Jack Ma, the founder of the $300 billion-dollar digital platform Alibaba, once said:
“If you’re 35 and you’re not rich and successful, you’ll never be successful.”
But here’s the thing… that wasn’t the “entrepreneur" in Jack talking.
Prior to starting Alibaba, Jack Ma was a schoolteacher. And if you ask me, his quote sounds much more like it’s coming from a schoolteacher than an entrepreneur.
See — schoolteachers naturally have this idea that if you’re not successful in school, or if you’re not successful early on, you’ll never be successful in life.
Now maybe you were a straight A student in school. Or maybe you were a C student. Or maybe you dropped out entirely. But how much do the grades you get before age 18 really determine how successful you are?
Did they determine how much Steve Jobs and Bill Gates made? Because those guys both dropped out of college. Neither of them got a degree.
My contention to the teachers who claim how you perform in school determines everything for the rest of your life is that — for the majority of people…
School Actually Almost
Damages Your Brain.
So if you are in school right now and you’re reading this — you should know exactly how much it all really matters when you get into the real world.
And if you have kids in school right now — you should know what school could be doing to your child’s future success. Because it’s not always what the school teachers tell you.
Quite the contrary, in fact:
Rich Karlgaard wrote a book called Late Bloomers: The Hidden Strengths of Learning And Succeeding At Your Own Pace. Karlgaard is a publisher of Forbes magazine, and he’s done extensive research on what the school system is actually doing to kids.
And it’s not all that pretty…
Now if you were described by your teachers as “a loser” like I was in school, you might be a late bloomer. And you might in fact have what it takes to be extremely successful later on in life.
Because the #1 way the school system sets you up to fail in life is this:
It Makes You FEAR Failure.
People always ask me what my biggest failure is. I’ve failed in school, I’ve failed in business, I’ve failed in all sorts of ways. And I’m GLAD I failed. Failure was the reason I succeeded.
Why? Because I just kept going.
And the only real difference between someone who is a success and someone who isn’t — is that successful people keep going after they fail.
Failure is the most important part of success.
Now Karlgaard said he’s always thought of himself as a late bloomer, too… At age 25, despite having a good degree from Stanford University, he was watching all of his roommates going off and doing extraordinary things… while he worked dead-end jobs.
They began high-powered legal careers, engineering careers, and got PhDs, while Karlgaard held a string of security guard, dishwasher, and temp typist jobs well into his late 20s.
And when he was still at Stanford, Karlgaard says he could never sit still to study.
He went to the library with his roommate, who studied for 3 hours straight. But Karlaard recalls fidgeting around for 15 minutes, unable to sit still. He’d immediately lose his focus. Then he’d just mosey to the back of the place to read back-issues of Sports Illustrated until his roommates were done.
Maybe you can relate to that feeling. I know I can.
That feeling is what prompted Karlgaard to research what the school system is really doing to kids.
What He’s Found Is
It turns out, only about 20% of kids actually learn in the same way that the school system teaches. That is to say… rote memorization. And nothing else.
But every parent seems to want their kid to get the “trophy” from the school system. To be the ‘A’ student. To succeed at the top of the class, and get into college.
Karlgaard says we’re pushing for high achievement WAY too early in life. And when you look at the facts, that’s not the way to do it for the vast majority of people.
What’s more — he says longitudinal studies have proven undeniably that success in school is in no way a precursor for success in life.
That means the grades you get in both grade school and college have NO bearing on how much you will earn as an adult!
Yet among parents especially in cities like Silicon Valley, New York, or Boston — there’s this belief that kids need to get “on the track for success” at a very early age.
And the acceptable “early age” is being moved younger and younger.
It’s Turned Into
Something Of A Hysteria:
In New York City there are preschools that charge $50,000 dollars a year to immerse three year olds in “early intervention”.
These preschoolers literally participate in a campus — composed of many different buildings — with the not-so-subtle message to parents of, “If you don’t do this now, you’ll only have yourself to blame 15 years later when your kid doesn’t get into Harvard.”
Three year olds!
What’s the cause of this? Here’s what:
If you look at the US economy over the past 20 years — but particularly in the last 10 — the two most reliable sources for creating very rapid wealth happen to be:
- In Silicon Valley-type technology (not limited to the geographic area of Silicon Valley, but tech in general around the world), and
- High finance — like Wall Street, venture capital, and hedge funds.
And when you really delve into those two areas, you see that Silicon Valley — which used to be hospitable for people like Steve Jobs (who dropped out of Reed College) — now has become…
An Exclusive Club:
A club where — if you didn’t go to MIT, Stanford, Harvard Business School, and a handful of schools like that — you’re really behind the curve.
That means you’re going to have a hard time getting Venture Capital funding if it’s your first venture. You’ll have a hard time getting that first job at Google or Facebook, too — unless you have some other extraordinary thing you can show them.
And the same is true of Wall Street hedge funds and venture capital firms: They’re clubs. Populated mainly by people who went to a handful of schools.
That’s crept back into the culture and created a kind of rabid panic among parents — that if we aren’t getting our kids on a fast-track at age THREE — and they aren’t demonstrating that they’re scoring high on standardized tests and getting A-plusses by 5 years of age — then somehow they’ll never get a job at Google or Goldman Sachs.
Now That’s A
Remarkably Narrow View!
But it’s a view that’s pretty much swept up parents and stressed-out students alike. This fast-track mentality is damaging to kids:
Even before the pandemic hit — there were rising rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide among teenagers like never before.
Two public high schools in the Palo Alto 2014 - 2015 school year had six suicides and more than 40 treatments for suicidal thoughts among students.
Karigaard interviewed the researcher Carol Dweck for his book — someone I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts. Carol Dweck wrote the best-selling book Mindset. Which is one of the very best books you can read about… well, mindset.
She also teaches freshmen psychology at Stanford. And when Karigaard congratulated her on the success of her book, Carol Dweck told him:
“Thank you. It succeeded where I didn’t think it would — among business people. But it has not succeeded where I HOPED it would succeed — which is in the education industry.”
When he asked her to elaborate, she just leaned forward and said,
“The kids I see at Stanford today are brittle and exhausted — all because they don’t want to mar their perfect records.”
The system is NOT producing people who have a joy for learning. Who walk around with a curiosity for the world, with a bounce in their step.
It’s NOT producing people who are excited to go out and experiment. Who are excited to try things and fail, and then learn something from it and create something new.
In Fact, It’s
Quite The Contrary:
It’s producing people that — because they had straight A’s and near-perfect SAT scores — don’t want to do ANYTHING that could potentially expose them as a failure.
The result? They simply get paralyzed with fear 24/7.
And that’s a problem.
In his book “Tailspin,” Steven Brill says that one of the reasons our economy and GDP numbers are far behind what they could (or should) be — is because our schools are pumping out graduates who are completely terrified of FAILURE. They never take risks.
And don’t get me started on the economy:
Danielle DiMartino-Booth wrote extensively about the Federal Reserve — she has two master’s degrees and worked for the Fed herself at one time. She said while working there she discovered if you didn’t have a PhD from Harvard or MIT, your opinion simply didn’t count.
She also said that during the crash of 2008, when all the markets were plummeting, the 900 PhDs who worked at the Federal Reserve had no idea what was happening.
Not a single clue!
That is, not until it was too late. You might remember this quote from Ben Bernanke at the time:
“The crash is contained to
the subprime market.”
Pshyeah. Famous last words!
DiMartino-Booth said she could not believe the people at the Federal Reserve were so highly educated, yet so vapid and unaware of what was going on in the world.
Think we might be seeing a repeat of that?
For the first half of 2021, the Fed denied there would be any inflation at all. Then, when they absolutely couldn’t deny it anymore — around July or August — they said inflation would be “transitory.”
Then, around November, Jerome Powell came out and admitted inflation was “no longer transitory.”
But by then, anyone with a high school diploma could have concluded that. They just had to look at the grocery store items that had risen in price by 30 - 40%.
So how well is this “elite” group of Harvard grads really running the world anyway?
Wait — don’t answer that. We’ll come back to it. First, you should know…
Why No One Should Care
About Their Stupid SAT Scores:
Karlgaard said that what the SAT does is measure “very narrow, rapid algorithmic giftedness.” He goes through the history of IQ testing in the United States — which is what led directly to the development of the SAT test.
Now the French developer of the IQ test believed that it could be a “very useful diagnostic tool” that might help us create remedial programs for children who were struggling in school…
But NEVER ONCE did he say or imply that it would predict the outcome of someone’s life.
Yet, that’s what our school system tends to use it for.
In fact, in pretty much every longitudinal study recorded on standardized tests like the SAT test or the IQ tests — the early “gifted” test-takers, who scored oh-so-high and got their parents “gifted child” bumper stickers… ended up reverting back to the mean 10 or 20 years later.
That means as an adult, the “high SAT” and “high IQ” kids were…
No Better Or Worse Than
The Average Person.
And it gets extremely dark when you dig deeper:
If you look deep enough, you’ll discover that pretty much all of these early IQ and standardized test developers of the 20th century were part of the eugenics movement.
That alone should tell you how biased their thinking was as they constructed these tests.
Carl Brigham, one of the major contributors to the development of standardized tests, later denounced them on his deathbed. Saying…
“We’ve committed a grave, grave error.”
This is the dilemma we’ve gotten ourselves into:
When you over-value what Karlgaard calls “narrow, rapid algorithmic skills”… what you’re totally ignoring is all the other amazing skills that make people tremendously creative and productive throughout their lives — and powerfully gifted entrepreneurs.
There are TONS of skills, talents, and creativities the school system gives NO value to at all in students.
Yet, we NEED them in this world.
How School Damages People’s Brains
What happens is this:
The school system sets up the most boring possible learning environment you could ever imagine.
Then, when kids get bored, they claim it’s the kid that is the problem. Imagine that! And they medicate the kid with Ritalin and other ADHD drugs.
They’ve made a pathology out of a kid’s inability to get 800 on their SATs. Never once did they ask themselves if it was the SATs that were the problem.
Karlgaard says 95% of the drug prescriptions for ADHD are given in the United States. Guess it just isn’t as prevalent in other countries…
And it’s all in pursuit of what Karlaard calls “the college admission scandal:”
The scandal is this corrosive mindset — that you have to get admitted by the right college when you’re 17, or else your life is ruined forever and ever, and is completely irredeemable.
This “be successful early or end up a loser forever” mindset is corroding our parents and our young people alike.
This faulty logic is even more evident when you look into…
The REAL Neuroscience
There are three quick things you should know about this:
First is what car rental companies have seen for years — in the way they charge people under 25 higher rates:
The prefrontal cortex in our brain is not fully developed on average until age 25. And some neuroscientists believe with each generation, this is being extended another 18 months or so.
The prefrontal cortex is where our executive functioning, our ability to look ahead, and see consequences from our actions results. And that won’t be completely developed until most people have long-ago graduated from college.
Second — there was a 2015 study led by Harvard and MIT in conjunction with Massachusetts General Hospital — which asked this simple question:
“At what age do we cognitively peak?”
And the answer is very intriguing, very complex, and very hopeful…
Because the answer to that question is this:
“It depends what cognitive abilities you are talking about.”
There are certain things where we peak early — like cognitive processing speed, working memory, and the things that might make you a high-frequency trader on Wall Street or a software programmer in Silicon Valley.
But all of those brain functions that support executive functioning, leadership, and communication skills — which are…
The Most Important Skills
For Really Changing The World…
…don’t fully blossom until our late 30s, 40s, and 50s.
Do you know what the median age of an entrepreneur is in the United States?
Yep. People think it’s much younger, but it makes sense when you look at the brain research. So if you’re not 47 yet, you still haven’t hit your peak entrepreneurial age.
And finally — the neural networks that connect the left and right hemispheres of our brains keep developing throughout our healthy lives.
That means as long as you stay healthy, and as long as you stay mentally engaged — then you’re capable of continuing to improve your brainpower well into your 60s, 70s, and beyond.
You’ve probably heard about Colonel Sanders — it wasn’t until after he retired that he created Kentucky Fried Chicken.
He had his first wild success and became a millionaire at 70.
Karigaard says if you’re an older person going for success — the number one thing to remember is this:
Lean Into The Person
Don’t go back and try to reclaim what you thought you missed. Because when you go back to the brain research, you see that you’re becoming someone new all the time.
Elkhonon Goldberg is a 72 year old neuroscientist at NYU, and he noticed in his late 60s that his intuitions turned out to be as accurate as the rigorous logic he’d been developing his whole life.
He would come to the same conclusion much faster using nothing but intuition. This caused him to do a bunch of groundbreaking research around how intuition gets better and better in old age.
You have new gifts coming to you all the time in your 60s, 70s, and even 80s that you didn’t have before. That includes a much higher and well-developed intuition.
So if you’re older, follow your intuition.
Of course, maybe that’s not advice you’d give a teenager. But if you’re in your 60s or 70s, your intuition is better now than it has ever been in your life.
And if you’re a parent — who is pushing their kid to get into Harvard, and they’re just not making it — you might feel like your kid is a failure.
But they are not:
Maybe B’s or even C’s are good enough. What else — besides grades — can you encourage your child to do?
Karlgaard tells a story of one family that encouraged their C student high schooler to launch a T-shirt business. And by the time their kid graduated high school, he was already making more than a college graduate.
I don’t know about you, but…
I’d Rather My Kid Do
That Than Get All A’s.
If you’re a parent with a kid — boy or girl — who just hates school, here’s the best thing you can do, according to Karlgaard:
Listen to that kid, and really get to know them. And don’t outsource your parenting responsibilities to the educators, counselors, or psychologists.
Well for one, they’ll probably default to standardized testing. But also, they’re not fully trained to understand what your kid really needs.
Kids go into school, and if they don’t fit the system — they’re told they’re stupid.
Then they believe it, and it’s all downhill from there. They’ll get completely left on the sidelines if we don’t do something.
And the most damaging mindset you can have is this idea that if you’re not successful early on, you’ll never be successful in life.
Jack Ma Was Wrong.
Success is achievable at any stage of life. You can always reinvent yourself.
While you can’t deny the advantages of the network you get from a school like Stanford, Harvard, or MIT — and having that “in” to the parts of the world like Wall Street or Silicon Valley that value those sorts of things — that’s pretty much where the value of those degrees completely stops.
Google, which was founded by two Stanford grad students, initially had the belief that whatever you scored on your math SAT is something the company wants to know when they’re interviewing you.
And yet when Google tested that to see whether you had an elite degree and what your SAT scores were, the correlation with how well you’re doing at your actual job three years later was very WEAK.
And after five years, it disappeared entirely.
If you’re currently a student, know that your life is hardly being “set in stone” by your test scores. The best thing you can do is learn to be comfortable with failure and try new things.
In fact, a healthy comfort with failure is what enables us humans to learn, and make new things.
If you can develop that — no matter your age — the world is yours for the taking.