The Corporate Escapee: Helping GenX find their What's Next!

Today I'm chatting with John Paul Rollert, a Professor of Behavioral Science at Booth School of Business. John Paul's teaching and research focus on the intellectual history of capitalism, the ethics of leadership, and the application of empathy to law, business, and politics.


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https://twitter.com/jprollert

What is The Corporate Escapee: Helping GenX find their What's Next!?

Welcome to The Corporate Escapee hosted by Brett Trainor, a podcast dedicated tor GenX professionals and management consultants yearning to break free from the 9-5 grind. Our goal is to guide 10,000 GenXers on their journey to exit corporate life, achieve work/life balance, and command their futures, all while maintaining their financial stability. This show is your roadmap for transitioning from corporate confines to flourishing in solo or expertise-based ventures, utilizing decades of experience.

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Brett: Welcome back to another episode of the Corporate Escapee Podcast. I'm your host, Brett Trainor. Today I'm thrilled that John Paul Raw is joining me on the show. John Paul is the ad is an adjunct professor at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. He's also a prolific writer, content creator.

He has been featured in the Chicago Booth Review, the New Republic, Harpers Fortune, Bloomberg, the Washington Post Slate, the Paris Review, and the New York Times. I'm sure I probably missed a few there, John Paul, but

John Paul: uh, no, I, I feel like I should have cut you short, uh, so you don't bore your, the members of your audience. But, uh, but Brett, it's great to be here with you. Thank you so much for

Brett: Oh my pleasure. Like I said, I've been super excited. I went down a, a rabbit hole of your content and what initially caught my attention was an article, and I'm not sure how I came across it, that you had written, I think it was February of this year. The company does not care about you. Right.

John Paul: So in the case of an essay like the one that you shared, and I think as you probably well understand, when you're writing an essay, you try to find the most provocative title that you can, uh, that at least draws people in.

And that clearly was successful here, Brett. Um, you know, the, the idea is to kind of give students a sense of the ways in which the evolution. Of the corporation specifically kind of put you in a position where by its very nature, by its very structure, a company is not built to care about you. Now, the interesting thing is that among, I've probably written now about 30 essays for the Chicago Booth Review.

I've written a featured essay for the magazines since 2016. Uh, that this was actually a fairly controversial essay. Now, part of that is I think people don't actually read much past the title or they, uh, kind of project what they expect the essay to be about once they've read the title, which is that, uh, the suggestion that.

You know, your boss in a corporate setting by necessity doesn't care about you. Now, it's true. Many bosses don't exactly care about you in a corporate setting. We've all had an experience like that. But the point of the essay is not to suggest that any person who oversees another in a corporate setting is a bad person per se.

Rather that when you're in a kind of complex bureaucracy, right, and then a bureaucracy welcome. Well constituted, uh, is a series of interchangeable parts, right? It's not that different from a machine. If I build a bureaucratic structure in a company and someone is truly indispensable, um, that really jeopardizes the company.

So everyone has to be able to kind of be swapped in and swapped out. And what that means is that the company is not built as a structural matter to, uh, care about you in a deep and inviting way. Your, your children may be irreplaceable, but when it comes to the company, you are not. And that doesn't mean, again, that bosses, um, you know, the people who oversee your work.

I mean, I've been in a position like that, don't care about you individually. And I had a few people write in saying, well, you know, I, when I was managing people in corporate America, I, you know, like to think of myself as a good person. I cared about my employees under me. And, and that's absolutely, That can absolutely be the case.

But the the point is rather that there's something about the ways in which we kind of structure complex corporate entities that are just hopelessly large and include so many people that you, yourself are made to feel dispensable, um, and not essential. And that's simply by the very nature of the company.

Brett: yeah, at the end of the day, the company's bottom line is shareholders shareholder value.

I, you can argue some of that, that may be changing a bit, but at the end of the day, I mean, just look at all the layoffs that we've had this year already, especially in the tech space, right? It's not, um, it's definitely not a people first, and that might be too broad of a. Uh, uh, Peyton, that's kind of why I I started this podcast was to show people what else is out there, what's possible, right?

And so having someone on, like you that's done the research, talked about it, um, I think is really, really kind of interesting. So what, what other feedback did you get? Did you get a lot of people disagreeing with the, with the, uh, the essay or was it mostly head nodding?

John Paul: I mean, I, most people, I mean, the interesting thing is it was in the follow up issue, there was a letter to the editor from someone who I think, Felt as though I was accusing him as a one-time manager of people in a, in a corporate setting of being a, a mean-spirited boss. Um, and I thought a little bit of that was kind of missing the broader point.

The broader point is that the nature of bureaucracy. In any kind of complex corporate setting is such that you can't be essential. And I think, you know, Brett, most people have ha ha had the reaction that it sounds like you had, which is Yeah, I've, I've been in one of those hopelessly large. Bureaucratic environments, which most major companies effectively are, and I understand what it means to feel as though, again, you're like a cog in a complex machine.

And again, the point of the, the essay was simply to say that's by design. The, the analogy that I use. Which I think is the appropriate one in the essay is the division of labor, right? If you go back to the very origins of capitalism, Adam Smith's insights and how the division of labor is essential to getting these kind of complex, um, enterprises working.

In the same way that on an assembly line, your assembly line wouldn't work especially well if every person were indispensable. The very idea of an assembly line is you can swap people in and out quite easily. Well, bureaucracies are no different and you know, in the late 19th century when you have the dawn of complex industries right before the end of the 19th century, There's really very few enterprises that are all that complicated.

Most of them are predicated on something closer to the apprentice model. If you think, say for example, Of what the printer shop in late 18th century Philadelphia would've looked like something that Ben Franklin might've run when he was working as a a printer. You know, you'd have the master printer and maybe a couple apprentices that he would work with.

It's only when you get the advent of railroads, um, and when you have just tremendous capital. That has to come together to build enterprises that, you know, in the case of railroads are quite literally continent wide. That you begin to have these complex bureaucratic structures that grow up, um, that blossom in the early part of the 20th century and end up necessitating the creation of business schools.

I'll sometimes tell my students, uh, well ask my students if they've ever wondered why what they're getting is a Master's of Business Administration. It's not a master of entrepreneurship or a master of Creative Destruction. It's a Master's of Business Administration and, and most of them never kind of pause to think about that.

Well, the reason is that. Business schools were created at the beginning part of the 20th century to create middle managers, to create people who would staff these incredibly complex bureaucracies that were growing up in places like say, GM or a ge, to say nothing of. Of course, the, the growth of the federal government, and so again, By their very nature, these complex industries had to be somewhat like interchangeable parts in a bureaucratic setting.

And what that essentially means is that you find yourself in a position where if you are part of that kind of bureaucratic organism, You can't be essential if, if you're working with a group of people and any one person is essential in your office, um, first of all, you're held hostage to that person.

And secondly, the minute that person departs, um, the work won't continue on. And so you have to structure things so that people who are in white collar positions are interchangeable parts. And candidly, Brad, I think most people when they read the article, they immediately recognize that. And so much of, I think, good teaching and certainly when you teach something like business ethics, as I do, is to give people a way of conceptualizing or making sense of experiences they've had, but they haven't yet fully articulated.

Brett: such a timely piece. And before, I'm gonna put you on the spot in a bit. Looking forward, I wanna go back to a couple of. Other essays that you wrote, because I think they, they tie in nicely. Um, one of 'em being, Uh, something's happening to the spirit of capitalism, right? I think that was back from 2018. So pre pandemic. And the other one, which I thought tied in nicely to this is what is the line between self-interest and selfishness? Right? And so, so you can see I was going down that, that, that thing, because I, I found it super interesting, right?

That the. Especially the spirit of capitalism. I'll have you just do the, the quick, quick summary of it. Cause I won't do it justice, but it was kind of where I'm seeing, you know, some, at least what I would call senior, you know, workers, executives, the experienced folks led to myself that have been in corporate for a long time.

Right? It's not just about the money, it's, it's about that flexibility. It's about that freedom. And I think that's what, um, the Spirit of Capitalism essay was about. So did I, did I capture that one right?

John Paul: Yeah. No, that's great. Brad and I, and I have to say, uh, the check is in the mail. I appreciate you, uh, flagging all these different, uh, Addition or, um, additions to the, uh, in-house ethicist essay series. So I, I really appreciate that. Yeah. In, in respect to the Spirit of Capitalism essay, so you're right, I wrote this, I, I wanna say it was maybe the fall of 2019, uh, because I was thinking through in part A class that I'll actually be teaching next year for the first time at the Booth School of Business, um, that is, kind of, has the provisional title of citizenship.

And I'm trying to think a little bit about. The ways in which, if you are a promising young business executive, you're thinking about your own citizenship, not just in the corporate world, but um, in the communities you're part of, the nation you're part of. And one of the things as I was thinking about this class I was really struck by is that I've taught, uh, a business ethics class in some form at Harvard or the University of Chicago since 2005, so a long time now.

And. What I have found in the last, really, I'd say at this point, Six or seven years is that increasingly I get, um, young MBAs who at best are kind of going to raise two cheers or maybe even one cheer for capitalism. They're not. Three. Cheers for capitalism students.

Brett: it.

John Paul: And I, I think a lot of that comes from a sense, not that capitalism is necessarily fundamentally broken n not that they think that there is an alternative system that is necessarily better, but there's a sense in which they're, they're focused on certain shortcomings in the system.

And obviously if you're fortunate enough to be a student at the place, like the bus school of business, You're, you are probably going to benefit from the upsides of capitalism more than the downsides, but a lot of the promise of capitalism that I think my students back in 2005, 2006, 2007, took for granted.

They no longer entirely buy. And so the essay was trying to make sense of how the spirit of capitalism, I think is changing because of course the spirit of capitalism at any given time is basically best understood by, um, the people who, uh, Kind of best push forward the system. And that tends to be people who are successful in a commercial environment.

And if I look at my students who are gonna be lucky enough to go to great consulting firms or investment banks or, or to found their own companies, they increasingly want more. It's, it's not enough. And this kind of connects to the question around self-interest and selfishness. The, the other essay you cited, It's not enough for them simply to blindly pursue a kind of crude notion of what's in their self-interest, which is to line their pockets.

Instead, they feel that they have to affirmatively. Think about how they can improve the world around them as opposed to just assume that if they kind of blindly pursue a material self-interest ne of necessity, the best things will come about. They have to kind of use a strong moral sense and use the power at their command. By virtue of their success to try to affirmatively improve the world. And that's very different from my students, say 15 years ago, uh, you know, not who were by any means bad people or had bad instincts, but they just didn't feel that they needed to do anything more in a grand sense than simply do well for themselves.

And they assumed that as long as they were doing well for themselves, they were effectively doing the best for the world around them. Increasingly, I think it's, it's not only that my students don't believe that. They certainly just don't think that's enough for the world or for them. And so I think some of the, the spirit of capitalism, the culture of capitalism, which again is, is gonna be best reflected and contained in those who are the most successful.

I just see a pretty dramatic evolution. And so part of that essay was an attempt to make sense of it. And I think some of the questions I see my own students struggling with,

Brett: Yeah, no, and, and again, definitely a ahead of the time because I think one, if you can look for benefits and anything, the, when the pandemic, it opened up a lot of folks eyes to, right. It's just not maximizing profits. There's more to life than, than making the money. And I think, you know, the interesting thing when I started interviewing people for this, for the podcast, and you know, I thought for sure.

Because my whole corporate escapee is, you know, there's a whole new generation of folks that don't want to build the next Google or Facebook, uh, but they also don't wanna work in corporate anymore. And now there's never been a better time to start a solo business or, or a small business. And I think what what really helped Jumpstart that was, hey, spending some time at home.

Not everybody enjoyed working from home. And if you wanna work in the office, more power to you have at it. But I think at least my take on it is we're starting to see, um, Or the way I used to look at it in corporate world was, Hey, it's, that's my work life and I've got my personal life. I'm gonna make money, then I'm gonna go home and do these things.

I'm seeing more and more it's, it's kind of the blend of it is, it's one life, right? And work is a part of it and it's a way to pay the bills. But, and again, it could be that the people I'm surrounding myself with or interviewing it, it definitely, I thought when they left corporate, the number one re.

Thing was that I just wanna make more money or, you know, replace my paycheck. But usually that's, you know, two or three, you know, check boxes down the list of, of why they're doing it. Right. I think time is definitely, time and freedom have been two of the biggest drivers, and I know that's much more in a micro sense, but then when I, looking into your writings, what you've written and, you know, where, where's the world going?

Right? I think some of these big companies are gonna, are gonna struggle, right? To find. Know, unless they change their model, they're gonna struggle to find employees willing to do what they've been doing for the last 40 years that that's worked in corporate America. I know it's kinda a long-winded, um, setup, but does that make sense?

John Paul: It certainly makes sense to me. There is a, um, there's a famous essay by the economist, John Maynard Kings, you know, the Future for our Grandchildren in 2030.

And the idea is it's speculative essay. I think he writes in about 1928 and he says, look, um, if the world continues to develop and. Commerce continues to grow. Our grandchildren will basically get to this point in 2030 where we have so much efficiency, so much productivity that the what he calls the economic problem. Um, which is to say quite literally, how do I provide for sh food, shelter, and clothing will more or less be solved. Right. You know, we won't worry so much about how as physical creatures we will sustain life and when that happens, right? That's the. The aim of economics. How do I make sure I have food, shelter, and clothing?

Once we've provided for those necessities in a, in a fairly reliable way, he suggests there're gonna be a series of other things, non-material concerns, and you are gesturing to some of them that will. Increasingly begin to preoccupy our minds, right? And I, I certainly see this with my students now, the way that I often frame it, and this goes to the self-interest, uh, essay. Is that sometimes I think my students have a crude understanding of self-interest. And, and admittedly, I, you know, and I say this with, uh, with, with love, sometimes that's the fault of my peers, uh, my economics peers who wanna suggest that a desire for self-interest is synonymous with, uh, kind of material self-interest.

But I think as you noted, I mean, there are a lot of things that we care about in this life that. Aren't necessarily exclusively material by nature, having, um, having good friendships, having good relationships with the members of our family, uh, taking care of our health, having leisure time, finding meaning.

Uh, it isn't to say that a desire for material self-interest can't help some of those things, but as we all know, uh, when we've worked that a hundred hour work week, they can very much be at odds with them. And I think for a lot of my students who again, are the grandchildren that Kanes was thinking about, right?

2030 for us is now that that far away. It's not as though they don't want to do well as a material matter. They just care about a lot of other things and, and so what I say to them is, I. I actually think that's the proper understanding of what Adam Smith meant by self-interest. Self-interest is not a single thing.

It's a constellation of things that we want, and so much of the project of leading a good life, I thi I think this is true for Smith, is figuring out that right balance. You know, Brett, we all know people who at 21, determined that the most important thing in the world was becoming as rich as possible.

And unfortunately for them, they sometimes succeed and they succeed at the price of, again, good friendships, um, healthy relationships with their family, their own personal health. So they have a lot of money and very little to show for it. And, and someone like Smith would say he actually. Has this very famous passage in his lesser known book, the Theory of Moral Sentiments, uh, where he uses the term invisible hand.

In fact, very few people know that across all of Adam Smith's writing, he only uses the term invisible hand three times. Only twice to refer to economic matters. He does it once in the entirety of the Wealth of Nations. And then in his lesser known book, the Theory of Moral Sentiments, he use it as se uses it a second time.

And even though that example is less well known, I think it's more provocative and morally interesting. He tells the story. Of, uh, the kind of young up and comer who's born to anonymity and poverty, and he spends his whole life working to make it right and he's successful, makes an enormous amount of money.

And there he is on his deathbed, realizing all the time he wasted, right? And Adam Smith says, TA-da. That's the invisible hand. We're lucky that that guy worked himself to death, cuz the rest of us really benefit in a way that he regrets. And what's interesting, I tell my students what Smith is saying is, thankfully this guy really didn't understand.

What was in his self-interest, because if he did, he wouldn't have worked himself to death. But luckily because he was as productive as he, as he tended to be throughout his life, not knowing what was in his interests, he ended up improving the world around him that the rest of us really enjoy. And I tell my students, you know, I maybe we're lucky enough to benefit from such people, but.

The lesson from Smith's analogy here is not that that's the person you want to end up being. And I think for a lot of my students, increasingly I think it is the case, like you said, that there are a lot of different things they're looking for and it's not good enough for them. To be told, well, you just spend the next 20 years working hard and then you can enjoy yourself, then you can be that good parent, then you can enjoy that leisure time, then you can pursue those passions.

Um, for most of them, their struggle is to try to figure, and I think it's a worthy one, is to try to figure out a way to get the best of all those worlds, or at least the better of all those worlds. And, and so I think you're exactly right. And, and, and the. Covid only sped that up because it gave us a sense of different ways in which we could do

Brett: Right. when I started working with, with folks that were still thinking about leaving corporate, right? I, I started with what I had my three Fs, right? The freedom, flexibility, and financial independence. And again, that's probably not a new concept and there's probably somebody out there that had it.

But as I got deeper in having more conversations with folks and even looking at what was important to me, you know, I actually have now expanded it to, to seven. Um, and you just touched on a few of 'em, right? So I had freedom, flexibility, friends and family or relationships, fulfillment, which is a big one.

Right? What are you driving towards, you know, fitness, which is both mental and physical. Still the financial, but then also you also talked about fun, right? I mean, what's life if we're not gonna have fun? And I know those are, they all tie to each other, but until you can actually really decide what's really important to you, I don't know.

Again, not going too deep, right? Are you really gonna be truly happy and you know, what is it the work. That you can do that's gonna help you drive that. Like I said, most of the folks I work with are the, you know, 35 and plus. So they've been in it for a, for a bit. Um, but yeah, I just think it's, it's, it's super interesting where the, the world is going now with, you know, some of this chat G P T and the automation and you know, the rise of the knowledge worker, which I wouldn't say it's a rise, I think it's been there.

They've just been bogged down with. Medial menial tasks in the, the future. But, uh, which leads me to the, the question I have just kind of curious if you've thought, you know, about where the, the future of the corporations are going. And I'm gonna give you one more, one little more context. Um, because when I, I work with these folks, it's, it's not uncommon to build a seven figure business now as a one person business, right?

A lot of it is your knowledge, your expertise, but with some of the things you can outsource and automate. It's very easy to and easy being a relative term to build that size of business. And so where some of these bigger companies, least ones I'm in, I can't see them ever being able to make the pivot out of where they're at with the inefficiencies and, um, Trying to learn how to work.

You know, digital was a big thing, but now remote and digital, it's, it's like turning the Titanic on some of these ships. So, again, long-winded context to, to ask you where, where do you see, where do you see the future corporations? Are we gonna be a bunch of small, uh, Smaller businesses more tied to like pre-industrial revolution where everybody had a, a kind of a career, or can these big companies change?

I know I'm putting you on the spot, but I'm super curious.

John Paul: the, the insight of this, this term creative destruction, which comes from, uh, a famous Austrian economist, Joseph Schumpeter, uh, who was writing right around the second World War. It's the idea that the nature of capitalism is that, uh, for things to move ahead, we both create and destroy.

And, and students tend to often think about the glamors of that creative part, right? They're the ones creating Uber as opposed to being the poor taxi driver who is finding his livelihood disappear in front of his eyes. And, and I think a lot of what I'm looking at, um, for the next few years is, One, how much more are we struck by destruction rather than creation?

Because I do think that can ebb and flow at times. Um, you know, although they go hand in glove, often the creative elements are, uh, you know, Follow the, those destructive elements. And so there are moments when we're kind of struggling with what we're losing, you know, chat, G P T and the rise of AI and machine learning I think points to that.

There are just a lot of jobs that, um, well paying jobs that are going to disappear. The example that I would give you mentioned at the beginning of our conversation that I went to law school and when I was in law school, the job that you would do, uh, Between summers or rather between your years during as a summer associate or very early on, one of the jobs you would do is something called document review. And that was when you're preparing for a case, um, you'd go to Kinko's and you'd be coming through hundreds if not thousands of pages of documents, and you're kind of trained to look for certain elements, um, certain details that might be important. And as a summer associate, uh, you know, so now about 15 years ago, you were paid, frankly, quite well.

Now, part of that was these law firms wanted you to end up coming to the law firm, but also there was a sense that you were kind of a highly paid professional. So here you were, uh, making, um, Maybe $2,500 a week or more, and you're spending a lot of time just rifling through documents endlessly. It's a bit of a mindless task, although it takes a particular kind of mind to do it.

Well, of course, today. You know, you not only at some point could you outsource some of those, um, jobs to other places with people who have good educations, but not necessarily the same set of corporate opportunities states. Simply just run it through a program that would find the information you're looking for.

Well, that's creative destruction and action, right? Certain jobs, certain activities, certain employments are destroyed and, and we've been very sensitive in the last 40 years to the ways in which robotics have destroyed certain traditional blue collar jobs, right on the factory line. But what we're gonna be wrestling with here over the next 20 to 30 years, and I can see my students begin to kind of grapple with this, is that a lot of these, um, White collar jobs.

Jobs that we think require brains more than bra are simply going to be taken up by computers, um, by ai, by machine learning. That's destruction and action. And there's, I think, the way I would think about it is, well, what do we do with the creation? Who enjoys the benefit of that creation? Look, I, I think we can all agree, take document review.

Document review is, is not cleaning bathrooms, right? There's worse

Brett: Right.

John Paul: but there's an element of drudgery to it. Uh, it's certainly not a glamorous role. It's not one anyone particularly enjoys. And I think that a lot of the questions to me around the revolution we're seeing with, again, AI machine learning is what does it free people up to do and how does it change the nature of capitalism?

So in respect to what does it free people up to do? Do you end up spending your time engage in work that is ultimately more meaningful, more soul satisfying, more significant? And in terms of the structure of capitalism, as you noted, does it create more opportunities, um, for, um, independent proprietors and, um, smaller partnerships to thrive?

Because a lot of the tools that you could only afford yourself if you were part of, again, some gigantic corporate entity, are now quite literally at your fingertips. Um, those to me are the two questions I really look at. And I, I don't know how things will shake out. I'm. You know, on the one hand, maybe I'm a little more pessimistic, that the kind of spoils of the creation will be distributed in a way that will free us up so that we can do work that's most pleasing to us.

But on the other hand, there might be a, a kind of positive expansion of gig work that will allow us individually and in smaller groups to kind of do the work that otherwise you needed economies of scale for. Um, I think the thing to emphasize is that, and this is again, an essential part of creative destruction, we're just talking about a tremendous amount of.

Uncertainty in a world that I think that for many of us seems a lot more uncertain than it did 20 or 30 years ago. And so the stakes seem higher than perhaps we might like them to

Brett: Right.

John Paul: But as is often the case with capitalism, we're kind of along for the ride and we have to see where things shake out.

Brett: Yeah, that's interesting. And it, it never moves as fast as it looks like it's going to. You're, you're absolutely right in that, you know, it's one thing that's also been interesting when I left, cause I did, man, I wanted management consulting at the end of my corporate career. Cause that's what everybody wants to do at that, that stage right?

Is, is fight those battles and doing it. But when I left, what I ended up doing was, you know, what it taught me is what my. Market value was worth, right. What they were billing me out for what I was actually taking home wasn't, um, I figured I could do that in myself and ended up just doing consulting when I left the corporate world.

But now that I've gotten it, gotten into it, you know, I, I had to. Piece not too long ago where I talked about like the high school cliques, right? We're starting to see a world of, you know, fractional workers, right? Not just the gig, and there's interim workers that that'll do it for a three month or a six month or nine month period.

There's the consultants that will come in on S O W based, and there's this whole ecosystem that's forming. Mostly, I would say small and mid-size businesses are leveraging it, right? Cause they couldn't afford to hire one of these folks or this experience, you know, at a full-time. But they're starting to leverage it part-time.

And so part of where I've been arguing or at least making the case that it, you know, we're gonna see. Companies start to look more like the, uh, movie studios, right? For Hollywood blockbusters, right? You got hair, you got makeup, you got script, you got stunt. Everybody comes together to put this thing, build this thing, and then everybody C goes their own ways.

And some may work together on a different project that it's gonna be more ecosystem esque than it would be what I would call the traditional hierarchy, or at least the ones that are gonna be successful. Um, We'll be able to leverage it. Now, part of that transition is be been in those big, bureaucratic, bureaucratic companies and, you know, it's hard to even manage employees, let alone building like an ecosystem.

Just support the, the growth of the business. So,

John Paul: the essay's most famous for his speculation that we will have reached such a degree of productivity and advancement that by 2030 we effectively will only need to work 15 hours a week, 2030, still a few years away. I, I, I'm not sure we're gonna get to, uh, the 15 hour work week, but I think the broader point about the ways in which capitalism will change. And now some of those changes will reflect an evolution, in our own aspirations. and that that evolution will be supported by the idea that we live in a world where. You know, as opposed to our great, great, great great grandparents, you know, who are, who, if they faced a, a difficult, a long, difficult winner, uh, could be subject to incredible famine.

Right? Uh, you know, we, part of the benefits of an affluent world is that it should free you up to, to make new and better decisions. And I certainly see that with. My students, many of whom, not all, but many of whom come from backgrounds of greater privilege, right? They grew up upper middle class or even wealthy.

And so, you know, they don't have the same kind of fears that maybe their grandparents or their great-grandparents did about making it. And what that means is that they're not focused exclusively. Or even primarily on their paychecks, but how do they kind of create a world of work that is meaningful and impactful to them?

And also, you know, the, the different qualities you were going through financially that supports them as well too. The tradeoffs for remain. We don't live in some kind of commercial utopia. But of course, if you're lucky enough, and obviously, uh, again, I'm dealing with a fairly privileged group at a place like the Booth School of Business, if you're lucky enough to be in that position.

Um, and certainly, you know, Brett, the, the, some of the folks that you've had a chance to speak with, people who have had a successful maybe 20 year run in corporate America. They've created for themselves the freedom and the opportunities to make new and different choices, which is very different from someone living paycheck to paycheck, or someone who's really fearful that if they went without work for just a couple of months, disaster would strike.

Again. That doesn't mean that you. Often don't have trade-offs you have to make when faced with those possibilities. But the trade-offs look very different in our modern world than they did again, uh, relative to what our great, great, great, great grandparents might have faced. Um, I know that, you know, for my, both my grandfathers and one of whom worked, For the auto company, the other of whom was a, a farmer, the kinds of career choices I've been able to countenance just would've shocked them and uh, and shocked them.

Brett: Yeah, I think that's so true. So true. Like I said, John Paul, I think I could talk to you for another hour. Cause we didn't, we didn't even get through some of the other stuff where you talk about the, you know, customers and, um, the rise of the activist capitalism. It just, it's just fascinating. So I highly, people like this episode highly encourage you to go check out his, uh, John Paul's content.

It's, it's, it's like I said, it's really interesting. Is, is there anything that we didn't cover that you think we, we should cover? Cause I do wanna be respectful of your time, John Paul.

John Paul: No, no. I think these are a lot of. Important topics and what I, what I appreciate about kind of the work that you're doing, Brett, is that I think that sometimes, and I think people who have been in corporate America for a while, by virtue of the wisdom that comes and perspective that comes with age are better at doing this.

But what I think you're reminding people of is that. You need to sometimes take a step back and reevaluate where you are. Right? There's, when I went to law school, uh, the dean of the law school said, you know, you basically said you're lucky enough to be at a place like, you know, law school. You can get off the treadmill and you can step back and take a look around.

I, I don't know how many of my peers necessarily did that, right? When you're young and ambitious, you want to turn the treadmill off and run even faster. But I think that it's really very important. Sometimes I try to communicate to my students in part because, you know, being now about 20 years older than they are in many cases, uh, I have that perspective that you can very easily when you're, uh, ambitious young person, start running and never stop to look around and, and never assess the direction you're going in, and suddenly you've burned up 20 years of life.

And, you know, I think it is one thing if you find yourself in a situation as, as frankly most people do in this world where your choices are fairly limited, and you really have to think about, how do I get that next paycheck because I'm, you know, one missed paycheck away from calamity. Uh, you know, most people are still in a position such as that.

But if you're fortunate enough to be the kind of student that I have or, or the people that you're lucky enough to talk to in a podcast like this, you can afford to step back, um, and look around. I'll often tell my students that the benefit of a successful career, or, you know, for them a booth education is that it's kind of like, uh, you know, you, you have.

This great insurance policy and you can avoid to take you, you can afford therefore to take some risks. And I say that if they fail to do that, it's a little bit like having a, you know, having buying a Ferrari and leaving it in the garage even though you've got this great insurance policy. Take the Ferrari out.

I mean, you may crash, that can happen, but that's why you have the insurance policy. And so I think kind of communicating to people that you can step back, you, you, you can think about new ways of working, um, new ways of exploring your own professional possibilities is important. Not because it's easy. It isn't.

Not because it isn't without risks. Of course, it's there are risks, but one of the benefits of success should be that you can take that step back. And again, you don't wanna be that character I was describing from Adam Smith's work who. Spends his entire life amassing capital and does so successfully and has earned a great deal and lost everything in the process.

And sometimes you have to nudge people to do that. You have to remind them that, you know. If they are running really fast in some direction, are they on a treadmill? Do they know where they're going or are they just running? Because if they stop, the rest of the world will, will push in. And so, you know, I think the, your own podcast and the work that you're clearly passionate about right now reminds people of that.

And I think it's a, I think it's a good reminder. Um, You know, to me, if capitalism doesn't open up these new ways of living, these new possibilities for work, if all it's really doing is making sure that we have food, shelter, and clothing, it's a little dreary. And, um, you know, the benefit of living. Among others in an affluent world is we have more agency, more freedom to make those decisions.

And sometimes, and I think about this in the classroom, clearly in your podcast you're doing that, you have to take a step back and wonder if the work that you're committed to is what you should be doing. And remind yourself that you can, you can afford probably to step away and take a chance.

Brett: it, because most of the time the the risk isn't that great. People think, well, I can't leave. Of corporate. It's like the tight rope between two skyscrapers and the fact is the tight rope is literally 12 inches off the ground. You can go back into the corporate world if you wanna, if it doesn't work.

But, um, yeah, just again, that, I think that was my biggest takeaways. Looking back over time was right. You have to, and again, I loved, you know, a good portion of my journey in the corporate. I learned a lot of work with some really good people, but then I look at. You know, it just got to a point where it was going through the motions a bit, right?

And life's too short to go through the motions, and you really, really have to enjoy the journey. Or as I tell people, you're going to be disappointed. You're gonna work really hard for this outcome, right? I wanna build this company and it, I want it to be a a billion dollars where you get. You build it, it's a billion dollars.

And now what? Right. I just missed 10 years of my life and I can't get that back. So, no, I, I like your, your idea of the reminder of take this step back, enjoy the journey. Um, there are options out there, so it's, uh, Yeah. Like I said, it's better late than ever in, in my case. And as I tell folks, you know, I don't plan on retiring, but I kind of wanna do the work I wanna do when I wanna do it, and Right.

I, I just think that we didn't even talk about retirement and what the future of that looks like. We'll save that for, for another episode

John Paul: Absolutely.

Brett: John Paul, what's the best, if folks wanna learn more, I'll definitely put some links to the, Articles that we discussed in the show notes, but what's the best way for for folks to connect with you if they want to learn more?

John Paul: Yeah, I'd, I'd say there are a few ways. Um, I, you know, I, I don't, uh, I have a, I have a pretty simple LinkedIn, but you could always connect with me there. Uh, you know, love to hear from people with respect to the essays you've been describing. Um, at the Chicago Booth Review, you can connect with them on LinkedIn or go to the Chicago Booth Reviews website.

as I said, I've written probably now about 30 essays for them kind of exploring these issues. So it's a good way to at least get a sense of, of what I'm thinking about. So those would be the good, uh, resources. The one thing we are beginning to do with the Chicago Booth Review is to convert those essays, um, into podcasts.

And so if you actually go to the LinkedIn page, you can, uh, find those. I find that people enjoy sometimes listening more than reading. Um, and so either way, uh, either through your eyes or your ears, uh, some of the ideas that I've been kind of thinking about can find their way to you. But, um, but those are great ways to connect.

And as I said, I always love hearing from people because it produces conversations like this, which for me are a lot of fun.

Brett: Yeah, no, I really enjoyed this. Like I said, you cover a little bit of everything. You got this psychology, you got the economist, you got a little bit of everything that just, you know, like I said, I always kind of re-embraced the, the learning mentality about four or five years ago. And so now it's, you know, anytime I can get somebody on that's gonna educate me and the audience about something I'm curious about, it's uh, it's a much easier way to go through life, I think.

John Paul: I, you know, obviously I'm deeply biased cuz I do teach at the university, but, um, but I certainly agree with you.

Brett: Awesome. Awesome. Well, John Paul, thank you so much for your time today. Really appreciate it. And, uh, we'll catch back up to you as these things start to, we'll, definitely before 2030, but.

John Paul: Yeah, exactly. We'll, we'll, uh, hopefully we'll be, we'll be on that 15 hour work week, uh, by that point, Brett, um, this has been a lot of fun. I really appreciate, uh, you inviting me and, uh, I'm excited, uh, to find a, find an opportunity before 2030 to join you

Brett: That'd be awesome. I appreciate it and definitely we'll look forward to your podcast too. You've got the voice for radio for sure, so we'll wait anxiously for that.