With my mind fully stretched in various different directions, a bunch of thoughts are coalescing, coming out of another fantastic TED. Three main points are loosely stitched together in my mind and they point to a bunch of future opportunity.
First, we heard convincingly from economists like Robert Gordon, Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee that America’s manufacturing jobs which, for so long, powered our healthy middle class, are not coming back in any big numbers. Many of us scratch our heads to understand how to fill this enormous hole. At Venrock, largely informed by a similar Hunter Walk observation, we believe this dirth of fruitful middle class employment is leading to so much of the activity in the shared resources sector (AirBNB, etc.), in the peer to peer marketplace sector (PoshMark, etc.) and in the digital labor market sector (Uber, TaskRabbit, etc.) as income supplementation. This will help and is a highly investible opportunity. But still, is this enough?
Second, we marveled at Elon Musk and his unrivaled appetite to tackle the planet’s largest problems through commercial endeavors filled with enormous risk (SpaceX, Solar City, Tesla). He is an international treasure and it simply begs the question…why aren’t there more of him? Of course, there are many fantastically successful entrepreneurs and we celebrate them all. But how many Elon Musks are there on the planet? One hundred? One thousand? Ten thousand? Why aren’t there ten million? What are the specific experiences, personality traits, education paths, parenting, and DNA necessary to produce the planet’s super humans driven to defy the odds on such interplanetary scale? It is clear the planet needs more of them, and so why aren’t we unlocking the answer to the question of how to make more? A speaker reminded us of the Chinese proverb…
If you want one year of prosperity, grow wheat. If you want ten years of prosperity, grow trees. If you want one hundred years of prosperity, grow people.
We need to grow more Elons (and Steves and Bills, etc.)
Finally, Sugata Mitra delivered a compelling argument that our schools are simply obsolete for the task of turning out the kind of people we now need in our modern society. He argues for far more self-organized small learning groups of kids with cloud-based tools and light direction from a teacher. That may be part of the solution, but it is likely only a part of it. If our future doesn’t need line workers but needs more inventors, creators, risk-takers, builders, and makers, where will they all come from? Surely there is no natural limit on the number of people with these strengths in our species, right? Surely we can teach and encourage more people to excel in these areas, right? In order to do that, just how much of our society needs to change? Isn’t it more than just our schools? Isn’t it the goals we set for our kids as parents? Is the over-whelming emphasis on organized team sports in our suburban communities part of the problem? When we reward kids at spelling bees, perhaps the ultimate test of rote memorization, are we not helping? Shouldn’t every kid on the planet be playing Minecraft? How deep must we dig to get at the real root here?
I suspect this is perhaps the greatest issue we face as a society. How do we produce more entrepreneurs?
(Special thanks to fellow TEDster Juliette LaMontagne for the helpful brainstorming.)