“Outside In” is a new weekly feature of the Harbus. Each week, the Harbus’ crack team of interviewers will meet with a different celebrity.
Our first guest is Jane Goodall, renowned research anthropologist and ethologist. Dr. Goodall recently visited the HBS campus to observe its inhabitants in their natural surroundings, and she was kind enough to provide the Harbus with an exclusive interview to discuss her preliminary findings. Goodall is the world’s preeminent expert on primate behavior, living with and studying East African chimpanzees for over forty years.
Harbus: Dr. Goodall, thank you very much for agreeing to speak with us today. Why did you choose HBS for your most recent field study?
Goodall: That is a very interesting question. I had been looking for quite some time to study an environment in which primates who are not forced to compete with one another for survival nonetheless engage in highly competitive and often aggressive behavior. Harvard’s Anthropology Department recently notified me that both the male and female primates on campus seem to exhibit abnormally high levels of testosterone. The effects of this widespread affliction are compounded by the primates’ individual feelings of insecurity-typically stemming from childhood rejection from established social circles-to create such an environment here at the Harvard Business School.
Harbus: I see. How have these phenomena manifested themselves in the actions of the individual primates here on campus?
Goodall: First and foremost, individual members of the primate community at HBS yearn for a sense of belonging above all else. They aggressively seek out a superficial type of mutual belonging with as many of the campus’ other primates as possible. For example, I witnessed a mad hysteria last week in their natural habitat, Spangler Hall, as the campus’s primates rushed to join as many non-exclusive packs or “clubs” as possible. Strangely, receiving a nearly continuous stream of club-related electronic communications over time sedates the campus’ primate population, apparently engendering a false sense of connectedness among these simple and seemingly pathetic creatures.
Harbus: And how does the unusually high level of testosterone that you observed among the campus’s primate population manifest itself?
Goodall: Building upon my last comment, the primates on campus first join as many of these non-exclusive, seemingly functionless organizations as possible, and then they begin to compete with one another for elevated prominence within each club’s generally obtuse and quite often ineffectual hierarchy. Yearning to achieve a level of elevated status in one of these clubs is quite bizarre in my opinion, however, because even the most untalented of primates on campus can apparently receive recognition as a “pack leader” of sorts, simply by forming a new club of his or her own. The other primates on campus will of course eagerly join said new club in order to feel more accepted. It’s a vicious cycle and, to be frank, it is quite disturbing to observe firsthand.
Harbus: And do these creatures communicate in a similarly disturbing manner?
Goodall: As a matter of fact they converse with one another in the most peculiar of ways. During the day, the primates on campus organize themselves into groups of eighty or so individuals and then collectively subjugate themselves to two or three dominant males or females-the proverbial “gray backs.” These leaders generally only allow one member of the group to speak at a time, typically after said individual has flailed his or her appendages in the air for quite some time. What I found most distressing is how these primates react if their group’s leaders do not recognize them quickly! I actually saw a number of these primates on campus rubbing their bottoms back and forth across their chairs quite aggressively and, at the same time, groaning out loud, apparently to express their dissatisfaction with the group’s leadership. These seemingly grotesque tactics were seldom useful in affecting change, but I found it quite horrifying to observe nonetheless.
Harbus: Do these creatures act any differently at night?
Goodall: These primates’ fundamental urge to feel accepted by others
translates into quite unorthodox promiscuous behavior at night…
Harbus: Unfortunately, Dr. Goodall, that’s all the time we have. Thank you.