A Case for Thinking Big

There is a problem with entrepreneurship. Silicon Valley is booming, more money is flowing into startups than ever, and even Wall Street has started to pay attention. More companies are started every day and pursuing entrepreneurship has become the new “cool” career choice.

I recently attended a pitch competition at my school. I sat in the back row and listened to business after business pitch. At the end, I was a little disappointed. Every business seemed to be an iteration of another. “We are the Uber for X”, “We are the Warby of Y”. I found myself wondering: is this the best that our generation has to offer? Copying other business models instead of bravely trying something new?

Our world is one faced with systemic problems. Whether it is the slowing of economic growth, pollution, natural disasters or terrorism, we desperately need big thinkers.

There’s nothing wrong with these small ideas. Many of these could even be profitable. But they need to be treated as they are: smaller incremental improvements. The issue is that these companies are attracting talent, attention and money that could be put elsewhere. These companies make sense and are easy to swallow. It seems people have become complacent with thinking inside the box and merely building off of what already exists.

As I was writing this post, I started reading the book Zero to One by Peter Thiel. In the book, he discusses a societal shift from the “definite optimism” found in the 1950s-60s to the current state of “indefinite optimism”. Many young people are optimistic about the future or their future, but have no plan on how to get there. They think that eventually someone will come up with big solutions to our generation’s big problems, but they haven’t started to take the steps themselves. The solution seems to distant and the inertia to start getting there is too large.

I know there is always a danger in speaking in generalizations. There are plenty of young people devoting their lives, time and attention towards the creation of something new and exciting. There is always the exception to the rule. But this is a trend that I and others (as shown by Thiel’s book) have noticed.

Our society rewards people who don’t take risks. In our education system, the students who follow the professors instructions and only learn what is expected of them get the best grades and attend the best universities. The big dreamers are often those who day-dream during class and do not operate within the rules. It is these people who do not operate within the proverbial “box” that our world needs the most.

History will remember those like Elon Musk, Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg fondly. They brought big ideas to life, created massive social value and billion dollar enterprises. Stop limiting your ideas by what exists or what seems possible; take the risk and do something meaningful. This is how our generation will leave a mark on the world.

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