…they’re very, very smart. And they’ve learned at an early age to leverage that characteristic. I think that they are highly competitive. I think they’re impatient with other people and themselves. I think that in most everything they’ve done, they’ve been very successful. I think that they’re hungry for feedback, and mainly positive feedback. And they traditionally have overloaded agendas.
…And one of the dilemmas and the characteristics of these individuals is that when everything’s going fine, everything’s going fine. But when they hit a blip or they feel overloaded or they can’t do things in terms of the quality that they want to do them, rather than saying well, I just can’t deal with these, what happens is they overreact and start to say very, very negative things to themselves about why did I choose this job, I’m failing at this, my home life isn’t what I wanted it to be, I’m not living in the city. So they really create a kind of a catastrophic picture. And clearly, this 43-year-old headmaster had done that. So the dilemma is once they get stuck and feel that way about themselves, clearly what they do is they manipulate their environment to get some positive feedback. And then they jump right back to where they were before.
…early on, they figured out that they had this drive. And I think they began to leverage it. And they also began to compete. And it’s not just to be number one once or twice, but it’s to be number one all the time. And so what happens gradually is that the external criteria for success becomes the norm. So we’re not looking at our own talents and saying, how have I grown and developed these talents that I’ve realized over the years? What I do is I say, well, when I go to this five-year reunion, how am I going to compare with all those people that I competed with? And so it’s that success is only defined in terms of how I do based on other people. And that, in itself, becomes addictive and becomes its own pattern.
Apparently, I perceive the world more like a Westerner (No surprise to my friends) —
Because attention is so closely connected to our brain’s basic wiring, it can be difficult to recognize our own patterns of giving attention — patterns we’ve been absorbing since birth. Yet different cultures do allocate attention differently. For instance, psychologist Richard E. Nisbett showed an underwater scene to students in the U.S. and also to East Asians. While the Americans commented on the big fish swimming amongst smaller fish, the East Asians also discussed the overall scene, including plants and rocks. Nisbett concluded that East Asians focus on relationships while Westerners tend to see isolated objects rather than the connections between them.
John Hagel reported on a similar experiment. “A developmental psychologist showed three pictures to children — a cow, a chicken and some grass. He asked children from America which two of the pictures belonged together. Most of them grouped the cow and chicken together because they were both objects in the same category of animals. Chinese children on the other hand tended to group the cow and grass together because ‘cows eat grass’ — they focused on the relationship between two objects rather than the objects themselves.”
Here’s what I take from these two studies: First, that whatever you pay attention to — or not — has a huge effect on how you see the world and feel about it. And second, it’s much easier to see your own attention patterns if you take the time to learn about someone else’s.
There’s a growing sense of the self among the Chinese and an increasing emphasis on self-expression, which is causing at least one major change: The importance of emotional considerations in purchase decisions is shooting up. The need for emotional benefits in categories such as chocolates and mobile handsets rose, according to our survey, from 1% in 2009 to 19% in 2011 — a number that seems likely to keep rising.
Marketers will have to cater to Chinese consumers’ desire to express their individuality by developing brands that “talk” directly to them. That will apply not only to high-involvement products such as cars and mobile phones, but also to commodities such as milk and salt. Even in a low-involvement product category like detergents, 7% of Chinese consumers — up from 2% in 2009 — say that the best products should not only clean clothes, but also make them feel special.
As the Chinese become more knowledgeable about products and more affluent, and safety standards become tighter and better enforced, they’ll feel safer trying out lesser-known brands. That’ll make them more receptive to niche brands that talk to them as “individuals” as a way of setting themselves apart.
Amitie qui se peut finir / Ne fut jamais bien commencee
(A friendship that can be ended / didn’t ever start)
~ Mellin de Saint-Gelais, Oeuvres Potiques
When the members of the class of 2010 entered business school, the economy was strong and their post-graduation ambitions could be limitless. Just a few weeks later, the economy went into a tailspin. They’ve spent the past two years recalibrating their worldview and their definition of success.
The students seem highly aware of how the world has changed (as the sampling of views in this article shows). In the spring, Harvard Business School’s graduating class asked HBS professor Clay Christensen to address them—but not on how to apply his principles and thinking to their post-HBS careers. The students wanted to know how to apply them to their personal lives…
Over the years I’ve watched the fates of my HBS classmates from 1979 unfold; I’ve seen more and more of them come to reunions unhappy, divorced, and alienated from their children. I can guarantee you that not a single one of them graduated with the deliberate strategy of getting divorced and raising children who would become estranged from them. And yet a shocking number of them implemented that strategy. The reason? They didn’t keep the purpose of their lives front and center as they decided how to spend their time, talents, and energy.
It’s quite startling that a significant fraction of the 900 students that HBS draws each year from the world’s best have given little thought to the purpose of their lives. I tell the students that HBS might be one of their last chances to reflect deeply on that question. If they think that they’ll have more time and energy to reflect later, they’re nuts, because life only gets more demanding: You take on a mortgage; you’re working 70 hours a week; you have a spouse and children.
For me, having a clear purpose in my life has been essential…
When I was young, I measured my life by how successful I would be on paper — Good schools, good career, etc. As I got older, my priorities changed. I realized how much more meaningful positive personal relationships were to my life — Particularly during the last 6 years, when I needed a supportive network the most. After I completed graduate school, I decided to focus my professional CV, like your HBS classmates. Unlike them, I chose to go down the career route unmarried and childless. I do not regret the latter decision, but I now find myself completely single and less connected to friends than I would like.
As Albert Schweitzer noted, “Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.”
…I find the symptoms you describe, as a result of not focusing on a fulfilling measure of one’s life, to be prevalent in every socioeconomic bracket. As I write this, your article has garnered over 350 comments. The sentiments you express resonate with a large portion of the population. Yet, I will guess that more than half of us who nodded our heads in agreement with you will go back to our tunnel-visioned lives within 2 months. Like new year’s resolutions, we have the best intentions to change & we know it’s in our best interests, but…
“When people who have a high need for achievement—and that includes all Harvard Business School graduates—have an extra half hour of time or an extra ounce of energy, they’ll unconsciously allocate it to activities that yield the most tangible accomplishments. And our careers provide the most concrete evidence that we’re moving forward. You ship a product, finish a design, complete a presentation, close a sale, teach a class, publish a paper, get paid, get promoted. In contrast, investing time and energy in your relationship with your spouse and children typically doesn’t offer that same immediate sense of achievement. Kids misbehave every day. It’s really not until 20 years down the road that you can put your hands on your hips and say, “I raised a good son or a good daughter.” You can neglect your relationship with your spouse, and on a day-to-day basis, it doesn’t seem as if things are deteriorating. People who are driven to excel have this unconscious propensity to underinvest in their families and overinvest in their careers—even though intimate and loving relationships with their families are the most powerful and enduring source of happiness.”
Moreover, as an adult looking to forge new friendships outside of family, I discovered what others discovered before me: It’s much more difficult to make new friends after college. On top of this, there is a growing trend of transitory relationships — Platonic & romantic. No one wants to commit. To friendship. To marriage. Or even being punctual for dinner or returning a phone call. Unless of course, there is material or monetary benefits to be gained…