Things They Don’t Tell You At A B-School | IIM Ahmedabad
The phone rang a couple of rings before I answered it. It was Shristi at the other end. It was a hectic time with the final placements approaching soon. All of us were busy with resume submissions, regular classes and attending company presentations on campus. One could smell the stink of ruthless ambition among the 300 students vying for the top 100 jobs of Day Zero.
“Listen…I wanted to know about this company – Hindustan Pestle Ltd . You attended the company presentation, right ? How is the culture there? Is it women-friendly? Do they have good roles?” She asked me several questions at once.
“ Shristi, It is a bakwaas company. The pay is ok but I asked one of my friends who is working there and she said it is not a good fit for women and the culture is not very progressive. She advises not to apply for any roles there.” I replied…
And I lied. I had no friends working at Hindustan Pestle. I truly believed that the firm was offering great roles and my insecure self did not want a strong competitor such as Shristi to apply for that role. So, I did what any insecure and ambitious lad would do – I lied. I lied through my teeth and managed to convince Shristi to not apply for that role while I went ahead and created a great application for Hindustan Pestle Ltd.
I had gained a slight advantage at the expense of a batch mate’s loss. I became a relative grader.
In a business school, most people often believe that having a unique identity and a strong resume is just not enough. A relative grader believes that his/her success is dependent on 2 factors – his/her own performance as well as ensuring that other worthy candidates perform badly. The worst of the relative graders are those who believe in a Zero-Sum game- that is, they believe that they will only benefit if and only if their competitors do badly.
The concept of relative grading is intrinsic to the concept of ranking students. Take the CAT exam for example. It is a percentile-based concept. So if the top scorer has just gotten 8 correct answers, everyone else is ranked relative to that top-scorer. While your marks are an absolute number, your percentile becomes relative.
Similarly, appraisals at few firms use this concept – a bell-curve is used and everyone’s performances are force-fitted to the bell-curve. A majority gets average bonuses while the top 5-10% gets excellent evaluation and the bottom tail is condemned to be called below-average performers.
Such concepts are rampant even at an industry-level. In evolved and developed markets, automakers (Toyota vs GM) , mobile makers (Apple vs Samsung) , FMCG firms (Pepsi vs Coke) all compete to steal market-share. The markets are often saturated and sometimes, the only way to grow is to steal market-share.
Relative grading or Zero-Sum games are a reality no one talks about. Some players are ethical about it. Some play in the morally grey zone. Let us focus on the relative graders in a b-school. Every B-school has relative graders and if you understand the game, it becomes fun to witness the players in action.
The term has attained special status at B-schools. To call somebody a ‘RG’ implies heaving the highest form of insult for an intellectual. To waylay others out of your competition using such means is to indulge in ‘RG-giri’. The essence of RG-giri lies in systematically leading your competitors to their own graves. During classes, the front-bencher who puts in a CP (Class Participation) 30 seconds before the class is about to end is able to evict significant frustration from the already exhausted rest of the class.
I remember this particularly funny incident that had happened in class. I had not come prepared and I had not read the case-study completely but in my blind lust for getting CP marks, I raised a question to the prof. Most of the class did not mind the question since it was right in the middle of the class time and everyone is typically supportive of a fellow student trying his luck to get CP marks. And then disaster struck as soon as I asked the question…
Shristi, still smarting from the RG-giri I had inflicted upon her – jumped in at that opportunity. Before the prof. could even open his mouth, Shristi had torpedoed me – She opened her statement with this gem –
“Raheel, if you had bothered to read the case-study thoroughly, you will find the answer to your question is clearly mentioned on exhibit 3 on page 16. The answer is simply written there for anyone bothering to read it. However, what is more interesting is now that you know this answer, I would like to know your opinion on the strategy ahead…”
In 5 seconds, she had destroyed my credibility in class. She had proved to the prof that I had not read the case. She had ensured that she would get significant credit for her CP from the Teaching Assistant and the icing on the cake was that she had put me in a very tight spot by ending it with a pointed question directed at me…
All I could do was mutter a few lines, vainly trying to salvage my already destroyed pride and learning a lesson never to mess with her again.
RG-giri is an accepted reality and is even encouraged in a few places. Your best defense against RGs is to be better prepared and be smarter than your opponent. Shristi asked 4 other people to reconfirm her opinion about Hindustan Pestle and I could have avoided shooting myself in the foot if I was better-prepared.
Till Next Time – Happy Hunting…
Stay tuned for the Last Part in this series.
About Alternative Mavericks –
“Alternative Mavericks”, weaves different stories to present unconventional viewpoints which challenge the readers to not accept everything at face value. It is not enough to point out problems and crib about them. The column invites the readers to come up with out-of-the-box solutions to everyday problems