Today’s Wall Street Journal carries a review of The Four-Hour Workweek, a management best-seller of sorts. H.L. Mencken is, no doubt, smiling (see my previous posting.) The author of the book says that after 16 years in employed life, he still does not understand the value of hard work; the reviewer describes the book’s approach as “remunerative work-shirking.” The author seeks to “create luxury lifestyles in the present using the currency of the New Rich: time and mobility.” For me, this echoes the kind of language we last heard at the peak of the Internet boom, around Y2K: “Become a millionaire slacker!” “Get rich quick!” “It’s all about ME!” Perhaps we should start shorting the stock market. The reviewer pans the book; but the review raises three rather important questions in my mind:

**What does it really take to create a “luxury lifestyle”? Let’s ignore those who inherit great wealth, get a windfall from the Government, or have a good night at the casino—the vast majority of managers and Darden students I see are not so lucky. The true creators are people who have worked very hard, usually without the aim of creating luxury, but rather, with the aim of building an organization, serving a need in the market, improving on an invention, and so on. Luxury might follow as a consequence of hard work. But hard work is the sine qua non of a better life.

**Why should we strive to create a “luxury lifestyle”? I’m a fan of free markets and the ability of individuals to strive for the “American Dream.” But I also encourage managers and students to think critically about the use of all their resources. Is shop-‘till-you-drop consumerism the essence of the good life? Thinkers as disparate as Socrates, Emerson, Frankl, Confucius, Jesus, Hillel, and Mohammed have argued that the good life is the virtuous life, a life lived with a high purpose. Even after you’ve attained a luxury lifestyle and filled your house(s) with knick-knacks, you are still bound to feel empty if you aren’t led by some kind of purpose. My advice to students is: find your purpose first, then design a lifestyle consistent with it.

**What’s wrong with hard work? We teach the virtue of a healthy work-life balance. But I would worry if the author of this book were to run my hospital emergency room, monitor water quality, lead my fire department, fight crime, or pilot my airplanes. Large segments of civilized society depend on leaders (and followers) who take initiative, show up on time, complete tasks on target, attend to quality, and so on—quite simply, these are people who work hard. Hard work creates opportunity. Thomas Jefferson said, “I’m a great believer in luck. And I find that the harder I work, the more I have of it.”

These questions and others come to mind as Darden prepares to enroll a new class of students. Our reputation on web chat-boards and in the B-school rankings is that Darden’s MBA program is the most demanding of all. We make no apology for that reputation. We design a demanding program out of respect for the high potential of the men and women who attend our school—our mission statement declares that Darden aims to improve society by developing leaders in the world of practical affairs. We aren’t satisfied with delivering a passive rote learning experience. Ours is a program of personal transformation that helps our students become people of high impact, wisdom, and purpose. It is not possible to develop these qualities without challenging, stretching, and supporting the individual. Because of our candor, we attract students who aren’t afraid of working hard. The companies who recruit at Darden applaud the character of students we graduate. The market votes with its feet: we enjoy very robust demand for our students.

“Remunerative work-shirking” deserves a Darwin Award—in the long run this is a self-defeating, self-eliminating approach to professional work and to life. Instead focus on really creating something; do it with a purpose; and work hard.

Posted by Robert Bruner at 07/25/2007 12:14:20 PM