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

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

Mark McCormack’s What They Don’t Teach You At Harvard Business School was an insightful look into the non-business side of business. The text goes into examples of the more impractical and irrational nuances of business that are needed if you plan on succeeding, but never really taught because they’re just not academic subjects that would have ever been put into a curriculum. You learn how to understand people, the importance of timing, and more tidbits in this book that you didn’t learn in Harvard Business School.


Business is about people — I say on the blog all the time how important it is to understand people and how to interact with them especially in the process of selling. McCormack takes it a step further since he puts much more weight on the subject.

The great example laid out in the text is when Pepsi was trying to become Burger King’s exclusive beverage provider. Coca-Cola was in the running, of course, and they were succeeding much more than Pepsi so the choice on BK’s side was obvious. It wasn’t until executives at Pepsi leveled with Burger King and said, "look, we’re both number two — you’re second to McDonald’s and we’re second to Coca-Cola." By getting on another level with the buyer and entering through the side door, they closed the deal.

These types of sales tactics can only be done by going out and doing things — you have to truly learn about people, their feelings, their common enemies, and so many more nuances to succeed using these tactics. True business is working with people. People working together are what make businesses thrive.

The only way Pepsi could have closed this deal was by understanding the current state of the market, knowing where all the other companies stood at the time and listening to their peers.


If you do the opposite of what people expect, they’ll respect you more. Robert Greene states in The 48 Laws of Power how unpredictability will gain you power. It keeps people on their toes and conditions them to not take anything you do or say lightly. The impression you give when you do what you want and what’s best on your side of the table is that you are willing to go to certain lengths for your business but also the people you are working with.

McCormack states that this tactic has even been proven to have business come to them as a result. The nature of being someone that can willingly upset others merely because it’s what they are feeling is best for the company shows gall that every businessperson should have.

Motivation & Rejection

I hear quite often that if you need external motivation you are doomed and already not destined for success — it makes perfect sense. If you need someone else to rile you up to achieve what is rightfully yours, do you deserve it at all? Rejection has been referred to as the main motivator for many people and the text explains why this is something else they don’t teach you in Harvard Business School.

It turns out they do not teach much about selling in Harvard Business School because many of the tactics that are laid out and discussed have to do with nurturing a sale and closing. Staying motivated after a rejected sale is a large part of business and this is something that is talked about in the text over and over again.

Understanding that people are the ones running business is crucial to containing your motivation and drive during the process of running a business and selling. If someone rejects your offer and doesn’t want your product or services, unlike a binary system that is defined by 1s and 0s, businesses are run by people who can change their minds. Rejections during the sale should only bring about more motivation to continue persevering since another sale down the line can assist in the closing of a previously lost sale.

Interestingly, trusting your gut is a popular topic in the text as well — it might be obvious that something so reliant on the grey-area of business is so important. Harvard will not teach you how to lean into situations depending on how your instinct is feeling, but experience in the office and out of the building will mold you into someone who can handle that naturally in no-time.

On the flip side of trusting your feelings and gut it is also massively important to understand that sometimes it is just the product. If someone is rejecting your clock radio, you might have sold it like royalty but if they simply do not need a clock radio then you already lost the sale — fortunately, they do teach you how to prospect and find qualified leads in Harvard Business School.

Ambiguity During the Sale

Let’s continue discussing the clock radio — no solid salesperson will be disclosing the negatives a product while attempting to close the sale. Sure, there are things that have to be talked about before selling something entirely misleading, but the text describes things like batteries being included and such to be superfluous information.

The perfect example of this is when Apple is selling an iPhone — everyone knows there is going to be a replacement device in under a year but you do not hear Apple executives and sales representatives reminding patrons that their device is going to be outdated shortly. Similarly, you do not hear anyone saying that in a couple years the battery is going to deteriorate and require a replacement. These things are extremely unquantifiable properties of the technology that can essentially be omitted entirely.

When speaking about clock radios — it’s not crucial to disclose that the included batteries might have to be replaced in five months. It is even more discouraged to say anything about the new clock radio that will be replacing this one entirely in only a few short months. Sales is about perception and selling what is desired at the time. Do not have the sale suffer by going into too much detail about the trivial things.

Do Not Grow Faster Than Necessary

As a young businessman, I fall into the trap of going for growth faster than I should. The problem is when you are building a business with the intention of growing it, building your worth, or any of these ‘side-effects’, you take your eye off the only ball that you should be glued to. It is also completely within the realm of possibilities that you will make poorer business decisions because you might be excited about a growth opportunity even if it does not make perfect business sense.

At Calaboration, we focus mostly on real estate professionals and brokers. Our marketing and branding strategies apply to most any and all businesses, but we niche down so we can especially cater to the needs of this one industry. We do have some clients that were picked up that have nothing to do with real estate and their perfectly happy with the work we are providing — but there is something to be said about an agency that goes 100% and fully focuses on one specific industry.

IMG was hyper-focused on golfers. Like Calaboration, their services were fit for just about anybody; but, they focused on golfers so they can dominate that niche and industry before they expand. Diversification will come eventually and will eventually make more and more sense — forcing something that should be a natural business progression is never a good idea.


The final chapters of the text hit home for me. On a personal level, I wish I was taught how to properly manage tasks, events, and my life properly in any school I was in. Unfortunately, where I was attending class and apparently Harvard Business School, you are not taught how to manage yourself and get things done in an effective manner.

I’m a strong believer in your overall efficiency carrying over into every other facet of your life. If you are extremely focused and good at what you do while at the gym, you will probably be a very decent businessperson and get a fair amount of work done when it matters at the office. Similarly, if you are a passionate family man and always find the time to spend some days with the family, you have the time-allocationskills to get things done effectively at the office as well.

The text makes it clear to consider your hobbies, arts, and everything else in your life that is not business because these other facets directly impact what you do in the business world as well. Understanding when you are most productive and finding time for Deep Work is just as crucial as making time for the wife and kids. The one part of all this that is unlike any other management systems we’ve already talked about is how the text explains the solidity of your schedule. Make your schedule and stick to it — never go in and modify things based on external sources or upcoming events. All of these distractions will get you in a mindset that tricks you into thinking it’s okay to modify your life on paper when in reality you need the structure to keep you on task and always getting things done effectively and efficiently.

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