Thursday, March 16, 2023

Hey smart kids, create something

Many know Andrew Yang for his 2020 presidential campaign, where he was a rare Asian-American politician with common-sense, pro-business policies. He then ran for mayor of New York City and became an analyst on CNN, and he snagged some fame for his "MATH" merch — Make America Think Harder.  

I wasn't sure what I was getting into with Yang's Smart People Should Build Things: How to Restore Our Culture of Achievement, Build a Path for Entrepreneurs, and Create New Jobs in America (2014). I must say that it affected me when I read it, but the more I think about it, the more I realize how important the book is — especially for hard-driven, high-achieving students.

Yang focuses on the sad, dead-end path of our nation's elite students. They'll likely either go to law school or work in finance or enlist in Teach For America. Before they know it, they'll undoubtedly feel as if their life isn't their own and they're just working, working, working.

Yang's argument is that these elite students should stop the cycle of hard work, elite college, hard work, elite job, hard work, burnout.

Instead, these elite individuals should be entrepreneurs. They should start companies, fail at them and keep trying. To Yang, a potential job candidate who has a failed business is much more attractive than someone just grinding it out in finance.

As I've realized who actually holds the wealth in America, I couldn't agree more with Yang. If wealth is your real plan and you're young enough, it's not bad advice to quit your job, or quit school, and start a company. But that assumes you're hungry, self-motivated, elite and "smart." (Most kids really aren't that. They're just digital consumers nowadays.)

I say go ahead and get a degree — maybe even an elite agree. But the moment you find yourself taking out student loans for law school or working for a bank or investment firm, understand that is a mistake. Create something. Create something America needs.

Schools, and formal education, have a glorious disconnect from work. Many high-achieving students show up to the workplace without a clue about what to do and how to problem solve. I remember connecting a lot to a question Yang posed at one point: How do you teach problem solving on the fly?

I do not believe starting a business or being an entrepreneur is a panacea for finding meaning in one's life, or solving a lot of serious issues our nation — and world — face. However, with so many elite students pursuing capitalistic nothing-burger positions, I believe going Yang's route is much better. At least you're trying to contribute something that potentially could improve our country, or world.

Our colleges often spend way too much time in the theoretical, so when kids graduate, they are unhireable. I remember this line standing out in Yang's book: "A good company isn't about who has the best idea, but who can deliver day after day after day."  

My dad, the XMan, was an attorney, and he learned quickly that he would be much better off creating his own law firm as opposed to busting his tail for someone else. I love that he did that. A tough lesson a lot will endure will be the realization that they are busting their tails, and giving their lives, for a corporate entity that couldn't care less about them.

As capitalists, we need to create value as opposed to just renting space and shuffling around assets. I hope there is a newfound stress for products built in America, and we actually build things instead of being so reliant on imports. We need new, fresh companies, not lawyers and investment bankers.

If our kids actually are going to improve this country, Yang may very well be right. Positive change might only happen through new companies where innovation isn't a buzz word, but actionable.

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