Career: Be a Monopolist, Says David Brooks

A competitive mind-set is productive only to a point. It’s important not to lose sight of value defined by other metrics. Peter Thiel’s argument for monopoly may provide an alternative framework. More . . .

April 23, 2012

via David Brooks – The New York Times.

Some skills of a monopolist (one who dominates in a “distinct market, niche and identity”) are “alertness, independence, and the ability to “reclaim forgotten traditions.” Brooks would also have the young re-examine the “status funnel,” a lemming-like obsession to compete for the best colleges, banks and companies.

Brooks does not develop his idea of reclaiming forgotten traditions. However, I would suggest that he hints at discretion being the better part of valor as one of them. If a pitcher has just suffered three home runs in one inning, for example, it might behoove him to take his bat and glove elsewhere. Perhaps he should find a blank space where everyone else isn’t. Take your sophisticated urban skills to a smaller community and make change where you have a chance or might be more appreciated. You might not even need a Stanford MBA.

American tradition honors wealth and success, but not always has America revered the drive for celebrity. Americans are an egotistical lot, but we have not always been narcissistic. There have always been people who wanted their photo and name in the newspaper, but not until the age of television, Internet and the plethora of electronic Media did we drool at the prospect of ten minutes of fame. Time was when a man or woman could feel wholly content and successful having tended well a relatively private garden in life.

Today we measure our own self-esteem against the best, the brightest, the “seen”ones. Often parents regarding the “status funnel” expect and often drive their kids into inappropriate careers and expectations — resulting in nothing but heartbreak. Some teachers belong in public school classrooms. They are called to it. One doesn’t have to be a university professor to be a good teacher and worthwhile human being. Life at the little end of the funnel is not necessarily a happy place. But, as Brooks says, when “the intensity of competition becomes a proxy for value, that’s what happens.” Knowing one’s self is very much a traditional value and that means knowing one’s league and being happy in it.

Steadfast and cautious,

David Milliken



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