A toast to free-riding!

Posted: November 14, 2010 by Gurveen Bedi in Free-riders, IIM
Tags: , ,

I had written this post a few days back and then shelved it since I had thought that it is pointless as it wouldn’t change anything. But a recent experience of a friend who I found crying since her group members had left her alone to deal with a tough assignment, made me want to dedicate this special post to free-riders. Hence, I  got back to working on this post, in the hope that it may change some people who are in the first year and have just got a taste of the ‘freedom’ of free-riding.

In economics, free riders are defined as those who take more than their fair share of the benefits or do not shoulder their fair share of the costs of their use of a resource. Free-riders exist everywhere. The businessmen who evade taxes, the carpool partner who never gets her own car, the people who steal electricity by illegal connections and most relevant to IIMA, the student in the study group who absolutely refuses to contribute.

The free-rider phenomenon stems from the structure of working in groups. Whenever work or responsibility is assigned to a group of people, rather than individuals, the belief of every individual is that the work will get done easily. Hence, some individuals evade the work since they know that the same benefits will accrue to them whether they contribute or not. A solution would be to avoid the group structure, but in several cases, that is impossible. A number of tasks are such that a group structure is a necessity – for example, a nation’s defence, spend on public infrastructure etc.

Specifically, academics at IIM Ahmedabad are all about groups and group assignments, hence it is a system inherently infested with free-riders. This post is thus addressed to the free-riders of IIM Ahmedabad in an attempt to enlighten them and if nothing else, at least to make them squirm about in their places.

Dear free-rider,

First, let me start by wishing you a “Happy First Year” at IIMA. There is probably no other breed of students that enjoyed the first year of IIM Ahmedabad more than you did. While most of the students were burning the midnight oil to finish that irritating Marketing decision sheet or that nauseous BRM project, you were laughing at their predicament and enjoying late night movies and cards in the company of other beings of the same breed. You would come to the class every morning, that’s if you would, and scoff at the others who were worrying about whether they had got the last assignment right, or whether their group would be called to present that day. You never realised that this smirking would come back to hit you someday – you probably still don’t. And have no doubts about it, it will hit you, all in due course of time.

While several students who entered this MBA program fresh out of undergrad, found the discipline here a sudden jolt that shook them and in the process, made “ladies out of the girls” and “men out of the boys”; you found this a seamless transition. For you, post graduation became just another extension of undergrad life. You never understood the essence of an MBA at IIMA, that it is not just a degree, it is a way of living. The struggle for daily case analysis, the long-winded group discussions interspersed with juices and section mails, the goof-ups in class presentations, the last minute run to the printer before assignment submissions, the infighting for work distribution and even the gruelling work itself – all constitute what an MBA at IIMA is about. You have missed out on all of it; you have lost out on a life that thousands crave to experience.

Apart from the experience, you have missed out on learning an essential skill that IIMA teaches you – time-management. I remember our Program Head announcing in class in the first month, “You all are brilliant and we know that if we gave you enough time to spend on academics, you would all excel. That is why we don’t. We give you a time crunch so that you learn to prioritize and multi-task”. And learn we did. Whether it was tons of assignments, several presentations, multiple clubs’ work, eating out, having a life, we did it. We managed it all and we came out proud. You failed there, and failed miserably.  In a struggle to manage work and fun, you chose the easy way out. I am just waiting to see you deploy these finely developed time-management skills at your respective organizations next year. I wonder what choice you will make then.

Also, you forgot an important part of what constitutes an MBA – the network that is built here. In a few years, students of our batch would be employed across different industries in a variety of sectors. From a marketer at HUL to a consultant at Bain, from an investment banker at Goldman Sachs to an activist at some NGO, we will have it all – an expansive spread of people, an amazingly well-connected network. But the only way one can tap this network is by having had a good reputation in campus in terms of work ethics and ability. The work that one does here and the identity one forms here, doesn’t end with graduation. It defines the manner in which people remember you once you graduate and determines the amount of respect that you are able to generate. But, in the quest of low hanging fruits of poker nights and parties, you perhaps overlooked that aspect of an MBA. Honestly, I don’t blame you. If you couldn’t understand the essence of the academic program in the first place, forgetting the importance of creating a network at a B-school is but natural.

But the biggest irony of it all is that in spite of the self-destruction that you have subjected yourself to, you still have the guts to believe that you are smart. You still feel that you have gamed the academic system and come out unscathed and victorious. You feel you’ve won, you feel you’ve escaped.

Well, let me break the bad news to you buddy!!! The truth is that you are a loser…

You have lost the opportunity so bad, you have harmed your reputation so much, that nothing you will do can recover it. Forget about being the “smart one”, you’ve been the worst kind of fool since you never realised that you were being a fool.

And I, pity your foolishness.


A free-rider hating person

  1. Maruti says:

    Hahaha…Too direct?

  2. Abhishek Kesh says:

    Good that finally someone spoke out against this malaise. Good post.

  3. Abhishek Kesh says:

    Just Curious. Tough Assignment=MACR(Phillip Morris Companies and Kraft Inc.)?

  4. Aashwit says:

    Great post! 🙂
    Hopefully the right set of people would have “time” and “guts” to go through this ..

  5. Nitesh Dahiya says:

    Very well-written post Gurveen…..Thankfully my group in PGP1 did not have a single Free-Rider 🙂
    And also the same curiosity as Abhishek “Tough Assignment=MACR” 😉 ??

  6. Priya Narayanan says:

    Indeed the “opinions” blog! Good that you brought this up. Hope that some fence-sitters, at least, will change for the better.

  7. Amit Mittal says:

    Great post indeed!! I hope people for whom it is meant read it…!!

  8. Kunal Singal says:

    Like it!

  9. Ankita says:

    Loved the post. Each and every point was brought out so perfectly and clearly. Hats off to your not-so-subtle and frank opinion.

  10. Kaka says:

    Very well written…. All that gussa spilling out 🙂

  11. Shagun says:

    Agree on most except for a couple of points

    1. There is too much hype on networking on-campus here… instead of building “networks”, try having friends… works better and feels better… 🙂

    2. Not everybody is a free-rider by choice. What happens to those guys, whose opinions are not sought/ get lost in the quest for a group mates superior GPA??

  12. Nilesh Gupta says:

    Networking is an over-rated and overused concept in IIMA. Networking is a byproduct of having gud frnds and being good at heart. If the opposite party realises that you are networking just for the heck of networking then it really is not networking. College is not a business situation where we exchange cards and then go on our separate ways. We do stay together for two years and because of this elongated duration making friends rather than just being ‘networkers’ counts more.
    One would help a frnd more than one would help a ‘networker’.
    A true measure of successful ‘networking’ would be the number of people who would say good things about you when you are not present.

  13. Piyush Gupta says:

    Honesty at its best. Good work Gurveen.

  14. Nishanth Parlapalli says:

    I agree that free-riding is an evil, its not cool and needs to be wiped out.
    But I feel one can always get work done from anyone. Its just about a little more guidance and patience from the rest of the group.

  15. Rajesh P says:

    Gr8 ultimatum Gurveen !!!

    I never knew such free-riders even existed :O
    But yeah i would’nt buy your points regarding the respect, laurels and foolishness.

    Just to play the devil’s advocate: “Free-riders can also get into Bain/HUL/NGO”. Does the reputation in campus/group still matter ?

  16. ILEAD India says:

    I loved reading the article right from the title to the last word of the article. Thanks for taking me through a wonderful ride. Nice information posted too.

  17. Sandip Dev says:

    Awesome post.. Aah the free rides, you envy them at times and you laugh at them at times… Very well put. And frankly you dont learn anything at all if you dont do those assignments and stay up till the wee hours in the morning to complete assignments and then rush to class after like an hour of sleep. I personally think its the dedication and committment that will help in the long run and thats what free riders fail to learn.

  18. Sandip Dev says:

    Errata: It should be “Aah the free riders”

  19. Ray Nestor says:

    The tagline of your blog pretty much explains what you have written here, you form your own opinions. I have just finished a project for Managing people and performance course which was all about why Free riding exists in IIMs and what I found was that the students tend to become free riders, they did not enter here by free riding in the CAT exam and they are equally smart. Some just get bogged down because of low GPA or may be because of some HYPERACTIVE FANATICS who want to do everything and when they finish the project, they go crying around that I DID EVERYTHING, EVERYBODY ELSE WAS FREE RIDING. I would love to here from you if you have something quantitative to prove your statement, otherwise this article is very degrading to our colleagues.

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