotiate backwards,” and “turn crisis into opportunity.” All these ideas were supported by examples that are truly sharp and thoughtful, but lengthy to be quoted in this post.

All in all, I would give What They Don’t Teach You At Harvard Business School a 4.6/5, and I would definitely recommend young adults to read (and understand) this book. After reading, not only will you start identifying crucial “people situations” around yourself – whether you’re working in a F100 company or sitting in an undergraduate gender studies class – you also will begin applying “people sense” to become the best version of yourself. It truly is a win-win.

One thought on “What They Don’t Teach You At Harvard Business School: Book Review

  1. Thanks for the review, Komal! I’ve seen this book on stands and been wanting to try it. I recently read an article that about business and social communications that stated the importance of a call over an email/text since that helps forge stronger relationships, drives meaningful conversations, and also improve efficiency. I’m going to contemplate on this and see if I can practice that more. We are all slaves to text messaging and email communication!


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