Change the World

In the midst of my current search for a job to serve as the basis of my Life after the MBA, one question has been weighing heavily on my mind: what is the best way to use my skills to do “the right thing”? I’m concerned my desire to “change the world” must seem suspiciously naïve, like the glassy-eyed answer of a Miss Universe contestant. But it’s still worthy of consideration.

In The Wealth of Nations, economist Adam Smith proposed that an “invisible hand” guides the market towards the best course of action, based on individual’s motivation to increase their personal well-being. Individuals in the market exchange goods of their own volition based on the benefits they receive from buying and selling goods, and therefore everyone wins. In this context, “the right thing” would appear to be making anything for which people are willing to pay. Free market rules, right? By this logic, any job for which I can get paid must be worthwhile to society, so I should quit my worrying and move on.

It seems simple, but there’s something wrong with this picture: people buy a lot of stuff from which they don’t really gain any real benefit, prodded by misinformation, celebrity endorsements and general consumer lunacy. In short, Smith’s “invisible hand” would appear to be missing a finger or two, allowing unproductive transactions to slip through its grasp and into the market. In addition, the “invisible hand” model fails to value the side effects of transactions which cannot be easily monetized. For example: when I buy gas from a gas station, both I and the station owner gain a benefit – I get gas (and access to convenient transportation), and the owner gets money for his product. However, the side-effect of this transaction to the environment is an un-priced externality – hence, the system is inevitably unbalanced: I buy more gas than I might if I had to pay the “true” cost of gas production and combustion on the environment.

In the context of this example, I think I’d rather be the guy building new engine technology to eliminate those un-priced externalities than the guy selling the gas.

AOE II/Career Plan

In the race towards the end of this module of the MBA, I’ve been procrastinating with Ages of Empires II: Ages of Kings. Yeah, yeah, it’s an old game, but it fulfills the purposes of “wasting time” and “fulfilling my God complex”. Though playing the game is meant to be a distraction, I’ve been introspective: How I play the game seems to reflect the way I approach problems – and a big problem under consideration at the moment is where to go after I finish the MBA.

For those of you not familiar with the game: it’s your basic military strategy game in which you build a village, gain technologies, and defend yourself from an enemy. My usual tactic is to surround an area with a fence, and have my villagers work like mad to mine/harvest/log resources to climb the technology curve as quickly as possible. I usually create only a small military, just enough to fend off any enemy troops who choose to assault my city walls. It works pretty well, but it also appears to be a metaphor for how I have approached my career: go to school, get degree, work hard, get an MBA, et cetera.

The question is: how well will this incremental strategy work in real life, against real (human, not software) opponents?

For example, I’ve been thinking about eventually starting my own tech venture and working towards that in a methodical fashion. Though I could start something upon completion of the MBA, it feels like it would be better to return to the regular working world for a while. Part of this is driven by pure economics (I’d like to replenish my financial reserve) and part of it by my current lack of a solid business idea. Returning to the metaphor of AOE II: I’m choosing to develop the next round of technology and hoard resources instead of attacking the enemy immediately.

Am I being strategic, or risk averse? Is trying to return to PK3i a smart, logical move that will advance my business expertise and help build a track record that will serve me when I actually start something? Or is it me “playing safe”?