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Are We Pushing Students Toward the Wrong Kinds of Success?

By Pacific Standard

There's a clear need to rethink what "impact" means, given the concept's distorting effect on students' priorities and ethicsRead full story

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  • Junta Nakai
    Junta NakaiproIndustry Leader at Databricks

    I cringe when students are told to “make an impact” or “find your passion”

    While wonderful in an academic setting, these words can be perilously one-dimensional in a professional one.

    There is no play book for success in the real world. And to make matters more difficult, the definition of success itself is constantly changing in every field.

    The best thing students should internalize is that learning is lifelong. Not just in school.

  • So much that’s important in this. We’ve gamified and heroicized do-gooding and impact-making to be about reach and scale rather than community and quality. Even if the intentions are altogether honorable, the thoughtfulness is lacking.

  • Annabeth  Jones
    Annabeth JonesHigh School Student

    While I think this article makes very valid points, I think it is also important to remember where this generation gets our values and ethics from. We learn this from the older generation, our parents, our teachers, and the internet. A big portion of the responsibility to teach ethics to these younger people are their parents. But, young people also has a responsibility to think critically about their ethics and values.

  • Life experience takes time, mistakes, exploration and passion. I would love to see these questions posed to students at community college, and other more diverse schools within the country of the same age group.

    Starting from a lucid place of interest in impact is fantastic. I trust that gen z will find a positive path towards their vision.

  • Ephrat Livni
    Ephrat LivniSenior Reporter at Quartz

    It is problematic that everyone wants to make a huge impact. I would even say it’s a bit audacious and gross to want to change the world when you haven’t yet figured out how to live in it. If you don’t know much, which young students don’t, maybe just study for a while and try to understand the nuance and complexity of things before declaring the intent to be great and to impose your ambitions on society. Not all action is positive. Not all issues are in need of a technological fix. And not everyone

    It is problematic that everyone wants to make a huge impact. I would even say it’s a bit audacious and gross to want to change the world when you haven’t yet figured out how to live in it. If you don’t know much, which young students don’t, maybe just study for a while and try to understand the nuance and complexity of things before declaring the intent to be great and to impose your ambitions on society. Not all action is positive. Not all issues are in need of a technological fix. And not everyone can or should be considering how to change what they barely understand (see under: Stanford dropout Elizabeth Holmes of Theranos). I totally applaud this national ethics effort.

  • Adrian Warr
    Adrian WarrManaging Director at Edelman

    I get the concern but I don’t see it as a wholly bad, and certainly not a surprising, thing that young people have bold ambitions.

  • Jeffrey Deeble
    Jeffrey Deeble

    For God's sake! Students are told to do a LOT of things! And hopefully none of those things are "parse every bit of advice someone has ever given you, and decide which ones could have been somewhat improved."

    So many people wringing their hands over so little in our country today.

  • Dave Poirier
    Dave Poirierwater treatment technician

    And when Young people see robotics and and augmented intelligence AI taking all the Jobs in the next 20 years...., Then what???

  • Start with questioning: should I be paying >$70k/yr for a degree? And what will it get me?

    If you got into Stanford, congatulations! You are no slouch. But what are you going to do with that expensive degree and the cachet it gets you?

    Impact comes from Latin: it means collision. To forcibly come in contact with another object.

    If you are not willing to embrace the "forcibly" and "collision" parts of this definition then you are looking for a cushy padded world towards success. Not gonna happen

    Start with questioning: should I be paying >$70k/yr for a degree? And what will it get me?

    If you got into Stanford, congatulations! You are no slouch. But what are you going to do with that expensive degree and the cachet it gets you?

    Impact comes from Latin: it means collision. To forcibly come in contact with another object.

    If you are not willing to embrace the "forcibly" and "collision" parts of this definition then you are looking for a cushy padded world towards success. Not gonna happen at the level the expectations have been laid out in this article.

    So there's a decision to be made: do you want to stay away from the sweat and friction or are you willing to put it all on the line?

    If you want impact you need to be willing to break things... And relationships... And yourself in the process.

    Steve Jobs? Huge impact... Look at the wake of broken stuff behind him. And the list gets really long if you add people who really made a "dent in the universe".

    So here's the deal... The world needs people willing to sign up to that bar. Bertrand Russell said "The reasonable man conforms to reality, therefore we owe most our progress to the unreasonable". If you want that level of impact, be willing to accept the trade-offs. You can't have one without the other.

  • Mike Osswald
    Mike OsswaldExperience Innovator

    This is very interesting, will young people think they have to change the whole world to make a difference? I’d really like to see this discussion take place at a variety of colleges, not simply the elite Stanford.

  • “Students told us behaving ethically could be a career liability” [sic].

    Wow.

    Very interesting read. I’m curious on what these students will think after 10 years in business.

  • Weiyee IN
    Weiyee INChief Strategy Officer

    Probably a social and cultural change, because students today are indeed thinking quantity because the world has changed. Several millennia ago, society would not have been more than 7 to 10 people. Today's society is global, and social media and other means of communication have brought our understanding of interaction, engagement and impact to different and new perspectives. Thinking globally to reach the maximum impact in terms of the greatest number of people would not be a bad thing in that context.

  • Steven Rodas
    Steven RodasReporter at machineByte

    The attitude of media students I speak to is occasionally one already honed in on what they eventually want to do for a living. Which is fine, but being open to what-may-come is an underrated path when just starting out.

  • Troy Holmes
    Troy HolmesDirector Business Operations at IP Law Firm

    I told my kids to find a job with a pension and great benefits... I told them I was tired of paying their bills... Both are employed with jobs with pensions. One is a chemical engineer and the other a Longshoreman... I spared them the “Be all you can be” bullshit... America needs people who go to work and pay their own bills... I told them not to listen to the liberal idiot teachers at school...

  • Brian  Nisbet
    Brian Nisbet Retired Lens Grinder

    Read a beautiful story of a Principal in a school near Singapore who sent a letter with a young mans dismal report card and he knew the parents would be disappointed, he stressed in the letter that this teenager had some extreme fine character and he feared this could run him off the rails , so the Principal basically said “ so what” relax it’s absolutely not a “ life failure” I thought it showed great insight & wisdom seldom seem in this Principal. Food for thought.

  • Perhaps what these children, and they’re children, say isn’t necessarily what they do. Studying what they do when faced with an ethical dilemma might yield different results.

    Ethnography is particularly challenging in that the existence of the researcher(s) automatically affects the results. The issue then being to minimize that impact; very problematic if you’re visibly reacting and delving deeper on things you find challenging or problematic. It encourages those responses.

    But that shouldn’t

    Perhaps what these children, and they’re children, say isn’t necessarily what they do. Studying what they do when faced with an ethical dilemma might yield different results.

    Ethnography is particularly challenging in that the existence of the researcher(s) automatically affects the results. The issue then being to minimize that impact; very problematic if you’re visibly reacting and delving deeper on things you find challenging or problematic. It encourages those responses.

    But that shouldn’t mean such work is without merit. It simply has minimal meaning alone, its use is better to add color to more definitive research. I wonder if we really would have found something vastly different with prior generations, other than verbiage and willingness to publicly admit you’re ethically challenged.

  • "It's true that Stanford undergraduates are hardly a representative sample of college students."

    Absolutely true, if this article is accurate. I don't see this on my campus.

  • Michael Allen
    Michael AllenRetired CFO and World Traveler

    “There is also a broader need, on all campuses, to be more intentional about ethics education.” Food for thought on the value and importance of higher education especially for those 65% of conservatives identified in the article below that consider colleges as simply “bastions of liberal indoctrination”.

    https://www.salon.com/2017/07/11/america-hits-peak-anti-intellectualism-majority-of-republicans-now-think-college-is-bad/

  • Henry Tobias Jones
    Henry Tobias JonesEditor of Dyson on: at Dyson

    Without a doubt yes. Most traditional jobs won’t still be there when they retire and none of them actually want those jobs anyway...

  • Della Rucker
    Della RuckerChief Community Officer at Econogy

    Very interesting-- in part for the echoes this article contains from the venture capital article the other day.

    I'm all in favor of defining worthwhile impact as a Big Thing-- far too often, we have settled for impact on a few people around us and called it enough. But the question is how-- how to do that in a manner that doesn't turn to hubris and make more of a mess. That's where ethics-- and, I would add, a perspective and decision-making experience that includes many more outside perspectives-

    Very interesting-- in part for the echoes this article contains from the venture capital article the other day.

    I'm all in favor of defining worthwhile impact as a Big Thing-- far too often, we have settled for impact on a few people around us and called it enough. But the question is how-- how to do that in a manner that doesn't turn to hubris and make more of a mess. That's where ethics-- and, I would add, a perspective and decision-making experience that includes many more outside perspectives-- make all the difference. Part of ethics needs to be about empathizing with and working with people who are very different from you.

  • Paul O'Brien
    Paul O'BrienCEO at MediaTech Ventures

    "There's a clear need to rethink what 'impact' means."

    No, I'm not sure there is. What impact means to someone is a personal decision and it's one that changes throughout life.

    What needs to change is how the word has been used to imply doing something positive for society at large; and while that is *an* impact, it's not the only.

    Push students to provide and care for themselves while being conscientious and loving of others. How they impact the world is up to them.

  • Connie Zuber
    Connie Zuberexecutive director at ARCH Inc.

    As someone who would struggle get out of bed to go to work in the morning if my work did not have meaning in the world, I value integrity as a guide as I work. It looks like these young people are finding other guidance that I fear will not serve them, or the rest of us, very well. I wish them the strength to find their way forward well.

  • Trudy Crow
    Trudy Crow

    Ambition stripped of a moral social conscience gave us Evangelicals and Donald Trump was elected.

  • Sanford Dickert
    Sanford DickertCEO at OWLR

    YES!

  • Matt M
    Matt M

    Take a few seconds and Google Betsy DeVos, I'll wait... ... ... wtf right!?

  • Janice Ooi
    Janice Ooi

    "As she sees it, people's lives and problems are wrongly being reduced to engineering exercises under the pretense of ethical action."

    "We [worried] too when students told us, given the pressure they're under, that behaving ethically can be a social and career liability they can't always afford."

    Modern day anxieties mean that we are constantly striving for meaning in our existence and said meaning has been equates to the "impact" we leave behind. This appears to be in stark contrast with the renewed

    "As she sees it, people's lives and problems are wrongly being reduced to engineering exercises under the pretense of ethical action."

    "We [worried] too when students told us, given the pressure they're under, that behaving ethically can be a social and career liability they can't always afford."

    Modern day anxieties mean that we are constantly striving for meaning in our existence and said meaning has been equates to the "impact" we leave behind. This appears to be in stark contrast with the renewed discussion on empathy, which appears to be a reaction to widespread notions of productivity and impact. Ultimately, we are not defined by how many people we influence or how many things we've accomplished, but how we have made others feel, how we look at our own selves.

  • Dan Snook
    Dan Snook

    As I read the many comments, I wonder how many of us want to impact this generation, this group. Are we really any different? We’re we really any different? It’ll be fun to watch.

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