Monday, November 19, 2007

Email Exchange

With permission, I'm sharing an email exchange between Bob Compton, the Executive Producer of Two Million Minutes <> ; (here's a short trailer posted on YouTube:      which I highly recommend) and one of the two American students featured in the film, Neil Ahrendt, who's now a freshman at Perdue.  Bob has some great advice for him.  Here was my email to Neil:
I saw the movie and it reinforced what I've long believed: the Chinese and Indians (and eastern Europeans, etc.) are going to KICK OUR ASSES for the next century -- until they too become as rich, complacent and lazy as we are.
I'm not attacking you  -- you're clearly a smart, promising kid, surely in the\ top 10% of what our  nation produces.  But as you watch that movie, surely you can see the  VAST difference in hunger and drive between American students and their Chinese and Indian counterparts.  They are pushing the limits of their potential -- and you're not (and, again, you're in the top 10% of young Americans on this dimension).  Nor can one simply dismiss the Chinese and Indian students in the documentary with the stereotype that they're boring, one-dimensional geeks -- they're taking dance, music, etc., and I'll bet they know more about what's going on the world than 99% of young Americans.


Bob Compton:
The US high school boy in my film posted a VERY interesting reply to one of the ed blogs -

His name is Neil Ahrendt and he's a freshman at Purdue.
He had originally posted to the YouTube trailer the following: "This trailer somewhat makes me look unmotivated and lazy.  But... I am also somewhat unmotivated and lazy, so I guess that's to be expected.

I replied with:

As a venture capitalist and entrepreneur for 25 years, I'm pretty good at assessing talent. Honestly, you'd be my first hire in a new technology venture -- you have all the raw talent and intellectual horsepower. It appears you just haven't been inspired by school or other activities.

My hope is that Purdue will spark a fire in you -- or at least not dampen your interest in math, science and technology. You are a damn smart guy -- you need to get to Silicon Valley where exciting things are happening. I'm worried that Indiana will not challenge you sufficiently.

I'm grateful to all 6 students who participated in this film -- it took guts to just be yourselves. The good news for all 6 is being yourselves is pretty impressive. I think every one of you will be very successful.

For you, it just means getting fired up about something -- finding something that makes you want to work 20 hours a day to achieve it. You'll find it, is my bet.

Just to put your life in perspective - I was a "C" student in high school, scored poorly on the SAT, was a "B" student in a small liberal arts college.  Then I was hired at IBM and I got very inspired -- went to Harvard Business School, studied under the top professor on Entrepreneurship and have been inspired ever since.

I've started or co-founded several dozen companies, been president of a NYSE company and have made tens of millions of dollars (and lost millions in my share of bad ideas).

You just need to get out into the real world where you can create new ideas and make them into something exciting.  My money is on you in the long run. And if I can ever help you, in any way, just let me know.

Bob Compton, Executive Producer, Two Million Minutes

Neil’s reply:

Mr. Compton,

Thank you for responding so quickly, and I appreciate what you've said.  And I'm beginning to see my potential unravel here at Purdue; truth be told, I haven't really felt challenged yet, but I'm just in Freshman level introductory courses.

The line that struck me the most was: "You just need to get out into the real world where you can create new ideas and make them into something exciting," which is really all I ever want to do. With any luck, over the next few years I'll be able to learn the skills that will make that possible, and maybe even start creating new ideas while I'm here studying.

Being able to participate in the documentary was by far one of the best opportunities I've had in my educational career, and I hope I've been able to represent my school (and my country, I suppose) in the right manner. Perhaps the American school system isn't as robust as it should be, but should we be pushing our children to such extremes that they don't develop personalities? I don't believe the world needs more round-the-clock workhorses; we need more people with visions and ideas. And hopefully, that's where I come in.

So slowly but surely, this concept of 'the real world' is beginning to motivate me, and the possibility that I could begin to see my visions come to life is indeed inspiring. For now, there's schoolwork to attend to, and hopefully I'll be able to get some sleep in at some point (though that has increasingly become a minor concern, unfortunately).

I've read a little on your initial inspiration for this project, but if you don't mind me asking, how did it turn out compared to your original expectations? Or to start, what were your original expectations regarding the film? I'm curious about the initial intended message of the film, and if that's changed over time.

Once again, I appreciate having been involved in this, and am anxious to see what the national and global response to the documentary is.

Neil Ahrendt

Bob: And my TIME TO KICK HIM IN THE ASS reply:

We need to see your potential "unfurl" or "unfold" rather than "unravel" at Purdue. It's time to challenge yourself.
Here are my recommendations to you:
1- read Peter Drucker's book "Innovation and Entrepreneurship" and send me a one page report on what you learned
2- enroll as soon as possible in the "Salesmanship" class in the Ag school - trust me everyone needs to learn to sell.
3- read "Wired", "Fast Company" and "INC" magazine at the library - EVERY month. You should also subscribe to the Indianapolis Business Journal online feed -- I'm pretty sure it's free. Send me a monthly email telling what you read that was interesting.
4- go introduce yourself to the Dean at Krannert -- Rick Cosier  -- he's a friend of mine -- tell him I sent you.  Ask him about what is going on in Entrepreneurship at Purdue -- there is a LOT and you need to get in the mix.
5-Learn more about Purdue's Discovery Park.
6- start thinking NOW about what you want to do next summer -- you should find a software development internship in Indy -- I'll help you network but you need to fire up about it!
7- go to the following web sites and do some reading: <> <> <> <> <>
All are software companies in Indy in which I'm an investor.
Maybe we should think about you going to India for a couple weeks this summer, too. And/or China. They are both amazing.
Send me your mailing address and I'll send you my book on India.  And a copy of the film on Nov 16th when we release. Maybe you should organize a screening of Two Million Minutes at Purdue -- you organize and I'll fly in to speak.
I'm copying my publicist, Meg, on this email so you can coordinate with her.  She's recently graduated from IU, is utterly charming and very attractive -- I'm trying to find the motivation here, Neil. Work with me.
If you take my advice, play your cards right, ride the "celebrity" of starring in a documentary and get energized you'll have nothing but opportunity and excitement ahead of you.
PS - also attached are the movie posters we designed.
PPS - don't be so sure that the Indians and Chinese don't have personalities. I employ 100 programmers in Bangalore and have a couple dozen employees in China. I find them to be well-read, engaging, and interested in and able to knowledgeably discuss a wide variety of subjects. Oh yeah, they also are expert in math, engineering & science, but then, isn't everyone?
PPPS - want to know what the Indian kids’ response was to the screening of the rough cut in Bangalore a week ago?

Whitney -- you may want to contact Neil to learn more. He gets it!
Here was Bob's reply when I asked him "what the Indian kids response was to the screening of the rough cut in Bangalore a week ago":

  The Indian kids --  3 weeks ago in Bangalore, we screened to about 50 of Rohit's and Apoorva's high school and freshman college friends and family.

  The #1 question -- are the Chinese really studying that much more than we are (Indians see the USA as "customers" and China, Vietnam, Singapore, etc as economic competitors -- and China as the toughest competitor)

  The #2 question -- how do we get the same self-confidence that the Americans have? (Indians as a people are much more humble than Americans -- maybe partly due to Hindu faith, but also they had been dominated by the British for 300 hundred years. This will change in one generation, I believe).

 The #3 most asked question -- why do American parents push their children so hard in sports -- even to the point that several die every year in 2-a-day football practices in the summer. It seems so cruel and what is  
 the point of such sports pressure?

 The last point stands in stark contrast to what I heard at Harvard -- "Why do Indian and Chinese push their students so hard academically? It puts so much pressure and stress on them."

 Odd how the cultures are so opposite.

 One gentleman in the audience runs a chain of colleges in India and has asked if I'd come over to organize a curriculum on "Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Prudent Risk-Taking".   Indians just love to challenge
 themselves and to learn constantly!!


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