This year I’ve been working steadily on my new book and sharing ideas with people who want to know about the technology revolution. And while it is true we are always learning while on the job, I feel like people in the information business need an off-season as much as professional sportspeople and musicians do. Problem is we don’t tend to plan for it on an annual basis as much as other ‘seasonal industries’ do. Which could lead us into a dangerous pattern of already knowing what we know, or at worst obsolescence through ignorance. The ironic thing is that this exact behaviour pattern is what is causing large corporations to be disrupted. They are so busy doing what they do, making what they make and utilising the assets they already own that they rarely go back to the well.
If you’re an entrepreneur or freelancer (like I am) then we need to ensure we don’t get so deep into our work wormhole that we ignore the world around us. Screens and offices are very dangerous places to watch the world from. It’s probably better to make, break and explore a few things outside of our work to ensure we keep our edge.
School taught me three really important things. It taught me to read, to write and to count. Pretty much that is where it ends. At University the process of being inside it taught me how to learn. While I’m being somewhat flippant, if I actually break it down and look hard at the subjects taken and the lessons learned, there wasn’t much outside of these things. In fact, I’d go as far as saying that everything important I know: Including how to make a living, and how to interact with other humans and my family, I taught myself. I owe all of what I learned to my family, my friends, observation and my self curated library.
Have you ever noticed that economics lessons in school, and University for that matter (I should know I majored in it) teach you about the economy as it pertains to the national and global version? Have you ever noticed that accounting and finance lessons in school, and in University for that matter, are focused on how the numbers work in running large corporations, not the corporation that is you and your personal finances.The system was set up by and for them. Not us. That’s why the majority of the happy people I know have taken personal vocations of learning to fill the void that schooling created. That’s why self help books sell so well.
In fact, most people know who to earn money – but very few actually know how to manage it. Most people know how to manage communication in a company setting – but few of us know who to manage our own personal lives so well. It’s not an accident, our education system was designed as part of the industrial revolution. In itself its primary purpose was to educate kids so that they could work well in the emerging industrial economy as employees. An interesting chart below is from Googles book scanning program – this ngram as they are known measure the frequency of any word appearing in books in percentage terms. I inserted the word ‘job’ and you’ll see that the word job, basically did not even exist until we were well inside the industrial period of living.
We’ve been indoctrinated for the first 21 years of our lives. At a time when our mind is so malleable, to be employees, more than humans. We got taught how to operate in the system, but they forgot to teach us about the human operating system. The good news is that this is changing. We now know that the human mind is far more malleable as we grow older than previously thought. We are also lucky enough to have a sub culture of innovators doing something about it.
Step Forward the School of Life.
The School of life is a new space in Melbourne which is a cafe, bookshop, classroom and community enterprise which endeavours to fill the gaps formal education inevitably creates. It’s a startup I can really appreciate. The brain child of global thought leader Alain de Botton. The moment you walk in you can feel what they are trying to do. You can sense the empathy and the humanity. The books they sell and the courses they teach provide lessons for humanity, as opposed to lessons for the economy. Maybe if our governments focused on the former, there’d be less problems with the latter.
I took a few pictures when I stopped in for a morning coffee.
The photos are telling. You can see everything from a list of courses which matter so much to us as people, to the little nudges and messages which request we challenge our own doctrine. I’m hoping this type of thing is the start of our community redefining what learning is for , but also redefining the type of learning that matters in the post industrial age of abundance.
If you happen to be in Melbourne, or any of these cities globally, then I think it’s worth the effort to pop in and say hello.
Famed musician Billy Joel needs little introduction. I find the back story of artists and musicians full of lessons for entrepreneurs – especially during the halcyon period of the music industrial complex circa 1950-1995. But today I read some things about Billy Joel which really inspired me:
Firstly, he didn’t finish high school because he took a gig playing in a piano bar at nights to support his single mother. At the end of the year he didn’t have enough credits to graduate:
The final irony is that he now has 6 honorary doctorate degrees from famous colleges.
The most outdated form of learning is memorising. Other than the ability to write and speak – it’s hard for me to see a future for memorising anything when I have access to the knowledge of the world, in real time, in my pocket.
So why do we still ask kids to memorise lists, States, Ex Presidents and the first 20 elements of the periodic table?
The really valuable part of computing power is the ability to process the data, the RAM. The hard drive (the storage) is less expensive and I’d say not as important. How often do we go into our files to find that presentation, spreadsheet or file from 2 years ago? – Almost never.
I think it’s a lot like our human brains, the real value is in problem solving, not rote memorising. Ironically personal computers seem to be moving back to the way they began – without the potential to store data locally. The data stored on our hard drive is quickly moving to the cloud and away from our computers. And it’s my contention that we should do the same thing with memorsing stuff and outsource that to the micro chip as well.
The of two important cultural phenomenons got me thinking about office culture again. The love of coffee and the love of the internet. Both have a massive stake in western world office culture. Most people engaged in anything from small to large companies have omnipresent access to both. But the perception of each is vastly different.
But as far as I can tell the following is true:
Coffee: If you are at the coffee machine, making a coffee or buying one at the local espresso house in the morning no one looks twice. In fact it is respected and expected, part of the culture. A simple coffee fix is fair play in an office environment. Regardless of the fact that it is during work hours.
Internet: If you are surfing the web (excluding facebook) and potentially reading an article within your industry scope it looks bad. People see it as avoiding work or wasting time. It’s evident that this belief exists by the number of ‘click outs’ people do as others walk by. When in reality, this is a vital part of being effective and up to date.
What they both point to is the importance of culture. Both the macro societal one and the internal one. I’m starting to believe that culture is at the apex of company output. And the culture we foster determine the people we attract and the output we create. One thing I know for sure, is that in a rapidly changing business landscape I’d rather have an informed set of staff working for me, than a set of robots who are operating on the punch clock paradigm.
I’ve recently happened upon a terrific documentary series from the 1970′s – which is up there with the best I’ve seen. It’s a series entitled Connections and was hosted by Science Historian James Burke.
In short the series is about the connections humans have been able to make with observations, science, mistakes and ideas. And how this has largely resulted in the civilized world we all enjoy today. While I’m sure all my readers like kinda nerdy stuff which this is, the reason I’m sharing it goes beyond that. This series is the greatest example I have seen of humans and our relationships with entrepreneurship. How our entrepreneurial nature has made us what we are. But the thing that really stuck in my mind was how technology is never about technology. It’s about discovery and putting all the pieces together in a new and interesting way. A timely reminder for the revolution we are living through right now.
You can watch the entire series here. Enjoy!
Was thinking about this laying in bed last night. The things we should never think twice about
spending investing money on.
Mainly because they make us and life better and they build on our entrepreneurial foundations. Here’s my top 10 list.
- Health Care
- Car maintenance
- Shouting a friend (Meal or a drink)
- Healthy Food
- Childrens well being
What’s on your list?
I’ve recently come to the conclusion that the most important thing I have ever not done, is my homework at school. Most of grade school and high school, I basically didn’t do my homework. I knew it was due the next day. I worried a little, but not enough to actually do it.
While other kids were doing their homework after school, I was out playing with the other kids, getting up to mischief. Riding my BMX, playing games (footy, cricket, building tree houses etc). I can home late, often. Mum would yell at me and I had to think of an excuse as to why I was late. I would have to provide at least some kind of creative response. Then after dinner I’d be too tired to do my homework. So I’d promise myself I’d get up early and do it in the morning. When morning arrived I’d be too tired to do it then either… In short the homework would rarely get done. Almost never. When I got to school, the same charade would occur. That is, me thinking of creative reasons why my homework was not getting done. Firstly to the teachers to try and avoid an after school detention. Again later, explaining to my mother why I ‘had’ an after school detention. In hindsight it was all a little stressful. Thinking on my feet for answer. Answers I didn’t have at such a young age, with little fast thinking experience.
Turns out this was a pretty good career move, or even ‘life skill’.
In the end, years of being naughty, taught me how to do something far more valuable than having high grades in senior school. It taught me how to think on my feet and how to present to an audience that wants answers. But it also did a lot more than that. Eventually it showed me how to read the play on different peoples reactions to bad news, that rules could be broken if you could sell an alternative.
It even goes a little deeper when I think it through….
I wasn’t just watching TV when I wasn’t doing said homework. I was out in the street playing. Building things with other kids. Under taking projects, playing games and interacting. Doing real things with real people. Operating in ‘live’ human environments, where the results, in this case the ‘fun’, was based on my ability to motivate other kids and organize them. All this, rather than spending my after school day light hours memorizing a bunch I’ve crap that someone had deemed it important for me to regurgitate in some test.
And now as the years have passed I’m reasonably certain that the key to any success I’ve had in life has been due to my ability to influence people. I’m also pretty sure that not doing my homework was where it all started.
I teach marketing part time at Melbourne University, and many students come and ask me about what they should do in their post graduate studies. I tell them that post graduate studies are useless unless you want to be an academic or scientist. So here’s a top 10 list of things to do instead of post graduate studies which will make you more learned, more employable and a better entrepreneur:
- Learn a language (Mandarin or Spanish would be my recommendation)
- Start a blog (on the area you want to be an expert in)
- Master the art of public speaking
- Make your home Eco friendly
- Mentor someone
- Read one non fiction book per month on a new topic
- Learn a musical instrument
- Learn to grow food
- Renovate something (car, dinning setting, local park, house, tree house, anhything that can be renovated)
- Do a part time startup business.
The reason suggestions are more valuable than post graduate studies is that they create wide perspective, most post graduate studies narrow perspective. We are entering the age of symphony, where the real value in life and business is created by our ability to make commercial music from seemingly unrelated topics and ideas. Broadening your horizons will make you a better conductor of the symphony, or at very least give you some very interesting stories to share with those you want to do projects with.
Add your better than more ‘formal’ studies idea in the comments.
With the exceptions of reading and writing, all of the most important things I know (and can do for that matter) have been 100% self taught.
Marketing, Public speaking, Entrepreneurship, Motivating others, Creative writing, Financial Investing, Surfing, Gardening / Growing vegetables, Weight training, Riding a bicycle…. everything.
I think the best way to learn is by paying attention and being curious. Which always leads me to observing others, reading and getting out there and having a go at things.
Observe, Read, Try. Repeat.
That’s it. I find that when the desire is there, the rest comes easy. Which is why I’ve always done much better at everything outside of my schooling. Things for which I had real desire. The unfortunate thing about this ingredient, is that it is removed from most of the development & selection programs in modern society. Instead, we say ‘Rote learn this’, then we might let you do something you care about. One great example is that Architecture University studies require physics as a prerequisite, and yet Architecture studies don’t involve physics, and architects never do the engineering function in building.
Startup blog advice: Don’t let a terrible system, reduce belief in your own capabilities. The stuff that kept you out, you didn’t really care about anyway. It was a rule built by someone else to protect themselves. If you forge ahead and teach yourself, the right people will notice. They will come searching for you because they understand not just the importance of what your know, but the value of how you went about learning it.