It is interesting to live life as an experiment. You never know what is going to happen until you try something, right? Well, not always. Some things, like sharing your opinions with a reporter out of the desire to paint a full picture, can backfire. At least that is how I felt when I was quoted in this article by the New York Times yesterday.
Let me clear the air real quick. No - I don’t think Goldman, Wall Street, or any other company or industry is a “leach”. On the contrary, our global economic system would not function without moneylenders and means of insuring our goods and livelihoods. Risk would become too great for many individuals or corporations to conduct commerce without the functions of the financial sector. For this I am very grateful and as a result I would like to thank all of my friends and family who fulfill this important role in society. Thank you for your good work.
I do however think it is the responsibility of the young people of the world to change it for the better. There has been much innovation in the financial sector over the last twenty to thirty years, some of it good, some of it not. But driving down the marginal cost of borrowing or providing access to capital only does so much good. Vibrant economies are their own engine and do not require a great deal of financial innovation. What they require is the willingness of individuals to take well thought out risks in order to build companies that provide people with goods and services that help us get work done efficiently and at minimal cost to ourselves and society.
There are many threats to our future and livelihoods and many more opportunities for new businesses than ever before in history. These threats and opportunities include: climate change & energy sustainability, international competition & collaboration, mass customization & the data explosion, and many others. Much hard work for many smart minds.
So to answer directly the question that the NY Times reporter Kevin Roose asked me “Do I think Wall Street jobs are less prestigious now than they used to be?”, no - as I said on the phone I do not think they are less prestigious. But what I see my peers more excited about today is solving bigger world problems through creative and innovative thinking. Business school students, myself included, have great respect for Wall Street and the function it has, but the path down the road of financial innovation is one hard traveled and well known. Only those with the right combination of skills and interests will thrive. To them I wish the best of luck and ask that they please keep focus on serving their customers not themselves as Greg Smith, most recently of Goldman fears is no longer happening within the culture of his previous employer. But we all face ethical challenges, often daily. I am confident in my peers' abilities to make good decisions.
For me and many like me I choose to go do work that I think is going to make a difference with the skills that I have. This requires making life an experiment and constantly observing and tracking the outcomes of that experiment. If you want advice on how to do this, I suggest checking out books like Reed Hoffman’s The Startup Of You or Eric Reis’ The Lean Startup. They are great resources on how to work on developing yourself and improving our world.