How Change Happens – Higher Ed. Edition

The current higher education model is flawed.  If we’re serious about changing it, first we need to get serious about understanding how social change happens.  Intentions and action are not enough to bring about desired ends.  We need an understanding of the causal relationships involved in order to effectively bring about change.

The great truth that flies in the face of civics textbooks and popular myth is that politics is not the source of social change.  It’s more like the last in a line of indicators of cultural shifts that have already occurred.  Politicians and the policies they create only change after the new approach is sufficiently beneficial to the right interests, and sufficiently tolerable to the public at large to help, or at least not harm, political careers.  Of course some politicians guess wrong and suffer accordingly, but by and large the political marketplace tends toward preservation of the status quo until a new direction is imperative for survival.

An entire, and entirely fascinating, branch of political economy called Public Choice Theory examines the incentives at work in the political marketplace in depth, and I highly encourage anyone attracted to political action to gain a working knowledge of this field.  It reveals, in short, that incentives baked into the democratic system create and perpetuate policies that are bad for the public at large, and good for particular concentrated interests.  What Public Choice has a difficult time accounting for is the role of changing beliefs.  There are countless policies that, based purely on the incentives of various interests, ought to be in place but are not, or vice versa.  Some things are simply out of bounds, no matter how much a particular group might benefit and be willing to lobby, because the general public finds them unacceptable.

Contrary to the seemingly ironclad rule of interest driven politics, public beliefs can and do change, and dramatically sometimes, putting parameters around the area within which political actors can ply their trade.  Slavery is a striking example.  At one point, it would’ve been hard to get elected, at least in some areas, if you publicly supported abolition.  Not too many decades later, it’s unthinkable to get elected anywhere if you’ve ever even joked about supporting slavery.  There is certainly a complex relationship between changing economic incentives and public beliefs, but it is undeniable that the about-face on the ethics of slavery was more than a mere shift in power among competing interests.  What most of the public found tolerable they now find reprehensible.

Our institutions are formed by incentives, and incentives are constrained by beliefs.  That makes the beliefs of the public the ultimate key to change.  Smaller changes might occur within the window of things already publicly acceptable, but major change requires a shift in that window.  How to change those beliefs?  There are two primary drivers, both of which feed each other; ideas and experiences.

Ideas are the raw data that form beliefs.  If you accept the idea that minimum wage laws make lower skilled individuals less employable, and you accept the idea that a society with fewer unemployed persons is desirable, then you will have the belief that minimum wage laws are bad.  If, on the other hand, you’ve never really thought about the economics behind minimum wage at all, but your low skilled neighbor lost his job when minimum wage increased, that experience might also cause you to believe minimum wage laws are bad.

I spent a good part of my life focusing entirely on disseminating ideas as a way of changing belief.  It was fulfilling and, I think, valuable work.  But it wasn’t until relatively recently that I began to understand the immense value of experience as a vital second prong when it comes to changing beliefs and the world.

Consider the difficulty of convincing your mother that the New York City taxi cartel is inefficient or immoral.  It requires a great deal of economic theory or philosophizing about rights and coercion.  Your mom might have other things she enjoys more than reading books on these subjects.  Even if you convince her, her newfound belief will probably barely register among things she cares about.  Sure, taxis aren’t the greatest.  So what?  She’s never had that bad an experience.  Even if a policy change to end the cartel were possible, your mom mighn’t pay any attention, or she may be concerned about what the new world without cartels would look like in practice.

Now consider recommending your mom use Uber on her next trip in to Manhattan.  She uses it, likes it, and becomes a regular customer.  She may be completely ignorant of the current cab cartel and the problems with it, but she’s now a believer in an alternative system.  If Uber comes under attack from vested interests, she’ll defend it.  If the chance to end the cartel comes up, she won’t fear because she already knows what the world looks like without it.  She can’t easily be convinced out of her experience.

It is for this reason that dictatorial countries not only ban literature that propagates new ideas, but also goods and services that compete with government monopolies and let people experience something better.  The Soviet Union feared blue jeans, jazz, and Marlboro cigarettes as much as free market textbooks.

If we want to break out of the educational rut it requires new ideas and new experiences.  We mustn’t only talk about new approaches, we must build alternatives.  The best part is, you don’t have to wait on anyone.  You can take your own path right now, and by so doing not only improve your life, but serve as an example to others of what’s possible outside the status quo.  Educational entrepreneurs, not just intellectuals, will change the hidebound approach to education.  It’s already happening.

While policymakers, pundits, professors, and provosts squabble about the future of higher education and jockey to secure their position, entrepreneurs are busy creating and delivering alternatives across the globe.  The educational consumer is enjoying new experiences and getting new ideas about education in the process.  The old guard can argue any which way they like, but at the end of the day they’ll have to prove more valuable to the learner than the myriad new options.  All the protections and advantages in the world can’t stop competition now.  Technology has helped break it wide open.

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Excerpted from The Future of School.

Ask Isaac: The Most Awkward Moment

On this episode of Ask Isaac, I got a listener question that was a little odd…”What was your most awkward moment?”  I’m pretty sure the person who asked it on Facebook had heard through the grapevine about one particular story.  I decided to come clean.

This and all “Ask” episodes, as well as all full episodes are available on SoundCloud, iTunes, and Stitcher.

How Information Destroys Dictators (Are Demagogues Next?)

I recently saw a presentation by economist Antony Davies on the basics of Public Choice Theory and the predictable problems with democratic systems.  Ant laid out the median voter theorem, then observed that national elections continue to get tighter and tighter as candidates become more and more similar in an effort to win the median voter.

This process is accelerated by the information age.  Candidates don’t have to determine a platform and then go try to sell it, hoping a large chunk of people already agree.  They don’t even have to study opinion research and craft a platform most likely to win.  They can A/B test in real time.  Campaigns can go to Twitter and try out some slogans or positions, they can react immediately and pivot their posture.  The old saw that politicians put their finger in the wind is true as ever, but fingers are no longer necessary when you have a digital weather vane plus anemometer streaming real-time measurements to your smartphone.

In other words, power hungry politicians are more accountable to the shifting moods of the public than ever.  Don’t get too excited.  This is far worse than a free and open market society in terms of decision-making and individual and public good.  People behave differently when voting or tweeting than they do when their own skin is in the game, and a system that caters to the costless whims of the majority is far scarier than a truly free society.

Still, it might be better than a pure dictatorship.  I suspect the days of a charismatic, strong leader who wins over throngs of people with good speeches are numbered.  Absent a better means of communication, societies rally around symbols because they can convey quickly a complex set of feelings and ideas.  They can also be more easily exploited.  Simplistic urges like nationalism, shared hatred of perceived enemies, moral crusades, and other dumbed down tales of us vs. them are the stuff of dreams for power-hungry tyrants.  Whip them up into a sense of unity around a common (often violent, envy-based) cause, and you can own the country.  This is harder than it’s ever been.

More and more citizens around the world can jump online and see pictures of their supposed enemies.  They can see the other side.  Humans seem to have limited compassion, and proximity is one of the rationing mechanisms.  The information age brings the world closer, and therefore makes compassion able to span the globe.  A fine speech about barbarians at the gate can create a wave of support for a hawkish autocrat, but when you can see those ‘barbarians’ with your own eyes, read their stories, and talk with them, it’s harder to get behind.

The ease with which information flows – what economists would call a reduction in transaction costs – is dramatically reshaping the way we do business, culture, life, and politics.  At first we’ll see political figures that appear more like focus-group generated spokespersons, as they get better at following the trends.  The switch from forceful dictator to savvy demagogue is perhaps a small improvement.  But I don’t think it will stop there.

This reduction in transaction costs also means all the things previously thought to be collective action problems solvable only through the clumsy and corrupt mechanisms of voting and politics can be tackled through voluntary markets.  Imagine your neighborhood HOA, instead of voting on higher fees for a new park, letting residents access a Kickstarter-like app where they can pledge an amount they’re willing to pay and the project only goes forward when it hits its goal?  The political figureheads and representatives can be eliminated just as Bitcoin eliminates financial gatekeepers.

The easier it is for individuals to connect and share ideas and goods with each other, the less powerful political gatekeepers trying to take their cut and regulate our relationships become.  Ultimately, information will beat oppression.

Your Student Debt is Unfair

You hear a lot of complaints about student debt, and how maddening it is to be $40,000 in the hole at age 23 and still not have a job that requires a degree.  The case for the unfairness of student loan debt is that these kids didn’t know better.  It’s kind of a pathetic excuse, but it’s often true.

12 years in an education system where you are constantly pummeled with the promises of higher education and the perils of any deviation will make you overvalue a degree.  You’ll never be warned about the cost, or how debt can limit your options.  You’ll only be told about the magic $1 million in lifetime earnings that is supposed to find you as soon as you find your major and graduate.  It’s a system. Obey it, and the statistics will magically bring you what they bring the average of the past aggregate, as long as your behavior correlates with theirs.

Starry eyed teens get grants, aid, scholarships, loans, and complete a bunch of paperwork with their parents to just get in to the best possible college they can based on rankings they’ve never really studied.  They get endless praise upon graduation and more upon heading off to college.  Finally, they’ve made it!  The rest of life will simply unfold successfully as if on autopilot.  What’s the worst that could happen now?  You’re getting a degree, so you’re set!  You’re on the right side of the data!

Young people get good enough grades, do some extracurriculars, and get the degree.  Once more they are celebrated.  Then, for perhaps the first time in 20 years, they leave the confines of a controlled environment shielded from the world of value creation and exchange.  No one is overly impressed with their ability to fit into the system.  People want to know what they bring to the table.  Can they crunch meaningful numbers without being assigned?  Can they sell?  Can they code?  Can they digest the complexities of markets and customers and make judgments on the fly about how to preempt problems?  Not really.  Those things take experience and context wholly lacking in most educational institutions.

So they struggle.  They don’t like what they do, or they can’t find work much better than what they could have gotten right out of high school.  It’s OK though, they have time to learn from the real world right?  Except they’ve got college debt to pay in addition to living expenses.  That awesome company they were going to volunteer for in order to gain skills?  Not so easy with the need to earn enough to make loan payments.

Grads are in a bind and they feel kind of ripped off.  They feel betrayed.  They feel lied to.  Where is that high school guidance counselor who pushed them to college?  Will she pay the bills?  Where are the parents who were so proud?  Will they want their kid to move back home?  It can be pretty rough.

So yes, it’s unfair.  But the worst possible way to respond and improve things is to say it’s unfair over and over.  Say it once, get it our of your system, move on.  The fairness doesn’t matter.  Sometimes you’ll act on bad information.  Sometimes you’ll have regrets.  Sometimes other people’s plans for you aren’t best and you’ll suffer for following them.  So what?  Talking about how sad or unfair it is does nothing for you but reduce the chances that you’ll actually make things better.

Yeah, you were led to believe this degree would pay for itself immediately and without difficulty.  Yeah, because you were handicapped by the system you were incapable of realizing for yourself what the decision to go into debt might mean and how it could play out.  That’s the past.  What will you do today?

The good news is, it’s not that big of a deal unless you let it be.  Laugh at it, roll up your sleeves, and reboot your expectations about the world while building every day.  Devise a payoff plan and a life improvement plan.  Lots of people have done it, so can you.  The past is past, you are where you are, and no amount of bitterness, protest, or hoping for some political savior to bail you out will do you good.  In fact, it might destroy you.

Oh, and if you have kids of your own someday, let them experience enough of the world outside the walls of schools so that they know better than to blindly follow the advice of authorities seeking to do them good.

Episode 23: Sam Patterson on OpenBazaar, OB1, and the Decentralization of Everything

Sam Patterson works on the OpenBazaar project, building a distributed, peer-to-peer marketplace for the world. His team recently received media attention for landing a $1m investment from prominent VC firms Union Square Ventures and Andreessen Horowitz to launch a company called OB1.

We discuss what OpenBazaar is, how it differs from traditional online marketplaces like eBay and Amazon, and from others like Silk Road. We also touch on his unique personal and professional journey and his decision to unschool his kids.

‘Easy for You to Say’ is a Dumb Phrase

I wrote an article not long ago about how I learned to get a lot done without being busy.  A lot of people liked it and shared stories and thoughts, almost all positive.  I did get something I didn’t expect, however, from a small number of people.   Some women Tweeted comments to the effect of, “Easy for you to say, you’re a man. I bet you foist all the work onto your wife.”  I did not take offense and offered lighthearted responses, but it got me thinking.  What does that kind of comment, or the mindset from which is springs, actually accomplish?

Examples of this are common.  A wealthy investor might write an article with tips on how to make money in the market, and commenters will say something like, “Easy for you to say, you had millions already and all the expert tools and advice to take such gambles.”  My friend told me about an article where a young guy claimed to be reading a book a day and described the huge benefits of massive book consumption.  My friend admitted he had to check his first reaction, which was, “Yeah, I bet he doesn’t have a wife or a lot of financial obligations, so it’s easy for him to read that much!”  He checked that reaction because he knew it was stupid and utterly useless. In fact, it’s worse than useless.  It’s destructive.

No one has the same set of circumstances.  An article with advice is either useful to you or it’s not.  You either agree or disagree with the points and claims therein.  What kind of life the person writing it leads is irrelevant to the value of the information for you.  Until this sinks in, you’ll spend a lot of energy looking to play “gotcha” and pointing out when good advice isn’t universally applicable.  So what.  No advice is universally applicable.  All that matters is whether it’s helpful to you.  If it is, implement it.  If not, move on and find some that is.

I got to thinking about the responses to my article about busyness.  The comments seem to imply that it is impossible for me to be both productive and not busy without also forcing my wife to do a lot of things she doesn’t want to do and suffer for my freedom.  Do they really believe there is no possible way to be productive and not busy without abusing a spouse in some way?  If so, why read articles like mine anyway?  If not, why make the comments?  Even if my wife was stressed and bearing the brunt of our joint venture, that wouldn’t make my advice more or less useful to someone else.  Again, it either works or it doesn’t.

I suspect people look at advice on how to be happy, financially successful, informed, artistic, healthy, or whatever, and if they feel guilty that they are not they want to find some reason to prove that it’s impossible to be.  Saying, “A ha! This author is only (insert desired trait) because they have something I don’t!” is an easy way to excuse yourself.  It’s also terrible for you.  Who cares if it’s true?  So what?  So the author can invest more money than you can.  Does it follow that you can’t improve on any margin?  If you think that’s the case, stop reading how-to’s.  If you have no chance of gaining from anyone’s advice because they might not have identical circumstances, why not just give up?  Eat, drink, and be merry, for there is no possible way to learn ways to progress!

You gain nothing by attempting to prove that the bearer of some advice has some special advantage that makes implementing it easier for them.  Take it or leave it, but for your own sake, don’t look for an excuse to believe you are incapable of improving your life.

7 Super Simple Steps to Launch a Podcast for Less than $240

I’m a tech novice.  Editing a blog post in WordPress is about the height of my interest and skill level when it comes to digital content.  When a friend kept urging me to launch a podcast and see if I liked it, it sounded fun but I was skeptical.  It seemed so much harder than blogging.  There was no one place that gave a really simple, step-by-step explanation on how to do it.  While I don’t pretend to be an expert and my podcast could definitely improve in some areas, with a little help I was able to get it off the ground and regularly produce episodes without much trouble.

I guarantee there are better ways to do every step on this list, but I’m a to-the-point kind of guy, so I basically did all the easiest, most obvious things instead of searching for something better.  If you want to get started quickly and easily, these steps will work!

1. Mic and headset (~$88)

You don’t need anything super fancy to sound pretty good.  I have old Plantronics headset that has a built-in mic.  It was about $29.  The built-in mic is actually good enough that it’s not distracting.  My first episode was recorded with it.  But I decided to spring for a slightly better mic.  I went to Amazon and found an Audio Technica mic for $59.  I’m very happy with the sound quality I get from the mic, and I use the headset at the same time to eliminate feedback.  Both require no software and the computer recognizes them as soon as they’re plugged in.  The biggest downside with the mic I chose is that it’s really only good for one person talking directly into it.  I tried a few interviews with guests in the same room with me, and it’s hard to get even volume levels with people at difference distances from the mic.

2. Intro/outro music (~$29)

You could go without music or record your own, but I decided to buy a simple intro/outro.  I went to PremiumBeats and listened to a few dozen samples before I picked one.  I paid $29 for a song, downloaded it, and then was able to cut it into smaller sections and add voice over for an intro.  The downside is I suppose someone else could be using the same song for something else, but it seems a pretty low risk.

3. Editing software ($0)

I wanted to go cheap and simple, so I took advice from a friend and downloaded Audacity.  It’s pretty plain vanilla, but it does everything I’m interested in doing right now.  After downloading I opened it, imported the intro music file, was able to use simple cut and paste tools to trim it down, do fade in/out effects, and then record a voice over to go with the music.  My favorite part about Audacity is how easy it is to edit multiple tracks and the simple, visual layout.  After editing you simple click “export audio” and it spits out an MP3 after asking you to fill in the “tags”, which includes info like track number, title, date, etc. (which is great because this is what iTunes and other podcast hosting platforms use to pull the info from).

4. Recording software ($0)

If you’re recording a solo podcast, as I occasionally do, Audacity is all you need.  It works fine for in-studio guests as well.  If you have a guest across the country, however, you’ll need a way to record the call.  I downloaded CallGraph for free and it works really well with Skype.  Recording begins automatically when Skype sessions start and the file is saved to whatever location you choose when you setup CallGraph (and a copy goes to the cloud temporarily as well).  The only occasional issue is when CallGraph fails to sync with Skype, which seems to happen only if I move my laptop from one WiFi network to another without first shutting down and restarting.  A simple restart does the trick.  Be sure it’s syncing before you begin!

5. Conference call software ($0)

As I mentioned above, I use Skype.  The main reason is because I already know how, everyone else has some experience with it, and it works so well with CallGraph.  I know people who prefer Zoom (which allows recording without any third party software), or Google Hangouts, but I’ve found Skype to be no worse than the rest and easy for guests to use.  When I installed CallGraph I had to follow instructions to go into Skype settings and allow the CallGraph plugin to work with it so it would record.  Skype sometimes cuts out if broadband is sketchy, but I have been able to get the guest back and just edit out the bad spot later.  The main thing is to remind your guests to find a quiet room and headphones.

6. Hosting (~$120/year)

Once you record your intro and outro, get a guest on Skype, let CallGraph record it, import the file to Audacity, edit it into a wonderful episode, and export the file to your podcast folder, now what?  You’ve got the finished product, but how do you post it for others to easily listen and share?  I love SoundCloud.  It’s really easy to upload files to, and set permissions, release date, add descriptions, and to get a nice link for embedding on a blog and sharing on social.  SoundCloud is free until you upload something like 6 hours, but to get unlimited space a pro account is only around $120/year when last I checked.  Once you have an account, you just click “upload”, select your file, type in the title, descriptions, etc. and you’ll get a great player that’s easy to listen and share.

7. Sharing ($0)

So here’s where I hit my first major roadblock.  Most people listen to podcasts on iTunes or Stitcher or some other distribution platform that lets listeners subscribe.  SoundCloud is great for web listening, but it makes it harder for your fans to work your podcast into their daily rotation and get wider reach.  You’ll need to get these platforms to include your podcast.  The instructions for how to do so on iTunes are long and intimidating, but really you just need an RSS feed for your podcast.  Once you have that, you can submit it with a bit of basic info and wait to hear if you’re approved.  I do iTunes and Stitcher, because those are the ones I see the most.  The struggle I faced was how the heck to get an RSS feed of my podcast?  SoundCloud made this easier.  The have a (beta) podcasting service.  It’s not easy to find, but if you just Google SoundCloud podcasting you’ll get to a page that let’s you apply to be a podcaster.  This generates an RSS feed of everything you upload to SoundCloud.  You can go into your settings, copy it, and paste it into your application on your platforms of choice.  It took a few days but both iTunes and Stitcher approved me and emailed me a link to where my show could be found.

The basic routine

After I got everything setup I got into a pretty simple routine for creating and posting new episodes.  I schedule a Skype session with my guest, email them some things we might discuss, and then get underway.  When the Skype begins I let them know it’s recording and that I can edit things if need be, and let them know when to expect it to go live. (I like to record with a 3-4 week buffer and release episodes weekly).  I do audio only to reduce bandwidth problems and keep it simple.  After the call is done, I open up Audacity, import the call recording, cut out the small talk before the interview and (rarely) edit out some other things like a sneeze or a cough.  I then import my intro and outro music files, cut and paste them around the track, add fade in and out, and save.  I export the file to a folder, add the proper tags, and then open up SoundCloud.  I upload, add description, and then I typically set the track as “private” until the day when I will release it.  I release every Monday along with a blog post with show notes and links and an embedded audio player from SoundCloud.  I never know how my listeners prefer to listen, so I try to give them plenty of easy options.

That’s it!  It’s fun, easy, and can be rewarding.  Go for it.

Why I Started Praxis

Exciting Changes at Praxis

Praxis is growing and we’re improving the program every day, and I’m excited to highlight some big changes we’ve just rolled out to make it more valuable to participants, business partners, and anyone interested in self-directed learning and living!

New website

You’ll notice some changes on the site.  Poke around and explore.  We’ve added a lot more detail about the program experience and hopefully answered a lot of common questions.  We’re working on an evolving FAQ page, so if you have questions not currently answered on the site or notice any bugs, send them our way!

New classes

Due to demand from both participants and business partners, we will now be launching new classes with far more frequency.  We’re setup to launch a new class every month, depending upon the number of quality applicants we have at any given time.  The old model of just two classes a year served us well at launch, but as we grow we’re keen to connect the best young people with the best work and education experience whenever it works best for them.  Applications for each monthly class open a year prior to launch and close two months out.  Apply now for classes beginning as early as October!

New structure

Praxis is now a 12 month program, instead of the previous 10 month model.  The pricing has not changed, so you’re getting two extra months!  The program now begins with a two month bootcamp where participants hone their digital skills and online brand as well as immerse themselves in the basics of entrepreneurial thinking and self-directed living before they start at their business partner.  The next ten months combine work at one of our business partners with a series of 30 day Professional Development Projects (PDP’s) handcrafted with our advisors to deliver tangible results each month.  Participants share the outcomes of each monthly PDP on their portfolio website.  We still make use of our interdisciplinary curriculum library and work with participants to identify areas of interest that they can master.  It’s all about creating value that can be demonstrated to the world, not just jumping through hoops or getting grades.  Read more about it on the about page.

New event

I’m thrilled to announce that in July 2016 we will be launching the first ever “Break the Mold” conference.  The theme is education without schooling, work without dullness, life without limits.  We’ll bring together speakers who share our passion for innovative ways to build a career, education, and life outside the old classroom-only model.  The event will feature workshops and presentations by entrepreneurs, thinkers, educators, and leaders in the arena of self-directed learning and living.  Praxis participants and alumni will also have exclusive programming and a chance to present their portfolio projects, meet with business partners, and more.  Tickets are not yet available, but stay tuned!  If you’ve been following us and love the ideas behind Praxis but just can’t quite commit to the yearlong program, this conference is for you.

Metaphors Can Limit Us

I’ve been thinking a lot about metaphors and how indispensable they are to human speech and thought.  Whether or not we realize it, we can’t do much thinking or communicating without extensive use of metaphors.  Many of the metaphors we use we are unconscious of.

Language reveals the prevalence of metaphor.  Discussions where two people hold different opinions are referred to with war metaphors.  People stand their ground, or defend their position, etc.  It’s hard to know how these metaphors affect our perception of the world and might open up or limit our thinking.

Speaking of limiting, there are two common metaphors I think limit us in subtle but powerful ways.  The first is the chain metaphor.  The old adage is that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.  This metaphor is in the back of our minds in team settings, or organizations.  When you think about it, it’s a pretty bad metaphor, except for in unhealthy hierarchies.  It’s meant as a kind of reminder of our equality, so we don’t forget to help the weakest of our number lest we all get dragged down.  It has some value in this sense, but it also implies linear relationships and uniformity among individuals.  We are not links in a chain.  On our various social scenes we are more like nodes in a network.  If one node is weak or broken, the network can adjust and reroute information to the others.  It’s a distributed, indestructible series of interlacing webs.  If your organization truly is like a chain, that’s a pretty risky setup that puts way too much pressure on every participant.  Networks, on the other hand, are nimble, open-ended, adaptive, and allow for experimentation.

The second common metaphor I find limiting is based on the pie chart.  We love pie charts.  They seem scientific, plus they look like pie.  When visualizing where resources reside and contemplating ratios, the pie metaphor is in the back of our minds.  This is useful in a static world, but can be pretty detrimental in the dynamic world of the real.  The most obvious example is worldwide wealth.  Worry over who “controls” what percent of wealth is rooted in the pie metaphor.  If they have a lot, others must have little, and this must be bad.  But wealth moves quickly, and in a market, it can be created.  In fact, the only way to accumulate wealth is to create it for others.  So for one person to get more, someone else must also get more.  Transfers like theft and taxation are the only ways of getting wealth that do not create more for others.  This metaphor limits us in ways beyond just our macroeconomic thinking.  The pie tends to make us possessive and protective of ideas, or even happiness.  We’re afraid to openly share our thoughts and we worry that if others rise and gain popularity, wealth, success, etc. that must be bad for us.  It’s an unhappy metaphor that can turn us into envious, paranoid cranks.

I don’t think any metaphor is good or bad.  They are tools and can be more and less useful in various situations.  But I wonder how much we could improve our lives by occasionally examining the latent metaphors we use to make sense of the world?

 

Build a Better Signal

Why pay a university to do something you can do better yourself?

From Medium.

A college degree is a signal.

It’s a signal to the world of your value in the market. It conveys information about your ability, skill, and intelligence. There is a lot of noise in the world of work, and it’s hard to figure out who’s worth working with. A degree cuts through some of that noise and puts you in a smaller pool of competitors.

The thing is, this signal is not that valuable. It’s also very expensive.

Not long ago a degree may have been the best signal most people could get. There weren’t many ways to demonstrate your value to the market, so a degree was one of the better bets. Things have changed dramatically. Technology has opened up the world. The tools available to you now have lowered search and information costs, and you can create signals of your own that are far more powerful than a degree.

What’s Better?

A person with a strong GitHub profile has a signal that beats a degree. If you’ve launched a startup, even if it lasted only six months and ultimately failed, you’ve done something that sends a more powerful signal than a degree. If you’ve raised money, sold products, done freelance work, produced videos, run social media campaigns, mastered SEO or AdWords, built a website, designed logos, started a nonprofit, been published in a handful of outlets with good content, had valuable work experience, or even just have an amazing online presence via a personal website and/or excellent LinkedIn and social media profiles, you have a signal more valuable than most degrees.

If you are not very talented or ambitious and you are unable to do anything like the above, a degree might be the best signal you’re capable of getting. When you realize that all the other students half asleep around you in class will walk away with the same signal, it becomes clear that it doesn’t carry that much weight. It says, “I’m no worse than everyone else with a BA.” If getting a BA is a really hard task for you and building something better is overwhelming, the signaling power of a degree might be worth it. But if you are able and willing to do more — if you are above average and can excel in most environments, than you have in your power right now the ability to build a better signal than a degree.

You have at your fingertips tools that young work-seekers and employers a few decades ago didn’t. Never has it been easier and cheaper to start a business, offer freelance services, learn to code, show off your writing or artistic skills, and build a portfolio of value created.

Don’t Just Tell Them, Show Them

Consider the woman who created this website in an effort to get hired at AirBnB. Her resume listing her academic accomplishments and other common signals was lost in the noise. So she built a better signal.

AirBnB website beats a resume

The website is far more valuable than any degree or honor roll listing. AirBnB took notice, and I can guarantee that website alone has created more job offers and interest than she can handle. In fact, so entrenched is the degree-as-signal mindset that this woman’s effort went viral immediately. The competition among degree holders is fierce, while the competition among those who build a better signal is almost nonexistent.

There is nothing in her story that required a degree. If you want to work for a cool company, you can do something like this yourself right now regardless of educational status. Why settle for a dated, baseline signal that says you’re no worse than every other degree holder?

What Happens to College?

Here’s the interesting thing: The more young people begin to build better signals, the better college will become.

Fewer people will go because most students attend to purchase the signal and that only. But those who stay will be there for the best reasons. They’ll be there because they love the college experience, the lectures, the professors, and the rest of the bundle.

Losing all those customers who are just suffering through the courses to get the signal will hurt the bottom line of most universities. Some might go under entirely. But for those who care deeply about higher education in its best form, this will be a welcome change. Schools will get sharper and better as they face competition. Instead of contenting themselves with delivering mediocre product because they have consumers who feel captive to the need to get that degree, colleges will begin to become more accountable to the customers there to gain knowledge.

Professors — good ones at least — will love this change. Students in their classes will be the ones who actually want to be there for the value of the classroom experience itself. Severing the credential from the classroom will enhance the quality of both.

How Do I Do It?

Most young people don’t know how to take advantage of this new world where they can craft their own signal. They’ve spent years in a conveyor belt education system that has instilled in them a rule-following, paper accolade chasing mentality. They see degrees and grades as safe, as fallbacks that will magically keep them afloat in hard times. They overestimate the signaling power of paper and underestimate their ability to create product. Product beats paper in the world of signals.

Entrepreneurship is becoming more than just an activity that a tiny number of company founders engage in. We once shifted from farming to factories, then from factories to offices. Today a shift from corporate offices to remote workers, freelancers, intrapreneurs and entrepreneurs is happening fast. Those who learn to think entrepreneurially, whether or not they ever launch their own company, and see themselves as their own firm, regardless of where their paycheck comes from, will build the future.

It’s hard to internalize and act on the opportunity in this new world. That’s one of the main reasons behind Praxis, the entrepreneur education company I launched. We want to help you build a signal that is more valuable than a degree. We want to help you do it in one quarter the time and for zero cost. We want you to have fun and become excellent in the process. We want to help you use the tools available and create your own future.

That’s why we place participants with growing companies to get work experience. That’s why we help them create personal development projects, tangible skills training, portfolio projects, and personal websites.

Praxis is just one way to help young people take advantage of the opportunity to build a better signal. The options are limited only by your imagination. Find one that works for you.

Carpe Diem

The future is bright. You have in your hands the power to create your own brand, to broadcast it to the world, to demonstrate your ability to create value. You can built a better signal than the generic one in the hands of tens of millions of other young people.

What will it be?

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