How to ace the GMAT in 28 days: Day 25 (5th CAT test: 660)

Ok, my last ‘proper’ test before the exam. A 38V/44Q corrected score, giving 660, a full hundred points below my best. Oh well. Today’s essay practices:

Analysis of an Issue

“There is only one definition of success — to be able to spend your life in your own way.”

To what extent do you agree or disagree with this definition of success? Support your position by using reasons and examples from your reading, your own experience, or your observation of others.

There’s something admirable about the dropout, the hippy, the boho who hits the road and whose ambitions don’t extend any further than his next meal or park bench. He’s certainly ‘spending his life in his own way’, and has every right to consider himself successful in terms true to himself. But other people people may interpret success as the ability to lead an army, calm an epidemic, or build a political consensus. That’s why I disagree strongly with this statement: there are many definitions of success.

The statement infers that success is simply a personal viewpoint. But we live our lives in groups: families, factions, nations. Any attempt to define ‘success’ objectively can’t be limited to any one person’s inner monologue; plenty of people who bring little value to the world – Kim Jong-il, Osama bin Laden, countless reality TV celebrities – are hardly successes, despite undoubtedly being ‘heroes in their own minds’. This suggests that success is bigger than any individual.

A better definition of success might be: a successful person is one who adds value to the world. This can encompass both a purely personal definition – the hippy traveller who fosters tolerance between cultures as he leaves footprints in the sand – and a broader worldview, such as the software millionaire whose products have enabled further billions in economic growth. ‘Adding value’ takes the selfishness out of the definition – and provides further justification for my belief that the statement above is too self-limiting.

Of course, none of this makes the above statement incorrect. Far from it: it’s a perfectly valid definition of success, within its own strict limits. The silent hermit, the selfish millionaire, even the murderer – all of them have the right to believe themselves ‘successful’. What none of them has is the right to insist on his worldview being the only valid one. A purely personal view of success is unlikely to be shared by more than a small number of people, and the definition of any truly big idea – like democracy, human rights, or ‘success’ – needs broad agreement and acceptance by the majority.

In summary: success is not your private ideology, but is measured by the mark you leave on the world. If success has to be defined at all, perhaps a better definition might be: leave the world a better place than you came into it.

FAULTS: None at all! I’m happy with this one: wrote it feeling just the right mix of nerves, ideas, and energy. And no typos. Note to self though: I’d better not write any sentences starting with ‘and’ or ‘but’ in the exam; my guess is the grammatically strict E-rater will mark them down.

Analysis of an Argument

The following appeared in a memorandum sent by the vice-president of the Nadir company to the company’s human resources department:

“Nadir does not need to adopt to the costly ‘family-friendly’ programs that have been proposed such as part-time work, work from home and jobsharing. When these programs were made available at the Summit Company, the leader in the industry, only a small percentage of the employees participated in them. Rather than adversely affecting our profitability by offering these programs, we should concentrate on offering extensive help that will enable the employees to increase their productivity.”

Discuss how well reasoned you find this argument. In your discussion be sure to analyze the line of reasoning and the use of evidence in the argument. For example, you may need to consider what questionable assumptions underlie the thinking and what alternative explanations or counterexamples might weaken the conclusion. You can also discuss what sort of evidence would strengthen or refute the argument, what changes in the argument would make it more logically sound, and what, if anything, would help you better evaluate its conclusion.

This argument has several flaws in its reasoning. First, it assumes that any program available to all necessarily needs to be used by all. Second, it implies Nadir’s workforce is fixed and constant, unaffected by conditions elsewhere. Third, it suggests such programs are purely costs rather than investments. These views suggest the argument is short-sighted.

On the first point: no company offers flexible working options and expects 100% of its workforce to take advantage of them – they are fringe benefits, designed to improve workers’ lives in certain circumstances. Recent parents may appreciate job sharing and work-from-home options while they get to grips with a new baby, but babies don’t stay babies forever – and when round-the-clock childcare is no longer needed, those parents can return to work, without a total absence or a need for retraining clouding their effectiveness. Keeping your top performers working part-time is a far better choice than losing them altogether. No worker will use the programs all of the time, but many will benefit from that at some point in their careers. Summit Company is simply making a sound business decision: offering such options keeps people motivated and effective.

To take the second point about market conditions: does the Vice-President expect all his staff to stomach Nadir’s policies without grumbling, when recruiters are always on the lookout for effective people and Summit can offer better working conditions to disgruntled Nadirites? A worker with a fractured leg may be able to work from home if he’s with Summit, continuing to earn a salary without the discomfort of hobbling into the office every day; no such chance exists at Nadir. A mother whose daughter has fallen ill will be far happier at work knowing she can work from her kitchen table if needed. Such policies make Summit the employer of choice, and Nadir will face a constant battle to retain talent.

Moving on to the third point, the Nadir VP is looking at human resources with an accountant’s eye alone, not taking into account the extra value a happy and motivated workforce brings to the business. The cost of a few family-friendly programs – which may be used by perhaps half the workforce for a few weeks each year – may look huge as a line item, but tiny compared to total human resource costs: salaries, taxes, insurance, sick cover, staff turnover, and more. If that 10% hike in costs results in workers delivering 15% more effectively, the Summit programs are not just family-friendly; they’re business-friendly too – answering the VP’s concerns about profitability too.

One business guru describes the essence of management as ‘hiring legendary talent’. If family-friendly policies can reduce human resource issues, increase employee satisfaction, and add to the bottom line too, then the VP’s argument is weak. He may be able to support his argument purely in terms of short-term costs, since fresh programs are expensive to set up and run. But if he looks a little more closely at his own argument, he’s likely to see that many of his problems stem not from spending too much on people, but from investing too little in them.

FAULTS: I didn’t explore the other side of the issue enough – about how the cost of family-friendly programs may impede investment in new products and marketing them, making Nadir less competitive. Which would be the difference between a top-rated 6 essay and a 5, no matter how well-structured and well-written this is. So I’ll give myself a 5.

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