You know the startup world is dead when stay-at-home parents are closer to the bleeding edge than founders. While we have conversations on this blog about how to transform people’s perceptions of what school is, I constantly receive pitches from tech companies reinforcing old ideas of school.
Today I got a pitch from Georgetown grads who are going to help poor people get degrees from crappy universities by creating Kickstarter accounts.
What the hell. This idea is so terrible `I’m not even linking to the company. But they have a PR firm and seed funding and everything else that means Silicon Valley is doing complete stupidity in the name of disrupting education.
I am getting snippier and snippier with people who tell me they have answers to education problems. Unless you are telling all middle class parents to get their kids out of school in the next six months, you are not going to disrupt anything.
At first I thought this was a sign that I was going to be the big winner in the startup dream-team of education disruption. But then I realized it’s actually a sign that the startup world is dead.
You can judge the deadness of the startup world by how many stupid people are giving money to stupid companies. (There are always some in this category, but now it’s most of them.) Another way to judge the sector is dead is that it use to be almost all men, but now women have infiltrated. (And the first sign that an industry is tanking is when women enter.)
This is because men compete like their lives depend on it and women don’t. (Before you rush down to the comments section, here is research from Harvard about women working for collaboration rather than competition.) So the industries full of men are the most competitive. And men don’t want to work with women – not because they are misogynist but because everyone naturally wants to work with people like themselves. (It’s true for women, too. I’m citing research from Harvard again here.) So what I’m saying about the startup world is about to be the male equivalent of white flight, and then San Francisco will be the new Detroit.
If you’re statistically inclined, then you should read Tyler Cowen’s book The Complacent Class, about how the US is becoming a cesspool of risk-aversion. Cowen says that startups made up about 13% of the economy in the 80s and only 7% of the economy now.
This doesn’t surprise me: Gen X are huge risk takers and we were doing startups in the 90s; Millenials hate risk, and they don’t do startups. Another way of thinking of it is that Gen X did lots of companies that fail and Millenials don’t fail in public.
Generational behavioral is cyclical. Risk-taking parents do not have risk-taking kids. And risk-averse parents do not have risk-averse kids. So it’s natural that the hyper-competitive all-for-one Baby Boomers gave birth to the team-player one-for-all Millenials. And it’s natural that a risk-taking generation comes in between them because that’s sort of the missing link.
I was struck by a recent article in the Washington Post about how Millenials are non-activist. Their voter turnout at this point in their history is lower than any generation at this point in their history. Millenials are mental activists — deep belief in equal rights, for example — but they don’t take action to change things beyond their personal lives.
Gen Z is not likely to be startup-y because in their mind, startups are for old people. And if you look at historical patterns, Gen Z will be builders — reviving dilapidated institutions that Gen X and Millenials have destroyed.
But I don’t think it matters that the startup world is dying. And it doesn’t matter that Millenials are not activists. The only thing that matters is we stop thinking we know what the next generation needs to learn. People have always been self-directed in their learning, which is why each generation is a departure from the last. But people have to wait until school is over to start learning what they need to know.
If you want your kid to have a leg up on the competition they will face in adult life, accept that your kid is not from your generation. Don’t wait for your kid to finish school before they start learning what they’ll need to succeed in their adult life. Let them start now, even if it means they’re not learning what you think is important — because it’s probably a sign of their future success.