Jacob S. Rasch
Walt Whitman High School
11th Grade
Bethesda, MD
Grand Prize Winner &
Maryland – 1st Place Winner

All I Really Need to Know About Business, I Learned in High School

    Try editing a business plan down to only 140 characters and posting it on Twitter. Imagine communicating thoughts, ideas, and concepts at the speed of light instantly across the globe. Picture collaborating with virtual friends in Vermont or Armenia. Visualize using geolocation to find out where the next party might be, or the next big event. These are things that Washington area teens do naturally. They use social networking sites to connect with friends, get their grades on Edline, do their research on Wikipedia, post pictures on Flickr, and research and write their term papers in the cloud. 

    We are not only a wired generation, but a wireless one. We are mobile, portable, and expanding. We don’t go out to “get” the paper – the paper “gets” us. It is no surprise that multi-billion dollar companies like Facebook, Google and Twitter were created by people just out of their teens – using ideas that these founders came up with while still in their teens. 

    Young Washingtonians are connected to each other and to the world in ways that their parents could not imagine. Older Washingtonians had televisions, movies, books, newspapers and magazines; my generation has all these and more. We have blogs, RSS feeds, twitter updates, postings, SMS messages, IM’s, YouTube, and hundreds of thousands of information sources. We are connected to the Sorbonne and the sorbet store with the same technology. We gather, analyze, and disseminate information at Internet speed. What used to require a trip to the local library and hours of research may now be accomplished with a few keystrokes. 

    Robert Kennedy, in his bid to become the youngest elected president, famously paraphrased George Bernard Shaw saying, “Some men see things as they are and say why? I dream things that never were and say why not?”i Why not start a new company? Why not try a new way to deliver services? Why not use new technologies to connect with customers? Why not develop new products, new services, and new technologies? Web technologies reduce the barriers to market entry. A twelve year old can write an iPhone “app” at little or no cost, and have the basics of a company in place before dinner. We couple naïveté with vision; entrepreneurship with knowledge of technology. With less at risk, we are more willing to take risks. 

    So what can Washington businesses learn from area students? Plenty. Businesses can learn about trends – in technology, in social media, in human interaction. Companies can learn about teen fashion, movies, culture. But they can also learn about how teenage early adopters are taking the technologies and adapting and extending them. How to predict the next big thing. 

    Sure, DC area businesses can use high schoolers’ knowledge to help them sell to high schoolers. They always could. In the 50’s, teenagers knew what was “hep.” In the 60’s, they could educate others on what was “groovy.” In the 70’s, the high school students knew what was “rad,” and in the 80’s, what was “cool.” 

    More than any generation in history, my generation understands the infrastructure of modern business success, particularly in the nation’s capital. I don’t mean finance, or credit default swaps, or mortgage backed securities. I mean the technology and use of technology that underpins the next generation of cool stuff. How to sell not only to teens but to everyone using web-based and mobile based technologies. How geolocation can be used to get customers’ attention. How to use new media to spruce up a restaurant menu, facilitate sales at the hardware store. How to get noticed. We don’t write ad copy. We write web pages. Advertising is no longer what it was as reflected in TV shows like “Mad Men.” It is dynamic, diverse, multimedia and interactive. Times and styles change, and my age group understands the web-centric, data-centric, and media-centric demands of twenty-first century marketing – both as developers and consumers. 

    High school students traditionally have taken entry-level jobs to “learn the ropes” of business – and they will continue to do so. More than ever, when they do so, learning will be a two way street. We have much to learn – but we have much to teach. 

    In the 1988 movie Big, Tom Hank’s character Josh Baskin is a pre-teen who gets a job designing toys at a large company in New York.ii Josh is successful because he knows what kids want, (and what they don’t) and because he hasn’t yet learned how to fail. We have not yet learned how to fail. 

    It has been said that we are cynical and jaded. And if it were so, it would be understandable. We could have become cynical because of the constant barrage of lies we hear from politicians, and jaded from the destruction and tragedy we hear about on the news. But instead of giving up hope, the adversity we face makes us stronger. We see the faults of others on the news, and we realize that we can be the ones to correct these faults. We see a problem on television, or on the blogosphere, or on Facebook, and realize we have the tools to make things better. We realize that in the era of Web 2.0, anyone can make a lasting impact on the world. In the face of cynicism and doubt, instead of giving up, we have become more motivated than ever. The message for DC area businesses is to tap that inner vein of optimism. 

    In business, much attention is paid to going “outside the box.” Teens don’t just go outside the box; they are unaware that a box exists in the first place. When Matt Mullenweg was 19, he created and deployed open source blogging software online, because nobody told him he couldn’t. The software he developed, WorldPress is used by most bloggers world wide. At age 17, Kristopher Tate created the online photo sharing service Zoomr. Carl Churchill started the $100 million company DMC Internet when he was only 15.iii Mark Zuckerberg was just out of his teens when he created Facebook. It was not just knowledge of new technology that helped them succeed. It was the fact that nobody told them “how” to do something, so they had no roadmap. They created their own. This “outside the box” mindset can help area businesses succeed in what they are doing now, and expand into ventures they never before considered. 

    Robert Fulghum’s essay, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten,” expressed the idea that the most important life lessons were the simplest.iv Values like sharing, playing nicely with others, and picking up your toys carry forward into later life. For me, “All I Really Need to Know about Business I Learned in High School.” Skills like how to avoid being bullied, how to fit in when it is appropriate, how to work with teachers and authority figures, how to be one of the “cool kids” (even if you’re not), how to manage your time when taking a half dozen AP classes and participating in sports (and still managing to have a social life) translate from the schoolyard to the modern office. “Show up on time.” “Work as a group.” “Don’t cheat.” “Study hard.” These are all values learned or emphasized in high school that could carry forward into the DC world of politics, law, government and business. And it’s still important to pick up your toys! 

    High school teaches that those who have the ability to give should give back to the community. Most DC area high school students – at least those in Montgomery County – are required to do some kind of community service. In Montgomery County, this is called “Student Service Learning” or SSL. While some try to avoid it, and others strive to do the bare minimum, a large number take the SSL program as a challenge to help serve the community by, for example, working at local homeless shelters and food banks, helping to rebuild homes devastated by natural disasters, and participating in internship programs on Capitol Hill. As high schoolers, we stand on the shoulders of giants, and we owe a duty to give back. Through our volunteer efforts, we can serve as an inspiration to the DC business community. 

    Work hard. Play nice. Stay connected. Inspire and be inspired. Always be in awe. Recognize limitations and exceed them. Take risks and embrace new technologies. With your knowledge of business and our knowledge of technology, we are unstoppable. Now, about that summer job... 

  1. George Bernard Shaw, Back to Methuselah, Act I, Scene i, quoted by Edward Kennedy - Eulogy For Robert F Kennedy, June 8, 1968.
  2. http://www.script-o-rama.com/movie_scripts/b/big-script-transcript-tom-hanks.html
  3. Stansberry, Glen. "10 Awesome Companies Built by Teens : Innovation :: American Express OPEN Forum." OPEN Forum :: American Express OPEN Forum. 23 Apr. 2010. Web. 26 Sept. 2010. http://www.openforum.com/idea-hub/topics/innovation/article/10-awesome-companies-built-by-teens-glen-stansberry.
  4. Fulghum, Robert. All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. New York: Ballantine, 2004. Print.