“In 2007, 47 percent of Harvard grads went into finance or consulting.”
(Source: David Brooks, “The Power Elite,” NY Times, 02.18.10)

BONUS! Quote of the day from the same column:

“The meritocracy is based on an overly narrow definition of talent. Our system rewards those who can amass technical knowledge. But this skill is only marginally related to the skill of being sensitive to context. It is not related at all to skills like empathy. Over the past years, we’ve seen very smart people make mistakes because they didn’t understand the context in which they were operating.”

9 Responses to “Factoid of the day: Ah, this explains the crash”

  1. Mike Sporer says:


    Here’s another part of that article that I noticed: “There’s less emphasis on steady, gradual change and more emphasis on the big swing.” One of the problems is that we underestimate the power of incremental change. We are a “go large” society…..


  2. Let’s be honest. These very smart people absolutely understood the context in which they were operating. They made decisions and deals not void of knowing it wasn’t right, but rather void of the strength of character to act in the best interest of others. They acted in the best interest of self and bosses. These actions are representative of one of the worst diseases afflicting the American population – self-centeredness. Everywhere you find the worst of society, you find this disease at work – drug addicts, dads who don’t spend time with their children, politicians who cheat on their wives, etc. These smart Wall Streeters understood the context. What they didn’t understand or expect was that it would get as out of hand as it did.

  3. Julia Dubner says:

    Drew Gilpin Faust, President of Harvard, is aware of this imbalance in where grads end up and, to her credit, is trying to do something about it. It will be interesting to see if anything changes under her leadership.

  4. Daniel G. Faragó says:

    I agree with the article and disagree with Rhett. It is very difficult to see the context, or the big picture. People are trained to solve specific issues and not to first define their place in the whole picture. Moreover they are discouraged to do so, sometimes even penalized.

  5. Paul Cornies says:

    Empathy involves listening and understanding the consumer. Welcome to the new business reality.

  6. Terri says:

    I work in healthcare and have fired people who are ‘smarter’ than me because they couldn’t manage work well with people–patients or staff. Clinical analyses is hugely important, but if you can’t get along and engage others you can’t succeed.

  7. Alan Webber says:

    When I worked at HBR, the dean was heard to say, more than once, “Short any industry where a majority of HBS grads end up!” He wasn’t kidding–I don’t think.
    In addition, I have two Rules of Thumb that speak to Brooks’ column. The first says, “Don’t confuse credentials with talent.” They’re not the same thing.
    The second says, “Content isn’t king. Context is king.” The real contribution that smart people make is providing context–making sense out of a complicated, confusing, rapidly changing set of facts.

  8. Ethereal says:

    When I think of the wall street crisis, I recall a memorable quote from 1994’s Jurassic Park:

    Dr. Ian Malcolm: “Yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

    So yes, I definitely agree there is a huge empathy-deficit in this particular Ivy League crowd.

    I also notice that there weren’t really laws in place to address what happened as economic treason, and how to prosecute such behavior.

    But why would the laws exist? No one imagined this crisis was going to happen until it did. The idea of selling out a country’s future for money is really reprehensible.(Outside this particular Ivy League crowd, anyway)

  9. Jack Colwell says:

    “Our system rewards those who can amass technical knowledge. But this skill is only marginally related to the skill of being sensitive to context. It is not related at all to skills like empathy.”
    How does this impact law enforcement? Research has noted that the average time an officer listens before interrupting is seven seconds! When I share this data with officers, some laugh and say; “if people would just tell me what I need to know, I would not interrupt.”
    This leads to assumption driven policing. We take decisive action that is irrelevant to the reality of what is really going on. It feels good, but solves nothing. In fact, it usually makes things worse. However, it does produce beans to count (stats) and job security – guaranteeing numerous callbacks and arrests to the same locations. Current systems institutionalize this twisted process.

Leave a Reply