Observations: MBAs & Government

Sometimes I am reminded that there are a lot of observations & stories that I tell in real life that I haven’t shared on this blog.  This is one that I’ve mentioned in conversation three times this week, so I’m making an effort to actually write it out.

When I attend business school at Harvard, I took a couple of elective classes that were roughly equally populated by both MBA students and Government students.  Harvard is fairly unique in that it has both a world-class business school (technically, the oldest) and a world-class government school (Kennedy School of Government).

What I learned in these classes had less to do with the material, and more to do with the fundamental difference in mindset between the two types of students.

In every class, for every business case, the argument almost always broke down as follows:

The MBA Students:

Tell us what the rules of the game are, and we’ll tell you how to win the game.

The Government Students:

Tell us who you want to win the game, and we’ll tell you how to make the rules.

Needless to say, the conversations typically went nowhere.  The business students always felt it was unethical to either change the rules mid-stream, or to create an unlevel playing field.  The government students always felt it was unethical to set up rules that weren’t destined to generate the ideal outcome.

Let me know how many times you see echoes of this disconnect in both business &  political discussions.