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Follow Passion, Not The Buck

Follow Passion, Not The Buck
Published October 23, 2008 by Scott Belsky
Great news! The lure of Wall Street and disproportionately paid finance executives is finally behind us. The current debacle presents an amazing opportunity to liberate America’s top talent from the great opportunity cost of being brave and starting something new. For the first time in decades, the most talented people might actually follow their true interests rather than the masses. Our economy will benefit in the long-term if we have the brightest minds taking the risks to make new and bold ideas happen.
Here are three things we can look forward to:

(1) Bright minds will want to create value rather than move money.

Over the past decade, the smartest students I have known have sought a career in finance (my sample set are former classmates at Cornell University and Harvard Business School). Why? Because the classic story of the superstar banker or hedge fund manager making tens of millions of dollars per year was too salivating to pass up. The logic for ambitious, bright, over-achievers was: Get the best job in finance and have surefire success. Well, the migration of the brightest and most motivated minds to the world of finance - an industry based on moving money around and devoid of value-creation - made the notion of entrepreneurship and starting a small business seem sub-par. Suddenly, as Wall Street suffers, the brilliant minds are considering “something different.” The risk of pursuing a new idea or jumping into a friend’s start-up effort seems a little more tolerable or, dare we say, safe.

(2) The value of experience will go up as near-term financial rewards dwindle.

During bull-markets, talented people settle on unexciting careers when the financial opportunities are too great to pass up. There are too many stories of brilliant people putting up with menial analyst duties at high-powered finance institutions simply because the money was good. Yes, magna cum laude graduates from Ivy League schools may find themselves managing spreadsheets and doing coffee runs at Goldman Sachs. Might as well get the Starbucks you ordered if you can afford it! Luckily, the downfall of financial markets has made the prospect of an “experiential education” a bit more attractive. After all, the connections and experience gained in a start-up environment - or the dream industry that always fascinated you - may prove to be invaluable, even if the compensation is just the insight and knowledge you gain. The start-up world now has a tremendous opportunity to attract and hire top talent. And, if we have our smartest people creating new products and services, our economy will thrive in the long run.

(3) Smaller investments with higher expectations will empower small businesses.

When the investment community is flush with cash, the inclination of money managers is to “pile-on” the hottest opportunities that are getting the most attention. Near-term greed infects long-term judgment, and the truly innovative (and thus hard to understand) businesses are passed over in favor of “derivative” products and services run by seasoned executives (creating a more efficient and cheaper version of something that already exists). However, in the current economic climate, the companies flush with cash look bloated. Smaller, more select investments that will require lots of time to evolve seem more reasonable to investors. Impatience and a quick exit strategy are replaced with a desire for sustainability. As a result, entrepreneurs manage their expenses more carefully. Companies are run more thoughtfully and responsibly. The current Wall Street woes provide a more reasonable pace for the growth of a small business - and sometimes patience is a lucrative virtue. Yes, these are all long-term projections and, in the near term, we will all suffer a bit. However, we must also recognize the many new and exciting opportunities before us. Our economy and country can only thrive if we CREATE NEW STUFF. Bold innovations take a lot of time, energy, and a stomach for risk. But, in these uncertain times, these forces become more abundant. We are dealing with strange and unusual times. But, as I have said before, nothing extraordinary is ever achieved through ordinary means.

More about Scott Belsky

Scott Belsky is the Chief Product Officer at Adobe and is the co-founder of 99U and Behance. He has been called one of the "100 Most Creative People in Business" by Fast Company, and is the author of The Messy Middle and the bestselling book, Making Ideas Happen.

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