Is Knowledge All Powerful?

knowledge is power

It has often been said that knowledge is power, and for good reason.

Knowledge can enable us to improve, protect, help, or hurt, and which of these we choose can decide the meaning in our lives.

The question is, though, is knowing actionable or is it just the first step to more knowing, and do those steps lead to effective results? In short, is there a disconnect between learning and doing?

I’ll give you a real life example. One of my very good friends with a Ph.D. and two Masters degrees decided he wanted to learn to code at the same time as my co-founder a year and a half ago. This is a brilliant guy. He came in to my office with a whole stack of books explaining how it works, and today, he knows all about it. He has a very good understanding and he can answer questions for you.

However, he hasn’t built anything. He’s tried and it hasn’t gone so well. He “knows” all about it, he’s studied it, but he can’t “do” it. (My theory is the fact that he was taught “not to get the answer wrong” is the impediment.) Meanwhile, my co-founder screws up stuff left and right then fixes it and makes it work, and I’ll be damned if she isn’t starting to get good at this. Do you see my point?

Our learning structures weren’t traditionally built to learn from getting the answer wrong, but instead to get the answer right at any cost. (More on this from Sir Ken Robinson.) Unfortunately, the accelerated environment that we now find ourselves in doesn’t lend itself well to the fear of wrong answers.

As those in the world of startup ventures know, you have to gravitate toward trying stuff out and failing, and then learn quickly in order to iterate. Being scared to get the answer wrong adds too much time to this equation. I’ve struggled with this issue myself, but even Steve Jobs, as picky as he was about getting every product right, stressed not being afraid to ship and take risks or make mistakes, because that’s the only way you really learn.  Much like natural selection, in order to evolve, ideas need to become mistakes just like animals need to die.

The point is that going forward, there may need to be more emphasis on getting people to learn coping and adapting skills to help close the knowing/doing gap.

My conclusion? Perhaps the real answer is this:

All knowledge is potentially all powerful, but it depends on what you do with it.

Go forth learners, and don’t be afraid to change the world.


See Me Speak - SXSWi

Higher Education: To Get a Job or Create a Job?

Frustrated College Student

Photo Credit: Sybren Stüvel

We’ve all seen the writing on the wall. Over 80% of college students think they’re going to college to get a job,

yet over 50% come out and find themselves either unemployed or under-employed (ie: working at Starbucks). What’s going wrong?

Well for starters, plenty.   The world has changed drastically and very quickly, and as is often the case, the largest industries and systems (like Health and Education) are still catching up with these changes. The disruption of every sector means jobs and skill sets are now in a constant state of flux.

Learning is now 24/7, and extends way beyond the years of a formal education, and roughly one third of the US workforce are now freelancers. In addition, careers rarely mean staying with the same employer. Add to the mix the fact that technology is poised to replace up to half of the U.S. workforce in the next decade, and it’s no small wonder that huge systems like education have a lot to catch up with.

While transforming education to meet our current needs may be a more complex subject than first meets the eye, I would offer one suggestion. Rather than training students solely to think about getting a job upon graduation, how about including mandatory intensive courses in higher education to help enable students to create their own jobs?

There are many advantages to fostering and creating a culture of self-reliance, and it may be time to rethink the purpose of higher education and focus on making students more agile. For instance, I would envision marketing 101 to be a requirement for any future part-time or full-time path—including the arts.

While there are a few small project-based entrepreneurial programs now beginning to pop up in universities here and there, many students are now looking outside of higher ed for this kind of experiential training. One of the best examples of this (and perhaps the most ironic) is Startup Weekend Education, a 54 hour event that takes place in over 70 cities worldwide, where people get together to form teams and create products and services to improve education.

In our hometown of Houston, this event is now scheduled and we are openly calling on college students, teachers, designers, entrepreneurs, parents, developers, and anyone who wants to contribute their ideas and skills to find innovative solutions. The participants work together to design for learning, conduct user tests, receive coaching from experienced education designers & industry professionals, and win prizes to help take their ideas to the next level.

The Startup Weekend Education events are spawned by Education Entrepreneurs which is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and UpGlobal, brought forth by Google for Entrepreneurs and the Kaufman Foundation.

Events like Startup Weekend Education are not just good training in entrepreneurialism for participants, they also offer a deeper opportunity for the community to come together and an opportunity for teachers to further define our purpose as educators.

My hope is that events like Startup Weekend Education will open the door to discussing the benefits of creating a student culture based on entrepreneurialism and how that directly relates to peer and project-based learning, in addition to how a culture of peer learning and personal learning networks can help to kickstart an entrepreneurial ecosystem.

At the end of the day, the unique value of Startup Weekend Education is that by participating, you’re learning the stuff you can’t learn in school. Ironically, learning that “stuff” might just help us change that very fact.


See Me Speak - SXSWi

A recording of my SXSW Interactive panel session “Higher Education: To Get a Job or Create a Job?” from March 2015 can be viewed here:

Higher Education Models for Survival

In my last blog, I talked about some of the challenges higher education institutions face to be sustainable. Of course no one has all the answers, but I think it’s important to start asking questions and begin thinking about some of these things.  I keep hearing the face of education is changing, but will the consequences be disastrous for American Universities? If so, how will that affect the rest of us, and will it change what learning means?  Will those universities that make it through the next decade do so by engaging new and potential students in new ways?  Is it true that kids will need more convincing of the advantages when departing from their money and taking on new debt becomes a harder sell?  (Is it true that I ask too many questions?)

By the way, for anyone who thinks I am spreading unnecessary gloom & doom about the state of higher education financials (or watering it down), here is a more emphatic economic viewpoint here:  colleges that will be screwed when the student loan bubble pops, and for an extreme student perspective, try

Meanwhile, I am going to jot down some thoughts about some of the major changes already taking place in response to the pressures burdening higher education. Some examples to explore are: free courses, grassroots education, and online universities. Additionally, I will mention a few other things that universities are doing to adapt, overcome, and survive.

Is it Socialism, or a Techno-Cultural Revolution?

So why should a fresh high school graduate go into debt when they can take free high level courses offered by high profile universities like MIT, Oxford, and Berkley? Why should they struggle to stay awake in endless lectures when they can take the class on their own terms? One answer might be for the credentials, but here are two key facts:

  • The perception of a college diploma has done a complete one-eighty in the minds of some in the millennial generation from their grandparent’s day. Universities have to shift their focus and what they have to offer, or they may wither on the vine of progression.
  • To make things even more competitive for universities, online colleges are gaining momentum, and credibility. They come at a fraction of the price, although as of yet there is still no legislation to protect students from predatory private loan lending. They do seem to be  effective for some applications, even though all the trimmings have been shaved away.

No dorms, no sports, no walking to and from class. They’ve got archived classes, live and interactive classes through webinars, 24/7 tech, and possibly tutoring support, as well as virtual advising. An education in the palm of your hand?  Perhaps, if you can tune out everything else around you and pay attention.

The direction that education is going with ebooks, mobile technology, and virtual reality is providing some interesting options as education is being organically socialized through technology.

Traditional Education Plays Along

If students do opt to pay for a university, who will they choose and why? Before answering this rhetorical question, I want to mention a simple truth I just came across that I found interesting.  I was previously unaware of this.  Apparently, statistics show the male participation rate in the workforce is at an all time low in America, while the ladies are enjoying their highest participation rate in US history. Male dominated industrialism is fading away, and there isn’t enough money floating around the service sector. Where have these guys got to turn?

In the last few days, the world has seen unprecedented riots in both Spain and Greece in response to basically one thing: unemployment. They’ve got millions of millennials with no job prospects. If any of them have access to a university, they may choose the one that convinces them it can maximize the value of their education, while minimizing investment risk and overall costs.

What Colleges Are Offering

  • Collaborative Social Value
  • High Job Placement Rates
  • Educations that Follow Industry Trends
  • Social Media Access and Integration

Many people may want jobs, but most desire full-fledged careers and they’ll likely pick the establishments that can prove they’ll deliver. To add to the scrutiny they face from students, cash strapped state and federal accreditation agencies are coming down hard as well.

With low job placement rates, colleges could lose a big part of the whole can of worms. They can have their accreditation stripped away, the ability to offer financial aid taken away, or have their doors shuttered for good. Social Darwinism seems to be taking over the educational system, and high income success rates are an important niche available to exploit.

In response, companies like Mach Interview are springing up to assist universities with higher job placement rates. Through consultation and determined methodologies, they are helping them turn things around using things like:

  • Online Career Profiles & Portfolios for Students
  • Special Niche/Industry Specific Software
  • Interactive Job Placement Curriculums
  • Working and Networking Directly with Recruiters during school.

As far as national trends go, for women the biggest push in the last four or five years has been the medical and nursing field. For better or worse, Healthcare in general in response to the aging boomer generation has manifested all kinds of localized small universities like Devry that try to cater especially to them.

For men (also for better or worse), the workforce seems to be going virtual. Our advertising tells men to join the military, learn a specific craft, or get behind a computer screen. Getting a degree in History, Literature, or General Studies isn’t pushed as hard anymore. If they choose to enter a university to pursue fields within the math and science categories, it is assumed they want curriculum tailored for a certain career path.

Where the Learning Curve Ends

Globalism, automation, nanotechnology, and virtual intelligence are changing what it means to be educated. This is happening as the collapse of old systems causes a reorganizing of the perception of work and education. Many things can be self taught or taught through peer to peer learning, universities are becoming more like clubs with social networking streams, and grassroots education is picking up steam. People are simply coming together and teaching one another. They are buying and selling quasi black market educations amidst a jobless recovery and a cashless society.

“Why pay for a class when you can download an extensive ebook independently published for free by a laid off professor on any subject for as little as a dollar?”

Plenty of universities will undoubtedly survive and live on. They will adapt to trends, make job placement rates a priority, and market the success stories that emanate from the social interaction that only comes from learning together on a campus. This is fair, and children and parents will always admire a classroom education and credentials, but will that mean the same thing as it once did?  Perhaps more importantly, should it?