Your Money or Your Health?

I’m sick today. Being sick in the middle of the summer is a double whammy. Eighty-five degrees and sunny with a sore throat should be an oxymoron.

Yesterday I completed an alumni survey sent out by my esteemed business school. It was more or less standard fare: what have you been doing professionally, what kind of responsibilities do you have at your job, how much money do you make, how happy are you? I wonder if the compilation of these results are more for collective voyeurism and one-upmanship (“I’m wealthier than my peers”) than because they give the administration the opportunity to reflect on the curriculum.

Two questions stood out for me. One asked me to rank what is most important to me, from most to least, choosing between things like my health, the well-being of my children, my income, my net worth, time to do stuff outside of work, my involvement in my community, etc. Are they serious? My health and my children’s well-being are in a category by themselves, aren’t they? Are there actually people out there who put those things at the bottom of the list? I’m curious to know.

The second surprising question asked what skills most help me in my professional life. The surprise was that the list included both the obvious skills for a business school to care about (analytical thinking, leadership ability) and some surprises (ability to listen, empathy). I suspect that my rank-ordering will be in the “long tail” relative to my peers (I put those “soft skills” high on the list). My question is: if all the alumni came back and said what they really needed most was empathy and listening skills, would that result in an about-face in the business school curriculum? If not, why is HBS asking?

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