Monoculture: The hazard we face developing a monocultural youth is quite real and also really quite not understood. More and more through successive upcoming generations of our youth since the early 80’s, we have successively reduced training the capacity for critical thinking as we have cut back on education. The old adage that “Ye Shall Reap As Ye Shall Sow” is so true even without Biblical connotations though this article is not going to get into any of the latter aspects here.
This principle of reaping what is sown applies in life as a maxim of which we should all be well aware and live by; it is also the underlying idea used to offer an explanation for the title of this article.
My contention is that we have long ago sown the seeds that have now led us to dealing with (coping with) a host of youthful Millennials and Generation Y’s now increasingly lost in a debilitating monocutural paradigm of starved and strangled innovation. We have lost – even given away – our edge as a world leader in productive creativity and innovation to foreign immigrant students and to foreign country competitors. Foreign born college-age students are, nowadays, more likely than our natural born youth to be leading a successful startup because they have a broader educational and life experience background. More particularly, the capacity for critical thinking that has been diminishing in our own youth is being confronted by an increasing ability for critical thinking instilled through their own education and experiences, into foreign born students thus putting our own youth at disadvantage compared to immigrant students.
Mark Suster has written in his excellent “Both Sides Of The Table” blog, an article entitled “Avoid Monoculture. Travel. Read Widely. Let Experience be Your Compass” as a fundamental commendation to be very seriously considered and taken as a guide by any and all entrepreneurs. He backs this up with some very clear examples and suggestions. Some of the points he makes have been repeated here to provide context to our own thoughts that arose from reading Mark’s blog.
He starts out with the premise:
“I sometimes feel that the Silicon Valley culture and we as technologists more broadly can breed monoculture in our approach to entrepreneurship, problem solving, market analysis and technology solutions.
Experiences way beyond any hack-a-thon, startup blog or your current company engagement can enrich your thinking and challenge you to think more broadly about the solutions you offer in the market.
Challenge conventional wisdom. Fight monoculture. Question authority. Take lots of inputs but then let your internal compass set your course. If “all the cool kids are doing it” make sure you have strong internal logic for why you’re going to follow them. Often it’s not the best course.”
This set me thinking: I believe we actually have a far bigger problem before us than the one indicated by Mark’s suggestion but the fact that he has even thought fit to make the suggestion points, at least it has to me, to the fact that we have quietly been encouraging our up coming youth to become lost in a monocultural void. In fact, we may now just be beginning to see the tip of a major iceberg, thus become aware that we need to urgently look for more reaching solutions than those suggested by Mark in his article.
In his article, Mark focused on the idea that “the Silicon Valley culture and we as technologists more broadly can breed monoculture …” but it is my contention that the breeding of a monoculture entrepreneur developmentally goes way back to before the youth of today even thinks of entering a life of entrepreneurship; it goes back to how we handle our children today from the time they are born right up till they reach adulthood.
From my own experiences as an ex-pat Brit’ – having first grown up and worked in the UK followed by many subsequent years now under my belt working and living as a US citizen – thus with the benefits of having both a first class education behind me and an extensive work/live multicultural travel history in my career, I can totally endorse, and want to most strongly endorse, everything Mark has suggested in his blog. (link below) Yet, as intimated above, I think this is just scratching the surface of a bigger issue.
But before I qualify this claim, first let me share some opinion and comparative observations derived from my international experience, then I’ll conclude by explaining the relevance to this article of what I have described.
I believe that we are now inherently facing an ever greater, but as yet not obviously apparent, danger before us as a country in the seeming inevitability of the vast majority of our American youth of today, particularly those born in America of American parents as perhaps distinct from children of immigrant cultures yet also born here, being subtly turned inward on themselves and mindlessly (as distinct from mindfully) being, as if on auto-pilot, self-directed into, and consequently subsequently trapped within, a self-defeating monoculture view and experience of the world by nature of the overall environment in which they now grow up.
As we are now in an era within which we are becoming more fearful of the failing of our economy, increasing unemployment, incredibly large deficits and increasing foreign competition all around us and thus we are ever more prone to more frantically scream the mantra “how great we are as a nation and in how so many things and ways that are American are the greatest anywhere” as if doing that often enough and loud enough will magically solve our problems and thwart our enemies: In reality, if this were actually true, we would never have to keep reminding ourselves or protesting this. Instead we are numbing ourselves into uncomfortable unawareness (denial) of how we have actually been self-defeating ourselves by making many of the poorly understood impactful choices that we have been making that have consequentially been inexorably leading us to where we are today. As Richard Tedlow has, rather ironically, defined this state: “Denial is the unconscious calculus that if an unpleasant reality were true, it would be too terrible, so therefore it cannot be true.” http://wapo.st/fJZEgV. We behave like the ostrich with our heads conveniently buried where the light of truth does not shine.
Consider, for example, that for our children today we have seriously truncated the educational curriculum in scope and depth. We have eliminated many of the traditional extra curricula cultural activities and we’ve allowed our children to grow up absorbing themselves in mindless hours of useless TV, video games, Facebook, virtual reality. We’ve even drifted into skipping traditional family sit down meals with time for learning, talking and sharing in favor of minimal interaction fast food on the run quickie-meals in front of the TV where distraction abounds and conversation is discouraged.
This has lead us, unwittingly, into creating a culturally devoid familial minefield where critical thinking is not only now missing but consequently effectively discouraged: Our children are now, in effect, consequently being deprived of having the fullest opportunity for developing critical thinking and thus are more and more at increasing disadvantage compared with foreign born students when competing for the same income opportunities.
Given this scenario, can we seriously now be surprised in observing such a monoculturally moribund outcome for our youth? Is it also any wonder that a significantly growing proportion of our youth is growing more insular as well as also growing disproportionately in girth ~ ie: becoming anti-social, isolated, fearful and obese? Our children are the product of the choices WE have made. They have no choice or control: They model after the example that we set for them and exist within the framework that we have created. We are their caretakers upon who they are dependent in learning how to navigate, to survive and, perhaps, to even prosper legitimately in this world
However, growing up in this “modern” environment – as it has now been constructed by us “adults” – inevitably encourages the assimilation of a very narrow, ever more narcissistic, world view leaving them with no sense of who they really are or who they really could be in the larger framework of real world possibilities and “fun” without stress or responsibility is now the watchword of the day for the upcoming generation.
Hence many, if not a majority, of our youth are now in danger of growing up without having any appreciative awareness of the abundance, variety and scope of opportunity, the true nature of the multicultural world all around them: They cannot conceive of the far greater opportunities offered by exploring the multicutural world because they have not been shown how to view the world other than through the filter of their monocultural viewpoint and thus they focus, if they focus at all, solely on conjuring up simplistic (app based) solutions to local, immediately obvious but limited, market situations instead of becoming aware of any grander possibilities calling out for resolution on the world stage.
Without such broader awareness that a multicultural inculcation brings, these greater opportunities are therefore quietly out of their awareness and pass them by while our foreign country competitors step up to grab the rich rewards. Today that possibility of missing real opportunity and missing out on extraordinary innovation and creativity is extraordinarily high.
The price we are going to be paying for blithely allowing the monoculture to grow and entrap our youth and even some of those now moving towards middle age who are in executive or congressional positions but whose view is narrowed by the blinkers of monoculturalism, ideology and a me-first attitude, the result of which is extraordinarily limiting for our country as a nation. We are coming, or have already come, dangerously close to losing our free world leadership position.
This is how our larger society of today now functions in general: It functions with a myopic, insular, and often ideologically hide-bound short-term miscalculated and misunderstood view of our true situation to generate resultant short-term “solutions” to the symptoms rather than to the actual cause of what ails us that therefore invariably have a longer term damaging effect instead of a healing or recovery effect.
Of course, there are exceptions and, as often is the case, the 20/80 segmentation rule closely applies as you will see in a following paragraph but the key here is that our future prosperity is dependent upon at least some of only those in the 20% segment becoming capable of seeing and accomplishing a greater possibility than could ever be possible working from within the restrictions of a monoculture view or experience.
This has nothing to do with the enthusiasm of our youth; many are very enthusiastic like puppies waiting for you to choose which one to take home with you. However, there is a world of difference between being enthusiastic and being competent: They are not mutually exclusive but without the latter, the former is useless.
Furthermore, why is it that we have allowed our own precious natural resource – our own youth – to be surpassed in education and competency to the extent that we now hunger for, and cater to the needs of, foreign students to help us still be innovative while our own natural born students slumber through school and end up unemployable yet holding an enormous financial debt burden? But we cannot blame our children for this since we created and allowed to be created, the environment in which we all now live, learn and function.
To the point, recently released Department of Defense data indicates that an alarming 75 percent of all young Americans 17 to 24 years of age are unable to join the military because they failed to graduate from high school, have criminal records, or are physically unfit. Being overweight or obese also turns out to be the leading medical reason why applicants fail to qualify for military service. http://bit.ly/mWORSW.
But besides the military, just consider how our economy is driven by the development of successful business organizations. Furthermore, just look at government, both local and national: Where are those capable of intelligent critical thinking – so essential for smart governance – to come from if we are not developing this capacity in our upcoming youth?
From my own firsthand experience, over the past several years in interviewing and interacting with many younger people, I have frequently been appalled by the evident lack of comprehension, critical thinking and even the inability to articulate ideas clearly and spell correctly.
In conclusion, it is from amongst the youth of today who have grown up under these restrictive, self-defeating conditions as described above that we will be recruiting to build our own startup team of designers, coders, engineers, marketers, sales people, production people etc., even your CFO, COO, CIO, CTO and/or picking our next political leaders in due course.
Hence it is now critically important to be aware of the circumscribed nature of the content of the pool of candidates from which you will be recruiting and also critically relevant to be aware of the sage advice offered by Mark in his blog on this topic – not only he who wrote that blog but who also has lived the words, experience and awareness that he has shared there which really adds great weight to the value of the point of view and recommendation that Mark is sharing.
Monoculture: The hazard we now must face from developing a monocultural youth in our society. As my old Latin master was fond of saying – in Latin of course but I’ll spare you that – “A word to the wise!” So there you have it: Are you ready to shoulder the natural responsibility you have for ensuring we can build a worthwhile, multiculturally based, opportunity based, rewarding future for (y)our children? If we look at how congress is/has been currently mind-numbingly un-performing, we may have already missed that boat! The capacity for critical thinking has clearly left that dock.
- Avoid Monoculture. Travel. Read Widely. Let Experience be Your Compass. (bothsidesofthetable.com)
- Monoculture for a Reason (smus.com)
- The Danger of the Single Story (citizenshopper.wordpress.com)
- Startup Monoculture (growthology.org)
- Education as Monoculture (evenfromhere.org)