Have You Had Enough?

(Illustration created using image generated by Midjourney, an artificial intelligence tool.)

Last month, I posted a column in HBS Working Knowledge titled, “What’s Enough to Make Us Happy?”

Over the last few months, I’ve been asking myself the same question: “What’s enough?” My answer, as it turns out: Twenty-four years and 287 columns on a variety of management-related topics, my record as of this month. This month marks my last column in this long-running series for Working Knowledge.

I’ve always ended my columns with the question, “What do you think?” For years, this has been a standard response posed to students in Harvard MBA classrooms who ask instructors for their opinions on the case studies under discussion. As instructors, we constantly remind ourselves that we are the ones who ask the first questions. Students address them, at least before hearing from their instructors. It’s a reflection of the policy that everyone at Harvard Business School—students and instructors alike—teaches. That’s how we all learn, for life.

It has been a privilege and an honor to conduct a monthly conversation with readers of Working Knowledge at the most exciting and stimulating organization I’ve ever been part of. My subjects have been mine to choose. Although the original intent was to highlight the work of my colleagues at HBS, no bounds have been placed on my subjects. As a result, together we’ve covered a wide range of topics, beginning in May of 2000 with whether we can “hardwire” organization performance, then on to China trade policies (2012), the importance of immigration (beginning in 2003), women in leadership (2013), the need for an AI czar (2019), and remote work and organizational culture (2020).

“I’m grateful to all who have read and responded to these columns. You’ve made the experiment work.”

The column drawing the most comments from among the 287 columns was “Why Isn’t ‘Servant Leadership’ More Prevalent?” in 2013. Many respondents posed the question of whether or not the term “servant leadership” was an oxymoron. Obviously, the topic was on the minds of many.

We’ve asked what many leaders should do, among them Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Wikipedia’s Satya Nadella, YouTube’s Susan Wojcicki, Apple’s Tim Cook, and Disney’s Susan Arnold. We’ve explored the leadership legacy of, among others, Vanguard Founder John Bogle, Girl Scouts CEO Frances Hesselbein, Southwest Airlines Cofounder Herb Kelleher, and leadership scholar Warren Bennis.

All of this has required the review and appraisal of hundreds of books and an even larger number of academic papers and articles.

I’m grateful to all who have read and responded to these columns. You’ve made the experiment work. Do please pass on the art and habit of asking questions of others. To my editors over the years—Sean Silverthorne, Danielle Kost, and Dina Gerdeman—who’ve brought my ideas to life, my sincere thanks.

So with that, I’ll take my leave, at least for now. You’ll still be hearing from me from time to time, but it will be a topic on which I may be able to shed some light rather than only ask, “What do you think?”

Browse some of James Heskett’s most-read columns:

Key historic events:

Your feedback to last month’s column

What’s Enough to Make Us Happy?

Don McLagan, MBA 1967, framed the subject for us with the first poem posted in 24 years as a response to one of my columns. It began with:

“Somewhere between empty
and excess, between meager
and mansion, humble and hubris
wait the surprising possibilities of

The common theme among other responses to this month’s column was that we have to look inside ourselves, rather than to others, to determine what’s enough to make us happy. Ryan Bates summed it up nicely when he said, “The goal posts continue to move, and often envy of what others have fosters the ‘It’s never enough’ mindset. While such current and future growth should be viewed as beneficial, perhaps we all need to spend more time looking inward and considering what is enough and what is really most important.” Sindhu Latha S added, “So the compass is highly directed by what goes within rather than how it gets compared in the trivial world with tangible possessions.”

Michael Levin reminded us that it’s not easy to determine enough when he said, “Happiness, enough, and a metric for life are a hard trio to dance to. Life measured against qualitative standards is about as close as is practical, because the opposite leaves us with the striver’s curse.” Michael Schwartz provided a method of calculating enough in monetary terms, but then concluded, “What you do with it is, of course, the subject of your life.” William Cottringer offered another kind of metric when he said, “… if you can’t be happy poor, then you can’t be happy rich.”

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