Meritocracy of busy people

Last month, The Atlantic’s Megan McArdle published a piece on elite recruiting. The gist of her article, was looking at how early elite institutions accelerate careers–top consulting firms and banks receive massive numbers of applicants, and they use other elite institutions (primarily universities) as a filter for basically smart candidates.

Megan adroitly noted that:

The hardest thing about the meritocracy’s tyranny is that they’re not necessarily doing it on purpose.  It’s just a convenient shorthand for a group of people who are really busy.
 A fair assessment, from anyone I knew at McKinsey.
I find this assessment particularly interesting as a Swarthmore alum, as the Swarthmore and McKinsey networks don’t overlap much:
This is a great chart from LinkedIn’s inMaps tool, showing my network. The vast blob on the left are most of my Swarthmore contacts, spread out over the years. To the right, McKinsey. I’m regularly struck at how little interaction there is between those two worlds, and it reinforces Swarthmore’s reputation for PhDs and non-profits.
But I wonder what this means in the long-term for Swarthmore, if the divide remains. It probably means relatively smaller alumni donations. It probably means an increasingly strong academic reputation because, if nothing else, it is in the interest of Swarthmore alumni in academia to perpetuate the reputation. And it also means that a lot of really interesting, smart, people are cut off from each other.


I’m a senior product manager for OpenTable’s consumer products. I focus on major features, including our loyalty program, diner profiles, social integrations, and new business exploration.