On self determination

I posted this eight years ago (!) but a reader asked for an encore.

…are we stuck in High School?

I had two brushes with higher education this week.

The first was at a speech I gave in New York. There were several
Harvard Business School students there, invited because of their
interest in marketing and exceptional promise (that's what I was
told… I think they came because they had heard that Maury Rubin would
make a great lunch!).

Anyway, they asked for my advice in finding marketing jobs. When I
shared my views (go to a small company, work for the CEO, get a job
where you actually get to make mistakes and do something) one woman
professed to agree with me, but then explained, "But those companies
don't interview on campus."

Those companies don't interview on campus. Hmmm. She has just spent
$100,000 in cash and another $150,000 in opportunity cost to get an
MBA, but…

The second occurred today at Yale. As I drove through the amazingly
beautiful campus, I passed the center for Asian Studies. It reminded me
of my days as an undergrad (at a lesser school, natch), browsing
through the catalog, realizing I could learn whatever I wanted. That
not only could I take classes but I could start a business, organize a
protest movement, live in a garret off campus, whatever. It was a
tremendous gift, this ability to choose.

Yet most of my classmates refused to choose. Instead, they treated
college like an extension of high school. They took the most mainstream
courses, did the minimum amount they needed to get an A, tried not to
get into "trouble" with the professor or face the uncertainty of the
unknowable. They were the ones who spent six hours a day in the
library, reading their textbooks.

The best part of college is that you could become whatever you
wanted to become, but most people just do what they think they must.

Is this a metaphor? Sure. But it's a worthwhile one. You have more
freedom at work than you think (hey, you're reading this on company
time!) but most people do nothing with that freedom but try to get an

Do you work with people who are still in high school? Job seekers
only willing to interview with the folks who come on campus? Executives
who are trying to make their boss happy above all else? It's pretty
clear that the thing that's wrong with this system is high school, not
the rest of the world.

Cut class. Take a seminar on french literature. Interview off campus. Safe is risky.