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Photo by Patrick Breitenbach.

HBS recently launched a new podcast called Cold Call.  Disappointingly, at least in the first few episodes, the podcast itself is little more than an advertisement for the Harvard Business Review’s booming business in selling case studies at $5 to $9 a pop.  The format appears to be simple: they invite the professor to come on to the podcast, tease the story, and then say, ‘if you want to know how it turns out, buy our case study!’.  NPR ought to try this with its next edition of Serial.  It’s a conversation, not an account of what happened, so expect the podcasters to jump around from one subject to another.

Crass commercialism aside, HBS’s podcast does have a few interesting tidbits that are worth taking note of if you happen to be planning to apply to the school this year.  For one thing, you’ll learn a bit about the case study method, which is important to understand before you apply.  The case study method is anecdotal, for one thing — it is based on principles of storytelling, with the business leader as protagonist (this, by the way, is a great model for you to follow in your own essays about leadership). Another advantage is that you can hear from some actual Harvard profs and get a feel for what they might be like as teachers.  But thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, the way the teachers tell the stories implies what kind of abilities they’re looking for in a leader.

Gautam Mukunda, a former consultant (and Harvard student) and the author of a recent book called “Indispensable”, takes the lead on the first podcast, and it’s clear from his tone what he believes is important.  Transformative impacts, unconventional leaders and institutional morality are three of the qualities he highlights.  He likes leaders who come from unusual backgrounds.  He’s on the hunt for people who are exceptional, who buck the norm, and who make ethical choices, even when they’re hard.

Not only is this good advice for a business leader, it’s a good way to approach your candidacy.  How and where can you show your own willingness to buck trends, even in a small way?  Can you show that you resolved a challenging ethical dilemma successfully?  Can you write about a time when you learned from a failure?  What are your own case studies?  These are the questions you need to answer if you want to be considered Harvard material.