Reward and Sacrifice


Heat is one of my favourite films of all time. It’s a classic tale of cops and robbers, except with everything turned up to eleven. Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino both give stellar performances as antagonist and protagonist, ably assisted by Val Kilmer and Tom Sizemore. Meanwhile, director Michael Mann brings the plot of high-stakes crime to life with a sober crispness that has each scene brimming with energy. It’s arguably his magnum opus, and I urge you to watch it if you haven’t already. Handy tip: if anyone levels accusations of laziness at you while watching it, you can tell them that it’s an artistic study of the risk/reward curve.

One of Heat’s greatest successes is marrying high-octane action with a mature reflection on sacrifice and isolation. Both antagonist and protagonist have chosen to channel their time and energy, perhaps even their life itself, in pursuit of excellence in their chosen profession. As they reach the twilight of their careers, the question that has reared its unwelcome head is whether or not what they have sacrificed is worth what they have gained. DeNiro’s character is a career criminal who has already experienced life behind bars, and is, unsurprisingly, not overly eager to return to that environment. As a result, he now lives his life by the creed of never getting attached to anything that he isn’t willing to walk out on in thirty seconds flat, should any threat arise. Given his chosen method of putting bread on the table, it’s hard to argue with his solitude-espousing philosophy. In his world, emotional attachments are a weakness that can be exploited.

As detached from our reality as the film’s premise is, the issues of reward and sacrifice that the film explores are something to which we can relate. We all volunteered to do an MBA because we believe that the subsequent reward will be worth the substantial sacrifices that we’ve made. We should all make sure, though, that the sacrifices we’re making are the right ones. Never forget that you’ve chosen to surround yourself with some of the most diverse, brightest and ambitious people you’ll ever meet. Just like Porter’s Five Forces, or an NPV model, those people will help you become a better, more insightful and more complete person.

In ancient times, the Celts used to build crannógs – dwellings built in a river or lake – to afford themselves protection. To successfully traverse the river or lake, the owners often used stepping stones that were hidden underwater, out of sight. Without knowing exactly where the stones lay, the inevitable result for any would-be intruder was, at best, an unwelcome dunk in icy water. Imagine that the crannóg is your chosen goal and the body of treacherous water is the lifetime of difficult decisions and unexpected problems that you have to negotiate to successfully arrive at your destination. The people you’ll meet while doing your MBA are like the hidden stepping stones. You can ignore them and make your journey more difficult for yourself, or you can take the time to discover more about them and see how they might be able to help you on your way.


The importance of building your emotional and social support network cannot be overestimated. Much like investing for your financial future, the best day to start building that support network was yesterday. The second best day to start is today. In five or ten years, people in your class unfortunately won’t recall that amazingly insightful presentation you gave on EVA. They will, however, remember that you took the time to really get to know them, and they just might be there to give you a helping hand when you need it most. Michael Porter’s journal articles probably won’t be quite as quick to answer your telephone call in your hour of need.

Keith Boyle ~ Executive MBA