A very senior-level hedge-fund manager client of mine was recently bemoaning the fact that his super-smart Gen Y employees have an incredible knowledge of what’s happening in the financial world–how markets will respond to oil prices, who’s investing in what, etc. — but have much less knowledge of what’s happening outside that microcosm. He was also discouraged to find out that his twenty-something business majors couldn’t identify the Brandenburg Concerti and couldn’t answer his on-the-spot history quiz:
What play was Lincoln attending the night he was shot?
What did John Wilkes Booth say as he leapt to the stage?
Who was Andrew Johnson’s vice-president after Lincoln’s assassination? (OK, maybe the quiz is a bit narrow focused, but you get his point.)
Intrigued, I took an informal poll of some of my brainy twenty-something financial whiz-kid clients to see what they read each morning. It turns out that all of them check out Bloomberg, items on wsj.com and business blogs, and maybe the headlines on Google. No one admitted to reading an actual newspaper, which may be a lie since I always see some rifled-through sports pages on men’s room floors.
Anyway, here’s my advice to my financial world Gen Ys: Of course you have to know what’s happening in the markets; that’s your job. And I hope some day soon you’ll allow yourself to chill out and read a biography of Lincoln. But in the meantime, find ways to move beyond your comfort zone. Read a general interest magazine like The New Yorker and all of the Sunday New York Times. Without much effort you’ll be more well-rounded, which is not a bad thing.
Besides, what’s the worst that could happen? You may feel more comfortable talking to an old fogey boss or client about some concert you read about, and maybe he’ll be impressed that you know about his favorite piece of music –the Brandenburg Concertos, perhaps?–, and maybe he’ll invite you to some benefit concert, and maybe you’ll end up doing some kind of deal with him.
Or maybe not. But I guarantee it’ll be worth the effort.