Our Common Future

Is it all about the money?

January 30, 2015Innovation

I had a fascinating conversation today with new connection – a real thought leader in the realm of Sustainability. She recalled a story about a friend who until quite recently held the venerable position of maths professor at a top tier UK university.

I say recently because he since quit his position of teaching the world’s future leaders due to a deep sense of disillusionment. These students were mid-Gen Y, and, if prevailing thinking holds, then driven by more purpose-led values – creativity, flexibility, autonomy, sustainability etc. than previous generations.

The disillusionment steadily built up – year after year – by the majority of students aspiring to a career in investment banking, driven by the lure of vast income generating potential. When challenged on this, the prevailing view was to work hard until around age 35 then effectively ‘retire’ and enjoy other activities that allow them to express their more egalitarian values.

In Paul Dolan’s recent book, Happiness By Design, he urges, “remember that happiness, unlike money, isn’t very fungible: tolerating misery for years in the hope of a bigger happiness payoff later almost never works”.

And Dolan found that investment banking was one of the most unhappy profession of all!

What does this real-life observation point to; an anomaly or discontinuity in our collective thinking?

My new friend and I came up with the hypothesis that all values are not created equal; and that, in this case, maximising income generation potential was overriding more egalitarian values in these students, regardless of the logic to the contrary.

I’d love some thoughts.