Tagged: play

My Kid Learned More from Mario Maker than I Did from a Marketing Major

Mario Maker teaches marketing
Image courtesy my iPhone. Weird mustache courtesy Nintendo.

I’m not kidding.  I just watched my kid grasp basic marketing truths that took me years in the professional world to get. (I might be a bit daft, but that’s another story).

I didn’t end up graduating with a major in marketing, but it was my major for several semesters of useless university.  The only things I remember from those classes are the words “target market” with no real context.

That’s just it.  I needed a lived context.

So my son builds these levels on the WiiU game Mario Maker.  He’s posted some of his favorites to the network so others can play them and, if they like them, give them a star.  He checked in the other night only to find two of his favorite creations had been removed from the network because they did not get enough stars in a given time span.

Here comes the pain.  And the learning.

I watched him go through all the stages of grief.  “That can’t be right?!”…”How dare they!!”…”Maybe if I tweak it and change the name I can re-upload it?”…”It’s hopeless.  What’s the point of building levels”…and finally, after a long grieving process lasting almost minutes, acceptance.

Unaware of how enthralled I was with watching this unfold (because I pretended to still be reading) he repeated the entire situation to me, making a point to vent his frustration because of how hard he worked.

“The worst part is, that’s the level I worked on the longest and it was my favorite!  Some of my other levels are just silly and were easy to build, and they have more stars than this one.  I wonder why?”

Big Important Marketing Lesson #1: The labor theory is bunk

Karl Marx and a lot of other confused social scientists with bad beards (Adam Smith gets a pass on this one…no beard) like to claim that value is derived from the cost of production – the amount and difficulty of the labor that goes into it.  This is clearly false, and my son now knows it.

Even if you know this from a (rare) good economics teacher, you probably don’t really know it in your gut and know how to plan around it until you’ve experienced it.  Some of my favorite, most labor intensive blog posts get no love, while some silly Haiku I tap into my phone in a few seconds might get…well, a little more love at least (I guess my example isn’t that dramatic after all, since my readership isn’t that huge…Hi mom!).

This is an important lesson.  Sure, content is king.  Yes, build a better mousetrap.  The problem is that what you think great content and better mousetraps look like mightn’t be the same as what customers think.

There are two potential solutions: the product solution and the marketing solution (best used in tandem).  The product solution is to learn from what people do like and make products more like that.  The marketing solution is to learn what feelings people want to experience when using your product and do a better job of attaching those feelings to it, finding the niche of people who will “get it”, and getting the word out to them.

My son, a very stubborn and independent creative type not keen on compromising his design, immediately went with the marketing solution.

Big Important Marketing Lesson #2: 1,000 true fans, social proof, list building…

This is really a lot of lessons piled into one, but it all happened so fast it was like a single epiphany for my son.  It took me a long time to understand the value of building a “tribe” of loyal fans or customers (Hi mom!).  It took me a long time to see the value of capturing leads, doing personal one-on-one outreach to influencers and early adopters, and touting the real stories of happy customers to help draw in the more risk-averse with social proof.

My son had the epiphany less than ten minutes after his teary explosions during the second and fourth stages of grief.  Here’s how it went down.

He jumped onto some sort of chatroom type thing in the game and posted a question asking if anyone else had been frustrated by having a level removed for too few stars.  In minutes he was conversing with three or four others.  He checked out their profiles and levels.  He followed them.  They followed him.  Then they somehow came up with an agreement.  They would give each other the name of their newest levels and all play each others and give them a star, ensuring three quick stars, pushing it nearer the top of the newly added levels, raising the profile and keeping it from getting removed.

It was late and I was going to bed.  He doesn’t like to be the last one up, so he begged me to wait a few minutes while he dutifully played and starred some of their levels.  He double checked and verified that his new coalition had done the same for him.

Damn.

He went out and talked with people, built a tribe around a shared frustration, collaborated to find a solution, and engaged in what MBA douchebags might call “synergistic strategic partnerships” (I don’t know if MBA’s would actually say that, but I imagine they would and this is my article).  He added them to his followers so that there could be accountability, followup, and future collaboration.

As a dad one of my solemn duties is to always think my kid too quickly plays the victim and doesn’t take things into his own hands.  It’s the kind of self-righteous worry a parent feels entitled to.  Except this time he robbed me of the opportunity to start waxing about how in my day we had to pick ourselves up by our bootstraps and mustached plumbers didn’t get any stars from anybody.

After a brief moment of feeling a victim of the system and being angry with idiot consumers who don’t appreciate good product, he saw his frustration as an opportunity.  Surely someone else felt the same?  Surely there was a way to work around it?  And he did.

He realized that intentions don’t matter, value creation does.  But value creation is not just in the product, but the feeling people have about it, the reasons they have to care, the connection you build with them.  Now even before building a level he preps his loyal allies to reduce the risk and boost the ratings when it is released to the network.  This is what authors do with their emails lists (sign up for mine here, I have another book coming out and you can be one of the early reviewers…you too mom!).

Teachers Aren’t Very Good Teachers

My kid isn’t some kind of special genius.  The world we live in is the most resource, information, and opportunity rich in human history.  If kids freely engage the world and follow their curiosity and intrinsic goals they will encounter a more diverse range of ideas and experiences than we can imagine.  When I try to directly teach my kids this stuff they scoff or sigh or roll their eyes or play dead hoping I’ll go for help so they can finally escape my words of wisdom.

In fact, unless we actively work to suppress it our kids urge to learn, experiment, innovate, create, and adapt will blossom.  That suppression often takes well-meaning forms like direct, mandated instruction from adult “experts” who know almost nothing about Mario Maker or other contexts kids actually care about.  It takes the form of classrooms and textbooks and tests and pressure to careerify interests.  It takes the form of parental worry that if their kid doesn’t learn the same bunch of arbitrary, mostly useless facts they were forced to memorize at the same age they did everything will fall apart and society will crumble.

Relax.  Your kid is going to be fine.  Even if they play a lot of video games.

…………………………………………………………….

Here are a few other examples of learning by doing from my own life:

Why LEGO is more valuable than algebra

How my son learned to read when we stopped trying to teach him

Try Before You Certify

Most of the time most people get it backwards.

They spend tons of time and money trying to learn about or get certified in something before ever really trying it.  You can’t know what you enjoy, what you’re good at, or whether it even needs study unless and until you go out and play around with it.  Experiment.

Get out of the permission-based, credentialed classroom mindset, and go try some stuff out.

 

Four Visions of the World: Constrained, Unconstrained, Stasist, Dynamist

About half a dozen years ago, I read two books in succession that I did not expect to have much to do with each other.  They both proposed intriguing dichotomies.  These dichotomies cut up the world differently, but I began to see interesting ways they could be layered on top of each other.

The books were The Future and Its Enemies, by Virginia Postrel, and A Conflict of Visions, by Thomas Sowell.

Both books are phenomenal and I highly recommend them.  Let me briefly describe the central dichotomy presented in each.

Stasists vs. Dynamists

Postrel defines two outlooks on human life and society, static and dynamic.

The stasist fears and resists change.  They wish to preserve things as they are, or possibly even return to an imagined glorious past.  Every change, whether social, technological, or environmental, is bemoaned as the harbinger of all manner of moral and civil decay.

It’s an obvious mindset to spot in many conservatives, exemplified in William F. Buckley’s mission statement for National Review, to “[S]tand athwart history, yelling Stop”, but it doesn’t just describe conservatives.  A great many modern liberals fall into this category as well.  Environmentalists who fear invasive species or believe any changes to any ecosystems are always bad, unionists who want to set work arrangements and productions methods in stone, or social justice advocates who wish to maintain certain ratios in material wealth between people.

The dynamist embraces change and does not fear it.  This includes fans of free markets, free speech, and economic growth, techno optimists and pioneers.  Dynamists are, by nature, less organized but also more prone to have a big impact on the world individually.  Again, it cuts through simplistic left/right political paradigms and includes some liberals who want mores to evolve and some conservatives who want industry to do the same.

Constrained vs. Unconstrained

Sowell has a different dichotomy.  It’s a bit more subtle, but like Postrel’s, it does not fit into left/right political rhetoric neatly.  He defines two visions of the world and humanity, constrained and unconstrained.

Those with a constrained vision see certain physical, moral, or spiritual realities as unchangeable.  Scarcity, self-interest, human fallibility, and evil.  This doesn’t make the constrained vision a pessimistic one, but simply, to quote the great economist Peter Boettke, “Puts parameters on utopias.”  You can improve the world only by first understanding the fundamental laws of both material and human nature.  You can’t achieve flight by wishing away gravity or achieve human harmony by wishing away greed.  The constrained visionary realizes these parameters and innovates in ways consistent with them.  Smith’s Invisible Hand and Hayek’s Spontaneous Order are fundamentally constrained concepts, as they accept human avarice and limits to knowledge and describe social orders that turn all that imperfection into progress.

Those with an unconstrained vision see everything as perfectible.  We can eliminate scarcity (this is very different than simply “have an abundance of stuff”, as it assumes time and choice can also be eliminated), we can remake man into a perfect version, we can stop playing by old stuffy rules and simply rebuild a society without greed.  If humans are flawed we can remake humans, instead of forming social orders that work around the flaws.  We don’t need institutions that channel bad desires to good outcomes, we simply need to remove bad desires.

Both conservatives and liberals alike throughout history have had both visions.  Individualists and collectivists are not neatly plotted into one or the other.  Jefferson had a more unconstrained vision, along with the French Revolutionaries and many early anarchist and socialist revolutionaries.  Modern anarcho-capitalists and Burkean conservatives alike share a constrained vision.

Let’s add them together and see what we get…

Yay, time for a 2×2 matrix!  Don’t take this too seriously.  It’s been a while since I read these books and I’m playing around with this ideas rather loosely and humbly, so don’t get caught up on specific verbiage.  Instead, see if you can gain anything from the intersection of these two dichotomies.

In each quadrant I include a single phrase that I think defines the dominant desire, then list a few ideologies, groups, and types of action and orientation that I think fit it.

Why now?

I got to thinking a lot about this recently when reading the phenomenal series, Breaking Smart, by Venkatesh Rao. (If you read nothing else this year, read this!)

Rao describes the implications of the fact that ‘software is eating the world’.  Part of the analysis involves the inevitable backlash against software-enabled progress and disruption.  Rao calls the resistors Pastoralists, and provides a very compelling look at the two apparently opposite ways pastoralism manifests.

One is a resistance to all change.  The other is driven by agents of change themselves who adopt a single vision of change and wish to force it on the rest.  You can see how the first might fit into Postrel’s stasist category, but the second doesn’t quite.  That’s where combining Postrel and Sowell becomes so powerful.

I think the three great threats to human freedom and flourishing today are constrained stasists (resist all change), unconstrained stasists (remake the world in the image of the imagined past), and unconstrained dynamists (force the right kind of progress on all these hapless idiots).

I think all the promise and joy comes from the outlook of constrained dynamism.  One that understands failings in human knowledge and virtue and the physical reality of scarcity and wishes to allow change to emerge and evolve organically within unplanned orders to address them in ways no one can imagine ahead of time.

See if you can map yourself or others on the matrix!

You can also check out other fun 2×2 matrices I’ve played around with on various topics:

Obedience-Entitlement Matrix

Rules-Intelligence Matrix

Work-Happiness Matrix

In Less Than One Year Get a Startup Job at $40k – No Degree Required

Learn more at Praxis!

The idea that you should spend four years and six figures in classrooms, shielded from the real world of opportunity, and cross your fingers and hope it gets you some kind of job is absurd.It’s time for a new era in education and career.  If you’re good you can prove it in the market without going into debt or dying of boredom.

That’s why we created Praxis, and that’s why we’re making it better every day.

Over at the Praxis blog is a description of current opportunities with business partners in Austin, Atlanta, Charleston, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Raleigh, and San Francisco where we’re placing participants.  If you get in, you not only get paid to apprentice there, you get a job at $40k+ when you graduate.

From the post:

“Participants accepted into the Praxis program get an intense bootcamp where they gain the skills needed to succeed in their careers.  After the bootcamp they begin a paid apprenticeship with one of our business partners.  These aren’t dull corporate internships.  These are dynamic startups and small businesses where participants get a chance to create real value and do real work.  Entrepreneurship is the most valuable skill in the emerging economy, and there’s no better classroom than alongside entrepreneurs in the real world to learn it.

While apprenticing, participants get weekly coaching, access to a rich resource library, tailored modules to improve hard and soft skills, a world-class network, and a portfolio to showcase their work.

Upon completion of the program, graduates get hired full time with their business partner at a minimum of $40k/year.

That means in less than a year and at zero cost you begin your career.  No debt.  No wasted time.  No blasting out resumes to jobs you’d hate.  No fretting over GPA’s for four years just hoping it results in a job.  You join an amazing team doing meaningful work immediately.

Here are some of our current business partner opportunities, and we’re adding all the time…”

Check out the post to see what kind of companies we’re placing participants with.

A great career won’t come from classrooms or generic resume blasts.  It will come from you taking charge and going out and building the mix of experience, knowledge, network, skills, and confidence that can only come from working with dynamic people in real companies.

Applications are now open.

 

How to Play Basketball Well

The same way you do everything else well.  Practice, then reflect, then practice some more.

The common, conveyor-belt education system has a pretty bizarre approach to learning.  It doesn’t mirror any learning pattern that high performers in any field use.  It looks something like this:

Theory–>Theory–>Theory–>Theory–>Theory–>Practice (end)

In other words, you sit in classrooms studying things and memorizing knowledge from “experts” for nearly two decades.  Then you’re supposed to take all that theory and successfully practice it in the real world and live happily ever after.  Education is done, now you just go live well.  You’re supposed to succeed in the marketplace and life after only ever thinking about it.  Unless the theory is the practice – unless you’re learning to be an academic – this is a very bad way to learn.

I’ve written before about how absurd it would be if we taught bike riding the way we teach careers.  But I’ve been thinking a lot lately about an even better comparison, and one I know more about than biking.  Basketball.

How do you learn to play basketball?

First, you practice.  Maybe on a mini hoop, maybe on a full-sized hoop.  But you just start shooting and dribbling.  After you have the basic motions and movements and muscle memory down, you start playing with other people in actual games.  You play a lot of pick-up basketball.  Maybe you play in an organized team setting.  The coach might have you focus on specific aspects of the game or skills as you drill and condition.  You’ll scrimmage, run plays, and plot your approach to offense and defense.  You play, then a new concept is introduced, and you immediately play some more and try it out.  Then you stop to reflect and get feedback, tweak your approach, and play again.

At the highest level, this pattern is even more pronounced.  Good players practice a lot.  There is no world in which merely theorizing about basketball teaches you to succeed on the court.  Practice is always the first step and vastly more important if you have to choose one.  But when you go from good to great players, something else happens.  Theory comes into play.  The learning pattern for playing most successfully looks something like this:

Practice–>Practice–>Theory–>Practice–>Practice–>Theory…(ad infinitum)

Great players spend more hours in the gym than anyone.  But after they play the also reflect on their performance.  They review film from previous games.  They study what the offense did.  They observe what happened and theorize about why they were stopped in the paint by this or that defense.  They plan for the next game.  They review film of the next opponent and plot an approach to match.  They constantly reflect on the feedback they get from the real world of practice and play.  They seek out other achievers who have struggled with mental toughness, or strength building, or recovery from injury.  They employ motivational tactics and specialized training.

Notice the pattern because it’s very important.  Hours of film study and offensive scheming are of no value to the novice.  If you’ve never hoisted a ball in the air, learning the perfect placement of your index finger or the optimal use of trash-talk to gain a mental edge isn’t going to help you.  Theory is hugely important.  But it becomes important only when it has past practice upon which to reflect and future practice for which to prepare.

Notice also that, unlike the conveyor-belt education system, the basketball model is never done.  There is no end point.  It’s an ongoing process.  There is no graduation.  Michael Jordan, at the peak of his game and dominating the greatest ballers on the planet, famously came back from every offseason with something new.  He practiced.  He reflected and theorized.  He tested it with more practice.

In this model the role of teacher fades almost entirely.  Specialists with knowledge of the history of the game or the mechanics of the human elbow can be employed in specific situations when needed, but they are in no way the key ingredient to learning the game nor are they valuably employed until a whole lot of playing has occurred.  Instead, coaches and trainers emerge.  People who don’t tell you which facts about basketball are correct and must be memorized, but people who challenge you to get off your butt when you don’t feel like practicing.  People who help you in the process of reflecting on your unique game and keep you accountable to your unique practice process.  They are observers who watch you in the actual act of playing the game and provide real-time feedback from their vantage point.  They aren’t your authority – you can’t find a new coach anytime – but there for motivation and insight.  Some of the greatest players are famous for ignoring their coaches as often as listening to them even though they deeply respect them, which strikes me as a pretty normal and healthy way to see the relationship.

Another important thing about learning basketball is the value of mimicry.  How did the hook shot join the common arsenal of post players?  Because someone did it well and everyone who played against them realized how effective it could be and began to copy it.  How do you learn to crossover or headfake?  By being crossedover or headfaked at the playground and determining to do the same.

Learning happens more from being around people and environments than it does from consciously thinking about them.  You have to be immersed in the actual play of the game.

My friend and colleague at PraxisTK Coleman, our Education Director – loves the game of basketball probably even more than I do.  We don’t view this analogy as just a cute comparison.  I think success in any career is far more like success in basketball than it is like success in a classroom.  The principles of learning the game are the principles of learning to perform in just about every other arena.  This is why we are so focused on apprenticing at startups and small businesses – practice – and reflecting on the experience and how new skills and mindsets can make it better – theory – and trying them out – practice – and discussing…etc.  This is why our advisers have coaching sessions with participants, rather than giving them lectures.  Philosophy is hugely important to success in any field.  But only if you’re already in the field trying things out.

Kids aren’t practicing for life or career by sitting in the classroom taking tests.  They’re theorizing about it.  They’re not observing those who are successful (except, best case, at teaching) and mimicking them.  They’re reading what other people said about the successful.  They’re being introduced to a few fragments of the history of the game or uniform design or what one conditioning coach thinks about one approach to calf muscles.  They’re not being transformed into great players, they’re simply checking the memorization of lifeless, contextless knowledge off a list of assignments.

You can’t expect to win by studying.  You’ve got to play the game.

Laziness is not About Lack of Labor

Laziness leads to boredom, and boredom is the greatest crime against oneself.

Laziness is not about physical labor.  You can be bored to tears doing manual labor all day long and you can be engaged and fulfilled while lounging in a hammock.

It’s hard work to live an unboring life, but it’s the work of the mind and heart.  It takes relentless self-discovery.  You can’t stay interested on a diet of quick hits of easy excitement.  You need to unearth the self at the core of your being and live in accordance with what you find.  You have to relentlessly purge the things that deaden your soul, bore you, and make you unhappy.

It’s far easier to just go along.  It’s easier to do things that appear to be work but require little mental focus, discovery, or honesty.

But it’s not worth the cheap sense of leisure.  Living an interesting life requires the deliberate act of being interested in everything within and around you and exploring it.

Boredom is death.  Laziness is terminal illness.

Some Excellent Work on Education and Schooling

My friend and colleague Zak Slayback has had a wonderful series of blog posts about education, schooling, testing, unschooling, and many other fascinating and important topics in that area.  I cannot recommend them enough.

Ways to Think About Schooling Part 1

Ways to Think About Schooling Part 2

What is the Purpose of Childhood?

Let’s Abolish Childhood

Hayek and Camus Walk Into a School

Deschooling Myself

How “Below Average” Kills Dreams

“Would I Put Myself Through This?”

A Brief Defense of Playing as Learning

Zak is continuing to churn out some great stuff on these topics, so I encourage you to frequent his blog.  It’s been very interesting for me to see someone a decade my younger, with no kids of his own, and who by all measures was the apex of schooling success come to the same conclusions I have reached about schooling and childhood.  There is something very exciting about the synchronicity of someone else discovering similar books and ideas as you do the same, independent of each other.

The Neutrality of Everything

A hammer is neither good nor bad.  It is a tool.  It is useful.  It can be useful in achieving good things, and equally useful in achieving bad things.  It is valuable because it is useful, but the fact that it has value does not make it good or bad.

The same is true of an iPhone.  The same is true of money.  These are all morally neutral, inanimate objects (Siri notwithstanding) that become extensions of human will and volition, and act as a catalyst for whatever good or bad ends we intend.  They deserve neither vilification nor praise, except in regards to their usefulness.

Tools have their own qualities and characteristics; they have their own nature.  They will react in certain ways to certain conditions.  If you slam an iPhone down on a hard surface, it will crack.  It’s silly to get angry at the characteristics of the iPhone.  Part of growing up is learning to understand and work with the natures of the objects around us, rather than being surprised or angered by them.

So much for tools.  What about people?  Immanuel Kant, along with just about every decent person I’ve met, would bristle at the thought of people as morally neutral tools; useful if properly employed, but neither praise nor blameworthy in and of themselves.  For good reason.  People as objects is probably a terrible and incorrect notion.  People have wills and can choose right or wrong.  People don’t just react, they can act to thwart one another.  They have qualities that take them beyond the level of tools.  That may be their place in the cosmos, but what about in our day-to-day perceptions?

It can be incredibly enlightening and freeing to treat people with the same neutrality we treat our iPhones.  Not because they are the same, but because seeing them that way can help shed bitterness and accomplish more.  If, just like you would with an inanimate object, we try to learn the natures of those around us and get an idea of how they will react to conditions around them, we will be better equipped to cooperate for mutual benefit.

Sure, they have motives, but ascribing motives and assuming intentions are often hindrances to productive relationships.  Whether or not it’s for good reason, if you know a person gets angry every time you say X, rather than begrudge them this habit, adapt.  Learn to navigate the world of human relationships with the same judgement-free attitude you do the non-human world.  People have natures.  They’ll act in accordance with them.  Don’t hold it against them, learn it, know it, expect it, and work with it.

There are certainly times when some kind of confrontation or intervention is required.  There are times when working around a person’s modus operandi may be worse than trying to help them see the need to change it.  I think these times are rare, and only really worth it when a kind of standing invitation to do so exists in the relationship.

See how it works to view people as morally neutral, rational agents, rather than out to help or harm you.  It can turn even unpleasant interactions into a kind of interesting puzzle.  It may be untrue, but it is useful and in some ways makes it easier to appreciate people and treat them well.

(An alternative approach, much more bizarre and playful, is to treat everything like we treat people.  Ascribe will, motive and personality to your car, your iPhone and your coffee mug.  Perhaps I’ll discuss this another day…)