The World is Your Campus: Study with Rigor, Be Entrepreneurial


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Two trends are driving the current job market: globalization, where everybody is becoming part of the economy, and innovation, which increases productivity and allows fewer people to do the same jobs. These two trends will not slow down during the next few decades. How should students train in college to build careers under these conditions?

The situation is similar to 150 years ago, when 98 perecent of people farmed. Now we need only 2 percent of the population to look after the farms. The other 96 percent are engaged in businesses that did not exist 150 years ago. Similarly, the globalization of the workforce and the concurrent productivity gains will take care of people’s current needs. New graduates over the next decades will be part of businesses that don’t exist today.

What are these new businesses? We know that the world faces several big challenges such as energy, sustainability, poverty, education and healthcare. We need to solve these problems, but no one is sure how they will lead to specific businesses. This is the challenge and the opportunity for new graduates.

New graduates who want to be players in the new economy will need a strong work ethic, rigor in their thought process, and entrepreneurial energy. In the old economy, individuals mastered a specific skill and practiced it over the course of a 50-year career. In the next 50 years, new graduates will probably change their field of practice every 10 years. They need a good work ethic to be able to learn new things. They need rigor in their thought process to learn to learn. They need to be flexible and be entrepreneurial to adapt to new businesses.

No matter what students study, whether it is technology, journalism, art, medicine, business, or law, they will have to be entrepreneurial to survive and prosper in the next 50 years. In universities they learn to solve problems. In addition to solving problems posed by others, students need to learn how to pick problems that they are passionate about solving. A big part of being an entrepreneur is to learn to pick problems that you want to solve.

I am a big believer that students should create experiential learning opportunities during their university years. They should treat the whole world and its problems as their laboratory, as opposed to confining themselves to their campuses. Picking a problem that they feel passionate about and finding a way to solve it builds confidence and gives students a taste of taking charge. New graduates have to be entrepreneurial and innovative in creating opportunities for themselves as opposed to waiting for others to do it for them.

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Gururaj “Desh” Deshpande co-founded Sycamore Networks in 1998 and is the founder of the Deshpande Center for Technological Innovation at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Follow @

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