Meritocracy: how to fix the problems

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

What is this world coming to when we cannot believe in a greater good, a reason for working hard, doing the right thing?  Is there no such thing as meritocracy?

I wanted to share my thoughts on the recent news about the college scandal.

“I can make scores happen, and nobody on the planet can get scores to happen. She won’t even know that it happened. It will happen as though, she will think that she’s really super smart, and she got lucky on a test, and you got a score now.”


This is a direct quote from the recent FBI sting Operation Varsity Blues which you undoubtedly heard about last week.  It’s so sad to me that children were led to believe in abilities they didn’t have through fraud and deception.  There’s a lot of therapy sessions ahead!


This scandal has led many to say that we should give up the idea of a meritocracy.  But I disagree. Sure, there will always be side doors, nepotism and corruption, but the problem  is that we’ve been measuring merit with the wrong unit.

It’s not about intelligence, but integrity.

It’s not how smart you are now that will show  how capable you will be as a leader and contributor to society.  That’s what’s so wrong.

Because my son Alejandro has begun exploring colleges he will apply to next year, this scandal hits home.


As most immigrants, we believed in a meritocracy…

Growing up in my immigrant Asian family, I am well aware of the pressure placed on kids by tiger parents pushing them to score higher than anyone else.  he existing system uses a “smoke and mirrors misdirection” with test scores to determine whether they open the ivy-covered gates, and it’s those gates that will give us the ticket to living in the ruling class for life.


In my wide-angled polymath career, I’ve done many things.  In one of my roles, I was a creative director for advertising.  This was like reaching the golden ring – a high paying corporate job with one of the largest companies in the world and a team to execute my brilliant ideas.

But within months, I was sick to my stomach everyday.  I ached from the misalignment in values.  The incongruence.

I was surrounded by super smart, high achievers who had no qualms with doing whatever the client wanted.  There was no one asking,  “Is this the right thing to do?”  I was nauseous for months.

And yet, all of these people went to top schools with top grades and were deciding the fate of our consumer choices.  Their mantra was “whatever it takes”  or “By any means necessary”.

I’m not saying the world is in a terrible place.

It’s not.  If you read anything by Steven Pinker, you’ll see the statistical evidence to show that we are living in the best of times by every measure  (with exception of civility.)


What if we could instead measure merit in a new way?

What if we could design a test that gave us indications of kindness, willingness to help others and problem solving grit?


Just imagine the possibilities.

We certainly would have a very different congress and commander in chief.


Here’s some suggestions:

  • Stop watching the news.  News uses the proven psychological phenomenon of human attention being drawn to tragedy, horror and bad things.  It’s our self-preservation kicking in from our amygdalae.  Just scan the headlines and don’t wallow in the misery.
  • Have faith.  In a world that could be considered “Glass half empty or glass half full” it’s the latter.  Or maybe 3/4 full!

Here’s a chart Bill Gates recently tweeted.

I suggest we start measuring what matters:

  • Kindness
  • Contribution
  • Service to others
  • Meaning of your actions, life, words
  • Problem solving
  • Civility

In other words, character.

And don’t just sign up your kids for activities that will make them look better to admissions directors.  Give them character building activities that align with their interests, curiosities, and passions.  This will lead them to discovering their path in life.  What if those implicated in the scandal had just directed their energies to actually taking dance, sports or music lessons?


I’ll leave you with this quote from Martin Luther King.

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

Let’s make a Meritocracy of Character.

There are no shortcuts to character.

Please feel free to share this with your friends.

By Andrew Ingkavet

Andrew Ingkavet sparks wonder, creativity and growth through music as an educator, author and entrepreneur. Insatiably curious - a polymath with a love of travel, food, and ideas, he uses music to lead us back to our unique authentic selves. Let your truth song resound! Break free of ignorance! Let your inner lion roar!

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