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April 14, 2016 / Michael Yaroshefsky

HBS Takeaways – Quick List 1

Takeaways Notebook

HBS turns the typical classroom model upside down.  At Princeton, professors started with a problem and guided the class towards a neat solution.  Each 50-minute class wrapped up in an orange bow, like episodes of The Wonder Years.

Here at Harvard Business School, the students talk most of the time. Our problems do not have neat, provable solutions.  We consider whether CloudFlare founders Matthew Prince and Michelle Zatlyn should be concerned that five of their 25 engineers just left the firm at once.  We debate the impact of chaebols, family-owned conglomerates, on South Korea’s economic development.  These classes get wrapped up in crimson-twined knots. It’s common to walk home each afternoon feeling like you now have even more questions than when you sat down that morning.

Instead of offering solutions, HBS leaves it up to you to take away whatever you want. I’ve been keeping a notebook of takeaways in my Field Notes notebooks (five-stars, would recommend).  I thought I’d share some of them here, in no particular order:


  • Shoot for Excellence, not Profit.  Profit eventually comes to Excellence in a circuitous way, so be there when it shows up.  -Attributed to Greg Glassman, Crossfit Founder.
  • Product-Market fit is important, but Product-Founder-Market fit is even more important.  -Attributed to Poshak Agrawal, Co-Founder Athena Education.
  • Always have something else in your pipeline. Even the most certain outcomes fall through.
  • Break down your product or solution into testable hypotheses, and design experiments to test each part, bit-by-bit.  And don’t fall victim to research bias, where you design the experiment for the outcome you want.  e.g. Don’t just ask your friends if they’ll buy your cool new gizmo/app.
  • Using “Beta” gives you a license to experiment and fail.  Use it liberally, when appropriate.
  • The more narrow and homogenous your target customer base, the better you can address their needs.
  • Can you cross the chasm to reach potential customers who aren’t the early adopters?


  • Give others jobs that you yourself would take.  -Attributed to Greg Glassman, Crossfit Founder.
  • If you’re sharing decision-making authority with a co-founder, determine in advance how you’ll work through a deadlock.
  • It should never feel like your team is doing you personal favors; everyone should be on the same mission.
  • Leaders at a company should set an example of healthy balance.  Take vacation, spend time with family.
  • Hire slow, fire fast.
  • Get rid of job titles in the early stages of a company.  Titles are earned, not given.
  • When building a team, think about each members’ skillsets as circles in a Venn Diagram.  You want enough overlap so you can communicate, but not too much overlap — it’s wasteful and can result in conflict.


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