11 votes

Too many of America’s smartest waste their talents

7 comments

  1. [2]
    Loire
    Link
    This isn't even the bulk of the problem. Many have heard some old adages along the lines of: "with age comes wisdom", and the western working world seems to follow some form of that rigidly...

    The U.S. does a great job of finding the ablest students and giving them a top-notch education, but it then employs many of these capable, well-trained individuals in low-value or even counterproductive roles.[...]
    Thus, making the university system a little more meritocratic is mostly a sideshow. The real threat to American meritocracy comes from poor incentives in the working world. Fixing those incentives should be a top priority.

    This isn't even the bulk of the problem. Many have heard some old adages along the lines of: "with age comes wisdom", and the western working world seems to follow some form of that rigidly despite the fact that it is patently false. We have fetishized age in the oldschool industries. We live in a rapidly advancing society where technological advancements are accelerating and yet the management class is still made of up pre-digital boomers and even rarely Silent Generation aged types refusing to retire. Outside of tech, millenials, possibly the most edicated generation ever and having grown up accustomed to the digital age were(/are), for a long time, prevented from moving up to significant positions where their input is valuable. These BSc/MSc's are expected to grind it out in the menial, lowermost positions before they can so much as dream of having a position that vaguely matchs their credentials, while older undereducated peers lead using outdated experiences and beliefs.

    The number of MSc's I work with doing essentially labourous work is incredible. I developed a technology and wrote the handbook on how to quantify clay content in rock samples using paramagnetism, a distinctly petrolophysical topic. Yet at my company, where petrophysics is our bread and butter, I am years away from even being considered for research, R&D, or lab work. Why is it the case that I have to do the grunt work before I can even consider entry level work relative to my education?

    The Western business world is not a meritocracy, it hasn't been for decades. Maybe that will change when the baby boomer generation dies off or maybe that's just wishful thinking.

    13 votes
    1. Gaywallet
      Link Parent
      I can't agree with this hard enough. I happen to be an extremely vocal person and have been lucky enough to sit in positions where I have regularly interacted with senior management at large...

      the management class is still made of up pre-digital boomers and even rarely Silent Generation aged types refusing to retire

      prevented from moving up to significant positions where their input is valuable

      I can't agree with this hard enough. I happen to be an extremely vocal person and have been lucky enough to sit in positions where I have regularly interacted with senior management at large companies, but even then it feels like many suggestions end up falling on deaf ears and bad decisions are made which result in poor quality products which are either abandoned or eventually end up much closer to my (or my colleagues) original suggestions.

      From my own experience I think the idea of tiers of management is simply poor business outside of menial or labor intensive jobs where it's easy to replace individuals. A much flatter style of management with tiering purely for strategy and final decision making allows information to flow much more freely from the bottom up and ensure that individuals much closer to the actual product can chime in with their extremely valuable experience.

      5 votes
  2. [2]
    hwb
    Link
    I think this article is based on a fundamentally flawed assumption: I don't think that's accurate -- a meritocracy simply defines that the selection process for the future working elite is based...

    I think this article is based on a fundamentally flawed assumption:

    "The idea of meritocracy is that education both identifies and cultivates the future working elite — after the smart kids get good educations, they will go on to occupy the social roles where their talents are most needed, whether in business, academia or government."

    I don't think that's accurate -- a meritocracy simply defines that the selection process for the future working elite is based on education and/or talent, and not class or family or skin color, etc.

    If you wanted to craft an argument that the best and brightest aren't going into underpaid, unfulfilling jobs (whether they're needed there or not), then you should really be arguing against capitalism, not against meritocracy.

    I don't think any argument encouraging people to act against their own best interests will get any traction. If you don't want them to become rentiers, that's fine; just change the financial or legal system to shift the incentives such that they will choose to do something else.

    Edit: If you want to read the article and don't have a Bloomberg account, you can view the cached Google version here.

    7 votes
    1. vivaria
      Link Parent
      What you describe here seems to be the conclusion of the article?

      I don't think any argument encouraging people to act against their own best interests will get any traction. If you don't want them to become rentiers, that's fine; just change the financial or legal system to shift the incentives such that they will choose to do something else.

      What you describe here seems to be the conclusion of the article?

      This all adds up to a picture of a broken American meritocracy. The U.S. does a great job of finding the ablest students and giving them a top-notch education, but it then employs many of these capable, well-trained individuals in low-value or even counterproductive roles. The civil service and the educational system sink slowly into inefficiency as skilled people flee for the higher salaries of the finance industry and monopolistic companies.

      Thus, making the university system a little more meritocratic is mostly a sideshow. The real threat to American meritocracy comes from poor incentives in the working world. Fixing those incentives should be a top priority.

      5 votes
  3. [2]
    BuckeyeSundae
    Link
    I think it's a heuristic that many people associate going to Harvard and Yale (or Standford) with smarts. Intelligence is not the same as dedication or family connections. I know from experience...

    I think it's a heuristic that many people associate going to Harvard and Yale (or Standford) with smarts. Intelligence is not the same as dedication or family connections. I know from experience that the smartest students are not always the most driven, but the most driven are always among the disproportionately likely to apply for top tier schools.

    And doesn't that cast the problem in a different light? If you assume what I said just now is true, isn't it a different problem that the most driven students generally (or at least disproportionately) see Finance as the best avenue for personal success? And doesn't it force you to have to wrestle for better metrics to determine what the "smartest" students are doing?

    5 votes
    1. moonbathers
      Link Parent
      Adding onto what you're saying, because I don't disagree with it: I think the root issue is that finance is generally incredibly high-paying and it might siphon those super driven people from...

      Adding onto what you're saying, because I don't disagree with it: I think the root issue is that finance is generally incredibly high-paying and it might siphon those super driven people from doing other things they're interested in that are probably more valuable in a non-monetary sense.

      3 votes
  4. symmetry
    Link
    Ugh, paywall'd. If I were to take the article's title at face value, my opinion is that there is a common myth of "untapped potential". By what measure are we determining who are America's...

    Ugh, paywall'd.

    If I were to take the article's title at face value, my opinion is that there is a common myth of "untapped potential". By what measure are we determining who are America's smartest and where their talents lay. Is someone who graduated 4.0 with a pre-med degree more capable than a nurse who has worked in a hospital for the same period of time?

    As someone who had to hire for a position and reviewed a number of applications, skills that one might consider "unique" doesn't look all that unique when you had to go through a pool of equally qualified candidates.

    2 votes