We’re living in the most entrepreneurial time in history. My neighbors and I live in the heart of Silicon Valley, the most entrepreneurial place in the world. However, everywhere one looks, across the United States, kids are being raised to be The Organization Man or Woman. You know, The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, the Japanese Salaryman, Willy Loman, etc.Why do I say this? Well, let’s look at kids’ lives. Relative to children of decades ago, they make very few decisions on their own. Parents and other adults mediate most of their lives. Thus, they have very little opportunity to develop creative decision-making abilities.
I contend that the entrepreneurs of the last few decades up to today had a lot more opportunities in this regard. For instance, let’s take my father’s childhood in the 1930s and 40s and mine in the 1960’s and 70s. We’re both career entrepreneurs.
In the video on my father’s childhood, he talks about building a shack with his friends and using it as a clubhouse, collecting junk and selling it to gain admission to a theater, and creating a special stick to retrieve a nickel out of a sewer. In my video about my childhood, I talk about a tree shack my friends and I made and hung out in and how we charged a toll to cars trying to pass by on our street.
There is nothing especially unique about these experiences relative to other children of our eras, but they are very different from the childhoods of most children today.
We decided what we were going to do almost every day, for at least part of the day. We decided what we were going to use to do what we did, and often that involved creating something. We decided who we were going to play with, and as a group, we decided on leaders and what behavior was cool and what behavior wasn’t. And, we had a fair amount of latitude on deciding where we were going to play.
Parents were largely irrelevant to these decisions, and we made them daily.
When pre-high school children of today are told by their parents to “find something to do” on their own, the children usually feel lost. It’s tough to generalize, but I’d say kids of today aren’t what I would consider “independent thinkers.”
That’s scary, at least for a guy like me. I, for one, am not looking forward to living in a world dominated by organization men and women.
Back in the early 1960s, Psychologist Stanley Milgram and his colleagues ran an experiment where subjects were politely asked to electrically shock test-takers (who were, unbeknownst to the subjects not real). 65 percent (26 of 40) of experiment participants administered the experiment’s final – and often fatal – 450-volt shock, though many were very uncomfortable doing so. No participant steadfastly refused to administer shocks before the 300-volt level.
Commenting on his results, Milgram wrote, “Ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process. Moreover, even when the destructive effects of their work become patently clear, and they are asked to carry out actions incompatible with fundamental standards of morality, relatively few people have the resources needed to resist authority.”
Would the kids of today do any better? I suspect not. What do you think?