I pay your salary

I am not only an impact capitalist – I am also an occasional university professor. I teach courses in business management and strategic communication. And every year I run into a number of students who hold a very different idea of education, hard work, and earning of grades/diplomas than I do.

This blog is partially inspired by students who feel that any work turned in is outstanding (as if putting letters/numbers on a document is sufficient for greatness). But another motivating aspect is the notion that “I paid for this course” or “I pay your salary” is equivalent to earning positive outcomes such as good grades.

I start every one of my courses with a discussion that evaluation of any project should not be assessed by how much effort was put into a project but rather the outcomes of the work. Imagine demanding profits because you worked hard (or just because you woke up for an 8 AM meeting) regardless of market feedback. Of course, there are political leanings that would be comfortable with that.

I recently posted a blog on higher learning. After all, that is what is supposed to happen on college campuses. But we seem to have altered the purpose of higher education from the process of developing mindsets and critical thinking to just getting that grade point average (GPA) and diploma – an output view rather than process. This narrative is being fueled by parents, politicians, and corporations. Go to college, get the diploma, get a job – learning anything beyond a skill set not mandatory.

While we know that the entire population should be entitled to higher degrees (and should be free as well)*, I would like to spend less emphasis on “what do I get” and focus on “how do we get there”. In other words, let’s not focus on outcomes, but processes.

I hope this post reaches students as well as parents who want to improve the probabilities of future success. There is a lot going on in today’s society that is working against entrepreneurial success (or life success in general – for an eye-opening examination, I recommend reading The Coddling of the American Mind). These directions will lead to greater inequality in the system as well as a greater gap for hiring and maintaining qualified talent.

I will use myself in an analogy to make a point on outputs and processes. I will compare “higher learning” skill sets with muscle building and weight loss.

Just like many in this country, I could shed a pound or 30 from my waistline. I also really need to get into shape (I am in need of some regenerative health management). So, I pay a monthly fee to belong to a gym. But a funny thing happens – I do not automatically lose the weight or get in shape because I pay my membership. I don’t shed those pounds just because I wake up early and sit on an exercise bike (while texting with friends). All that I get for my money is access to the equipment to shape my conditioning. And it also requires a lot of time and work.

Just like in a gym, tuition is not a payment for grades and degrees – it is just the minimum access point to a wealth of information and opportunities. You get access to people whose righteous path is to think about concepts and share knowledge with students. The results come from ongoing processes, not fees. And it is up to us to work out the necessary muscles so that they can be utilized outside of the gym. And like a gym, if we don’t know what we are doing (or even worse, “know” what we should do), we might hone the wrong skills and do more damage than good. I have hurt myself in the gym many times – not because of faulty equipment, but faulty decision making on my part. My process was flawed. No pumping iron body for simply showing up.

I like school because I get to be around people who think and read a lot – and they work with me to get better. – paraphrasing a former student

My work centers around helping business owners understand, manage, protect, and grow their enterprises. Good faculty feel the same way about working with students – helping with mindsets and critical thinking. Understanding takes a lot of time and hard work. My personal lesson of hard knocks is that trying to exercise by myself without understanding led to many injuries and inefficient waste of time. I finally succumbed to my wife’s recommendation of hiring a personal trainer/coach to help me think through the exercises. And that helps a lot.

I of course could have put more time into the study of kinesiology – and it would have worked as well. But a key lesson of economics is that we do not have to learn it all. You are not alone – and there is a vast network of knowledge (specialization) that is available to you for better decision making. Choose carefully and wisely and this network can be a critical resource for managing, protecting, and growing your enterprise. Avoid the work of understanding, and operate at chance levels.

To real impact beyond just showing up,


*absolute sarcasm – even though there are many who would say yes to this.

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