7 Things I Learned at Harvard

by | Apr 6, 2023

I recently completed an executive education course at the Harvard Kennedy School (HKS), “Global Leadership and Public Policy for the 21st Century.” It was a module offered by the World Economic Forum (WEF) to Young Global Leaders (YGLs).

Last year, I went to Geneva to attend the YGL summit, where I met many incredible and inspiring young leaders. It was my first summit, and I realized that many folks already knew each other because they had attended the HKS module. My peers spoke glowingly about the course, so I signed up.

I’m glad that I did.

The course was phenomenal.

Here are 7 things I learned:

1. Leadership Development Groups (LDGs)

The most consequential thing I experienced was the LDG. We were divided into groups of 6 or so. We each  presented a problem or challenge that we are facing. Here’s the approximated framework:

a) Present the problem (10 minutes)
b) Questions from group (10 mins)
c) The group diagnoses the problem (20 mins) – You listen into the group debating your problem but can’t say anything
d) The group comes up with solutions (10 mins)
e) Debrief & reflections with the group (5 mins)

The key point is that we’re often on the dance floor and can’t get a “balcony view” of our own problems. When you hear other people talk about your issues, you get a fresh perspective.

I had folks from different disciplines/fields in my group, and I was inspired by the ideas they presented me. The LDG framework is something that I’ll think about integrating into my work practices.

2. The Art of Negotiation

We were paired with another classmate and asked to negotiate through a case.
We examined how emotions play a role in negotiation and decision making. Sometimes it’s difficult to disentangle.

3. Why do some countries advance?

I was interested in a lecture by Professor Ricardo Hausmann who posited that for countries to grow and advance, they need to obtain and capture knowledge. Case in point: Daewoo in South Korea trained several Bangladeshi workers, who then returned to Bangladesh. Over the decades, these workers started their own firms and the garment industry grew rapidly.

The main point is for countries to let people with the “know how” into their countries. Watch Ricardo Hausman here.

4. Case Studies

We worked through many cases studies. Some I read, a few that I didn’t. I’m glad we didn’t receive a grade for the course! But even still, I enjoyed the rich conversation among my classmates. Some of the cases were led by Dan Levy, Iris Bohnet, and Dutch Leonard.

I didn’t go to business school, so this is a glimpse of what it must be like.

Maybe the most important case I considered was…myself. We heard from David Rubenstein (Carlyle Co-Founder) who advised us to consider how we bridge the gap between being successful early in life to continuing our feats later in life. It’s not an easy thing to do.

5. Slow looking

This is when you look extremely slowly at something so that you get past your first impression. A Harvard professor asked us to look closely at a painting by Tarsila do Amaral.

I realized midway through that the artist was very familiar. In fact, I recently produced an album (and wrote the liner notes) Samba for Tarsil inspired by the Brazilian painter.

We broke into groups of three or so and went to Harvard’s museum where we picked a mosaic to analyze and discuss. This is a process with which I’m somewhat familiar given my career in the arts.

6. The Power of the Arts – And How To Start a Dance Party Using Your Hands 👏🏽

I had the great pleasure of playing Spanish guitar for my classmates. It was during the mid-afternoon, and the course instructor requested that I play. I borrowed a guitar from a friend in Boston. I played 3 selections. I’m an amateur guitarist, but it was great to share music with my new friends.

As our closing dinner came to an end, I was standing with a classmate. We started clapping. I was clapping like Dizzy Gillespie (you can hear the eighth notes to give the sound texture), and another friend started to clap in a flamenco style. We spontaneously started to sing, chant, and broke into an a cappella version of “La Bamba.”

I then asked the guy in charge of the sound system to give me access to the speakers. I started to DJ music from my phone & Spotify. And we turned it into a genuine dance party – like almost everyone dancing together. I couldn’t fade songs in/out like on my mixing board, so I had to be confident in song selection for my international peers. Playlist included “Despacito” and “Maria Maria.”

7. Relationships

While the course has ended, the relationships (hopefully) endure. It’s rare to take ~10 days and deeply connect with ~60 of my peers who are leaders in their industries and disciplines. It was an immersive and exciting program. Made all the more impactful because I was with folks I deeply respect. I’d like to stay in touch with my peers.