JOE WEBB AND CO. – THE WRITTEN WORLD

LESSON #51: THE ENTREPRENEURIAL SKILL SET (LITTLE BOXES)

Posted in Lessons by The Books Production Team on February 3, 2009

LESSON #51: THE ENTREPRENEURIAL SKILL SET (LITTLE BOXES)

typewriter          Sorry to have missed yesterday’s posting deadline, but I got all wrapped up in an idea for a modern-day television adaptation of the Faust story, and before I knew what had hit me, I’d typed 25 pages and it was midnight.  But that’s all right – because today we get down to business like DJ Quik!  So, to get you sufficiently primed for this post, I’m including below a couple of runners.  The first is an escalating list of three generally depressing facts that will in no way tie in to today’s lesson – but are meant to be about as depressing as the current job market – and the second is a transcription of the lyrics from the first two verses of Malvina Reynolds’s 1962 protest song – “Little Boxes.”  For those not in the know, these two verses also double as the title sequence for Weeds, and I’m including a link to the YouTube video so that you can catch the full drift of the visual satire that accompanies the hilarity of the vocals.

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Things that should depress you:

ONE – Yesterday, that stupid little groundhog from Pennsylvania, Punxsutawney Phil, saw his shadow – which means that we’re all in for six more weeks of winter, with the exception, I suppose, of those of you in Florida.  That being said, I don’t really envy you Floridians all that much – because instead of the annual occurrence of winter, you got eight years of Jeb Bush.  I’ll take the rodent. 

TWO – Despite this rather short-term extension of winter, we will still continue to live in a slowly pre-heating oven of our own making.  Currently, this oven is being fired by the exhaust from 700 million rather large, rather mobile pieces of steel and aluminum – which seems like a lot.  Yet by the time you retire, there will be 3 billion of these bad boys on the road, and…no more winter.

THREE – Puppies grow up to be dogs, and dogs eventually get old and die.

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A transcription of Little Boxes:

Little boxes, on the hillside – little boxes made of ticky tacky – little boxes on the hillside, little boxes all the same.  There’s a green one, and a pink one, and a blue one, and a yellow one – and they’re all made out of ticky tacky and they all look just the same. 

And the people in the houses all went to the University where they were put in boxes and they came out all the same.  There’s doctors, and lawyers, and business executives – and they’re all made out of ticky tacky and they all look just the same. 

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…and, like Michael Scott says, let’s get it started.  Black-Eyed Crowes!

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LESSON #51

WEEDS (season 4)          You know, folks, I’ve been thinking about the Weeds theme song quite a bit recently – and I’ve come up with a couple of conclusions.  First of all, it is an absolute miracle that I haven’t worked “Little Boxes” into a post already, because it’s one of my favorite things in the world.  I mean, it’s right up there with Life the board game, Life the cereal, and Life the television show – that’s my first conclusion.  The second one is this: I find the song absolutely and horrifically depressing when I think about it in terms of the modern university setting – because I think, even more than being a piece of poignant satire about twentieth-century American consumption, it also rings a subtle twenty-first century death knell for what will soon be a lost, rather cushy way of life.

          You see, back when Malvina Reynolds wrote “Little Boxes” in 1962, in the aftermath of the G.I. Bill and in a period of amazing post-war economic boom, it was completely feasible for an average American high-schooler to go to the University, get put into a little box, and come out of the people factory to a career as a doctor, a lawyer, or a business executive with the accompanying hillside house.  And while I find certain aspects of the homogeneity Reynolds is railing against stultifying and awful, I find myself also a bit saddened that we’ve essentially reached the end of the good old days where a newly minted graduate could take a steady job, work at it for forty years, and then retire with a solid pension.  It’s just not gonna happen for you, kids.  There are too many people, not enough traditional jobs, and as a consequence, too-many foreclosed upon little boxes sitting empty on the hillside.  And here’s where all this leads me: in our current climate of economic instability, where the typical career arc of a college undergraduate is being diced into 18 month segments and rapidly re-mapped – we’re not doing a very good job as educators, and you’re not doing a very good job as students, of looking into the future so that you leave college equipped with the type of skill-set that will be necessary to prosper in a very different twenty-first century world.

          Now, to be certain, there are still a few undergraduate collegiate majors that lead directly to steady employment – most notably education, nursing, accounting, and law enforcement.  And, to a certain extent, if you’re preparing for a career in one of these fields, you might be okay.  Yet even with that relative security, given the outsourcing of accounting to India and the rise of the internet classroom, you’d probably better pay attention to what I’m about to say – because we all need to be cognizant of the ways you can maximize your college experience to better position yourself for the job market of 2020.  My hope for all of you is that you will be on the leading edge of this new collegiate repositioning.  My job, like the anti-hero in a Linkin Park song, is with everything I say to you to push one step closer to the edge.

          So here’s what you need to do: take advantage of the opportunities offered in college to develop an entrepreneurial skill set.  And what do I mean by this?  Well, certainly, I’m not telling you all to major in business – we’ve already highlighted the fact that I think, for the most part, there are already too many undergraduates who will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in management only to take a job selling insurance door-to-door on a paltry commission basis.  Rather, I’m telling you that while focusing on your specific subject-matter interest, whether it’s history or botany or economics, and while learning the critical thinking methodology that accompanies each of these majors, you should simultaneously be tooling yourself for a future where both your own and our nation’s economic future will demand that you are able to create something useful.

          You see, while I certainly am no economic expert, I understand that the superstructure of our monetary system is based upon creation and production – and the ability to produce products that are both internally useful and exportable to the world marketplace is what builds national wealth (as we did throughout the 1960s, when Malvina Reynolds was writing “Little Boxes” and we still made cars in Detroit whose bumpers didn’t fall off when you drove them off the lot).  Well, that’s what we need to focus on – positioning ourselves to create a product or a service that is unique in the future.  But the impetus to do this will fall upon each of you at the individual level in the flattened global economy – which means that whatever your major may be, you’re going to need to be able to sell yourself and find new ways to firmly entrench your ass in the global economic machine.  And, to get yourself ready, there are three things you can do while in college.

          #1) Develop a level of cultural fluency.  In part, this draws back upon the idea expressed in Lesson #2: Start Taking Chinese Now.  Your ability to function in the adult world will be entirely dependent upon your ability to communicate with the broadest possible audience – and this is a highly marketable skill.  So learn as many major twenty-first century languages as possible, and be as in tune with current events and contemporary culture as you possibly can.

          #2) Pursue a high-level of software literacy.  Certainly, computer technology changes so rapidly that the specific skill sets and software fluency that you develop in college will be quickly outdated.  But this overlooks a very important component of humanity’s psychological makeup.  If you manage to skate through college with only a base-level understanding of Microsoft Word, you will most likely quickly develop into a luddite upon graduation – and you’ll be scared shitless of new software by the time you’re 35.  Yet, on the other hand, there is a certain level of fearlessness that comes with learning to master programs like Dreamweaver, SPSS, and Quark on your own.  If you’ve been able to do this in the past, then you’re much more likely to tackle a new program as an early adopter in the future.

          #3) Take a few business classes that teach you the rudimentary details of operating a start-up.  At some point in the next 40 years, if you’re at all a creative person, you will come up with an idea for an excellent business venture.  Theoretically, it could be the type of business that will ultimately employ hundreds of people and contribute to our national and international wealth, but if you’ve got no idea how to go about getting started – and are unaware of even the most basic start-up pitfalls, your idea will wither on the vine.  The future belongs to those who are daring enough to take charge of their own ideas, and thus their own destiny.

          Finally, for an example of this, let’s take a look at Nancy Botwin, the protagonist of Weeds.  Now, I’m not advising that you develop an entrepreneurial skill-set so that you can start growing and marketing your own OG Cush – because if you carry an ounce or more of that product on your person, the po-lice call it a felony – but there’s something we can learn here.  When faced with economic displacement just prior to the pilot episode upon the death of her husband, Nancy reacted and repositioned herself in classic entrepreneurial style.  To slang it up, she was a hustler – and she proved herself willing to learn quickly and act daringly.  These are the tools that you need to develop if you likewise want to be able to maneuver quickly around the inevitable roadblocks that the future will place in the middle of your career path.  If you start developing those skills now, while you’re in college, you’ll be more certain to thrive in a twenty-first century world that is forcing us to think outside of the twentieth century’s economic “little boxes.”

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2 Responses

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  1. Jonesin' For a Collegiate Fix said, on February 4, 2009 at 3:30 pm

    Wiz — I noticed that you failed to include the epic motion picture “Life” as one of your faves. I can’t understand this omission as this is the best representation of Martin Lawrence’s sensational comedic abilities to date. After taking a poll at work, I’ve been told by no less than 17 highly educated people that his genius is surpassed only by three legends of comedy: Alfonso Ribeiro, Malcolm Jamal-Warner and Shawn Wayans.

  2. Matt Biegacki said, on February 5, 2009 at 3:33 pm

    Totally agree with the excess of “business major” out there. Somewhere along the line we forgot about a sense of greatness, the sense to do the unthinkable and do it better than anyone else.

    Your advice to know a little bit about starting your own company (frankly, it should be seen as staring your own “great idea” and then surrounding yourself with the people that can bring it to fruition in the business form) is sound, but I do hope to so see a resurgence in the “expert” out of my generation (Gen Y, if anyone is still reading). It’s a hope, but it’s going to be what it takes. The little box is gone, we should all be thrilled and subsequently, ready to work to get it back.


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