“If you live near a Whole Foods; If no relative of yours serves in the military; If you’re paid by the year, not the hour; If no one you know uses meth; If you married once and remain married; If most people you know finished college; If you aren’t one of the more than 65 million Americans with a criminal record. If any or all of these apply to you, then accept the possibility that you don’t know what’s going on and that you may be part of the problem.”
– author Anand Giridharadas, on just how badly the haves in this country are failing to grasp the problems of the have nots.
I know what he’s trying to do here, but understanding the implicit challenge doesn’t make me any less offended.
His point seems to be a challenge to the 30 percent of America not struggling with divorce, poor education, methamphetamine addiction or lack of access to organic tomatoes. We need to get off our collective duffs and do something about everybody else’s problems. As he explained it to Adam Lashinsky, who wrote all about it in Forbes:
“The thing I was trying to get people to think about is how they invest their lives and their day jobs in addressing these issues. The dominant paradigm in this crowd is business as usual in your day job: Sell them hamburgers and soft drinks, trade stocks, and take a small bit of that money and rescue abused amputee war refugees in Sierra Leone who have Ebola. Because of the sheer enormity of the issues, that covers up that what you do for a living adds to people’s suffering.”
Two key takeaways from that statement.
First, Giridharadas doesn’t care that the targets of his ire (including apparently, me) give of their time, talent and treasure to make the world a better place. Apparently, charity only counts if it’s on his pre-approval list.
Second, Giridharadas has decided that successful people are directly responsible for (and thus accountable to) the broken families, the meth-heads, the criminals – simply because through their own effort and industry they manage to be more than minimum-wage meth-heads from broken families on their way to prison.
In fairness to Giridharadas, he went on to clarify his “challenge:”
“If you’re the kind of person who tends to succeed in what you start, changing what you start could be the most extraordinary thing you do. There’s a weird lack of self confidence among the great business leaders of our time. I believe McDonald’s really could make healthy food. I want Elon Musk on diabetes and Jony Ive on classroom technology. I want Travis [Kalanick] from Uber on ambulance logistics in India.”
And there is the crux of his problem (or, at the very least, my problem with his statement).
The “kind of person who tends to succeed” in what he starts is generally NOT the kind of person who can simply decide what to start. Walt Disney or Steve Jobs (two reasonable examples) could have gone into any number of “important” fields – either could have turned his drive, ambition and extraordinary vision toward something Giridharadas deems important.
Except that they couldn’t.
These people – like the men Giridharadas cites – are known for the entire worlds their visions created because they were true to their visions. They weren’t day traders who got lucky on a stock pick. They weren’t captains of generic industry bouncing from gig to gig to gig. They were visionaries with extraordinary charisma and strength of will to see their visions through.
Would the world be a better place if Steve Jobs had turned his attention to cancer research? Doubtful. His vision was so tightly focused that he couldn’t have shifted to cancer research even when doing so might have saved his own life!
Elon Musk builds stuff. He spends his time, energy and money on things that interest him. That’s what entrepreneurs and inventors do.
Again to be fair, Jonathon Ive (designer of the original iMac, iPod, iPhone, iPad, and new Apple Watch) probably could make a difference in classroom technology – if the goal were to make classroom tech cool.
Full disclosure: I don’t live near a Whole Foods. I served in the military. My father, my uncles, my brothers, some of my closest friends, served as well. I own my own business. I’ve never met a meth user. My first wife still claims me after 28 years. Most folks I know have gone to grad school. Far as a criminal record goes, let me just say this: No convictions.
It’s possible, based on the fact that Whole Foods hasn’t entered the Hershey market, that I am not part of Giridharadas’ target demo. But since I drive 40 miles round-trip for Bell & Evans antibiotics-free chicken, that point might be moot. I’m almost willing to forgive the military service crack, since it was probably aimed at the liberal peacenik crowd anyway. But i can’t overlook the statement as a whole.
Giridharadas misses the point of entrepreneurship. He doesn’t get the concept of vision. You can’t simply conscript it. You can’t simply assign it.
It finds you. Or it doesn’t.
Trust me, I know.