Mihir Desai on Demystifying Finance

Acclaimed author and Harvard business professor, Mihir Desai, makes accessible the most important financial concepts by teaching them through famous literary works. 

Course Details

  • Price: $100 $45
  • Availability: On Demand
  • Duration: 3 hours
  • Access: Unlimited

What You’ll Learn to do:

  • Recognize how financial concepts show up in our daily lives and popular stories from literature and history
  • Become familiar with key financial concepts like insurance, risk, options, diversification, mergers, acquisition and betas
  • Understand terms including "cost of capital", "discount rates", and "present value"
  • Recognize information and/or incentive problems in principal-agent dynamics.
  • Understand how debt and commitment can create leverage and opportunity


We see finance everywhere, from our retirement assets to our investments in housing and education. Yet, many smart people still find finance intimidating. Key ideas like insurance, leverage, risk, value creation, mergers and bankruptcies remain shrouded in mystery for the majority of people who spend their days on Main Street instead of Wall Street.

The 2008 financial crisis revealed that we could all benefit from a clearer understanding of how markets work. Yet, too often finance is taught in ways that are dry, technical, or jargon-filled.

Enter Mihir Desai. A professor at Harvard Business School and Harvard Law School, he is on a mission to restore the connection between the humanities and finance. In his book The Wisdom of Finance: Discovering Humanity in the world of Risk and Return, Professor Desai explores the ideas of finance from a humanities perspective. In this course, he’ll teach you the most important financial concepts using stories from books like Pride and Prejudice, the Maltese Falcon and the Bible.

This is not a personal finance course.

Instead, it will be a vivid, story-based tour of the key ideas in finance. By the end of this course, you’ll be able to converse fluently about key financial concepts, unpack financial stories in the news, and recognize financial ideas as they show up in everyday life. You’ll start to realize that, rather than being intimidating, the core practices of finance are all around us and have been ingrained in our stories for centuries.


  • Individual Course: This course is a series of videos and exercises you can work through on your own.
  • Platform: Teachable (+Acumen developed this course. We host this course on the Teachable platform.)
  • Timing: You can work through the materials at your own pace. There are no required times for you to log in. Your access does not end.
Introduction to the Course
  • Video 1: Welcome to the Course by Mihir Desai
  • Video 2: Why Is It Important to Understand Finance?
  • Exercise: Introduce Yourself
  • Resource: Workbook for the Course
Randomness, Insurance and Finance
  • Video 3: Randomness and Risk: Understanding Insurance
  • Video 4: Insurance: A Financial Tool for Chaos
  • Video 5: Two Branches of Finance: Asset Pricing & Corporate Finance
  • Quiz 1: Distinguish Between the Branches of Finance
  • Exercise: Analyze Randomness and Insurance in stories
Asset Pricing
  • Video 6: Assessing Options: Pride and Prejudice
  • Video 7: Increasing Opportunity with Stock Options
  • Quiz 2: The Purpose of Optionality
  • Video 8: Asset Pricing and Diversification to Reduce Risk
  • Video 9: Types of Financial Assets and Personal Relationships
  • Quiz 3: Types of Betas
  • Video 10: The Mandate to Create Value: Parable of Talents
  • Video 11: What is Asset Valuation?
  • Quiz 4: Calculating Present Value
  • Exercise: Analyze and illustrate the different elements of Asset Pricing
Corporate Finance
  • Video 12: What is the Principal-Agent Problem?
  • Video 12: How does the Principal-Agent Problem Affect Your Daily Life?
  • Quiz 5: Identifying Principals and Agents
  • Video 13: Why Should Companies Merge?
  • Video 14: How are Mergers Like Marriages and Why do They Fail?
  • Quiz 6: Ideal Conditions for a Merger
  • Video 15: Why is Leverage Important to Finance and Life?
  • Video 16: What Are the Risks of Debt and Leverage?
  • Exercise: Identify elements of Corporate Finance in stories
The Future of Finance
  • Video 17: Rediscovering the Humanity in Finance
  • Video 18: Why Should Social Entrepreneurs Understand Finance?
  • Exercise: Identify the core human needs that Finance serves
  • Video 19: About +Acumen
  • Survey: Complete the Post-Course Satisfaction Survey
  • Video 20: Dan Ariely on Changing Customer Behavior
The course already started. Can I still enroll?
You can enroll up to 2 weeks after the start date of the course.
When will the next course be offered?
We offer our courses a few times a year. Sign up for our emails to be notified of the next time the course will be offered.
Do I get a certificate for this course?
You will earn a Statement of Accomplishment if you complete 5 of 6 assignments, including the final assignment, by the last day of the course.
How do teams work?
We recommend you find friends or colleagues for your team that you can meet with in person each week. Each team member should register for the course individually. You’ll then be able to form your team on the NovoEd platform once the course begins.
Do I have to complete the course with a team?
While we believe taking the course with a team will give you the best experience and chance of completing the course, it is possible to complete the course individually if you wish.
What should I expect from the assignments?
You will create a Life Map, develop your own personal story, integrate it into a larger presentation, and record your presentation for feedback from your classmates. You should allocate at least one hour a week to complete each assignment.

Supported By

Mihir A. Desai is the Mizuho Financial Group Professor of Finance at Harvard Business School and Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. He received his Ph.D. in political economy from Harvard University; his MBA as a Baker Scholar from Harvard Business School; and a bachelor's degree in history and economics from Brown University. In 1994, he was a Fulbright Scholar to India.  
Professor Desai's areas of expertise include tax policy, international finance, and corporate finance.  His work has emphasized the appropriate design of tax policy in a globalized setting, the links between corporate governance and taxation, and the internal capital markets of multinational firms. He is a Research Associate in the National Bureau of Economic Research's Public Economics and Corporate Finance Programs, and served as the co-director of the NBER's India program. He has testified several times to Congressional bodies on various tax policy questions.

Professor Desai has taught extensively as an award-winning teacher at HBS and at Harvard University. He has taught public economics and entrepreneurship to undergraduates, finance and international finance to MBA students and executives, and tax law and policy to law students. Recently, Professor Desai created an online finance course through the HBX platform titled Leading with Finance.  His most recent book is The Wisdom of Finance: Discovering Humanity in the World of Risk and Return, published in May 2017.

What People Are Saying

This course is a great experience in itself. Prof. Mihir Desai makes finance as a subject very accessible and center to any entrepreneur´s endeavors. The approach of Mihir Desai is storytelling and his mission is to share his wisdom on finance since it matters to everyone´s life and addresses core human needs. Mission accomplished. Beyond the basics he also provides insight into instrumental relevancy for social impact and areas which deserve innovation.

Bernd Herbert