Everything is Modular…Is Governance Next?

Interchangeable parts revolutionized manufacturing—and all aspects of life—at the dawn of the Industrial Age. It’s in some way analogous to how the digitization of information is changing life today. The difference is that now you get the best of both worlds: You can keep the differentiation and individualization while also getting the standardization. It's a mash-up world; it's weird, and it's beautiful. We can most easily see the impact in entertainment, but the implications reach far deeper, opening new possibilities for commerce and governance.

To my kids, this is all second nature. My son thinks modularly, and sees the world as a series of modules. He's grown up with platforms like the iPad that are populated with modules called apps, which you can mix and match any way you like. He likes Minecraft, Legos, and Star Wars. There are Lego mods for Minecraft, and Minecraft sets for Lego. There are Lego Star Wars products and shows. There are YouTube video mashups of all these things. Some of the shows he likes combine medieval adventure tales with high technology, or Greek myths with cartoon slapstick and pop-culture references. Nyan Cat and Batman fighting an ancient pharaoh with the Ring of Power? Sure, why not?

When I was a kid, things were far more cemented to their platforms. I liked Top Gun, Star Wars, baseball, Legos, and a great many other things. With the exception of constant attempts to make Star Wars characters with my Legos, the idea of crossing these forms of play never entered my mind. A Lego TV show would've seemed weird and never occurred to me.

It's possible I'm only noticing a difference between myself and my kids, and there's not much more to it. But it seems likely something more fundamental is going on.

Information is freely available in a wide open, wild market, and it's beautiful. There are no Star Chambers to give imprimatur to what should and should not be considered official or good ideas. There aren't publishing companies or government agencies powerful enough to dictate content or the media upon which it travels. All information is on an equal playing field. You referenced 20 great scholars in the footnotes and spent a lifetime completing this great work? Good for you. But I might just find a blog post written in 20 minutes or a TED talk that's more valuable. Sorry.

This democratization puts Rebecca Black and Maria Callas in the same arena. The whole world has equal access to each (unless, as is often the sad case, one of them resists and tries to keep their work hidden from the world, thinking it will make them more valuable). My kids wouldn't think anything was weird about a dub-step remix of Epic Beard Man singing Pavarotti. Everything, every great work and idea, from all of history and every genre, is available to everyone with an Internet connection.

A lot of the kings of the old guard lament this change and consider it vulgar. That's what people thought about Shakespeare and Dickens and the Impressionists, too. Get over it. Content is king. If you want to be appreciated, create great content, and make sure not to hide it from a world that just might autotune or photobomb it.

It's exciting to think how culture will evolve and find new ways to create out of this informational abundance. Right now, it kind of feels like the wild frontier, where this new ability has us exploring every crazy mash-up we can, just to prove it's possible and break down old categories and constructs. It's fun and it's just the beginning. Kids who grew up without the old categories won't feel the need to destroy them. They'll be able to spend their energy creating new forms, not only being conscious iconoclasts.

What other areas of life, besides just culture (is there a difference now between "high" and "low" culture?) will this modular outlook affect? Seeing everything as a module that can be moved from one platform to another, layered or nested with any other module, has got to bring about some innovations we can't even yet imagine in every institution and aspect of life.

Already people expect to be able to customize their lives in ways they never did before, and as a result, they want options in the services they purchase, many of which were once the sole domain of top-down governments. Ideas like community and patriotism used to be the foundation on which states could maintain their power, even when they delivered an inferior product. Digitization has revolutionized the way people view these concepts. They are more socially connected than ever, but it has little to do with arbitrary lines on a map or bureaucratic jurisdictions.

The overlapping networks of modules have created new communities, new loyalties, and new citizens who are citizens by choice. If your smartphone is a platform used to house modular forms of entertainment and commerce, why not also governance? Forget the government bus system and download the Uber app. Who needs the public school when you have Khan Academy? Why can't services like getting a cat out of a tree, or defusing a domestic disturbance also be offered in a diverse array of modules, instead of by one clunky agency?

My kids’ video games are just the beginning. I've got my popcorn and I'm going to enjoy watching it happen—or at least follow the hashtag on Twitter.

Originally published in The Freeman

6 Tips When Deciding Whether to Finish College

From the Praxis Blog

A lot of bright young people are unhappy in college.  They hate wasting money.  They hate wasting time.  They hate the fact that what they’re getting in return is of so little value in preparing them for career and life.

Many of these young people are resigned to push themselves through that one final semester, or year, or two years.  Sure, it sucks.  But they’ve come so far, it seems the sensible thing is to soldier through the drudgery and finish before pursuing things they are really passionate about.  At least then they’ll walk away with something, right?

Not so fast.

Here are six things to consider if you don’t love college but think you need to finish anyway.

1. Don’t fall for the sunk cost fallacy.  It’s gone.  It can never be recovered.  You will never get back the money or time you’ve put in.

This fallacy plagues everyone from investors to gamblers to your friend who makes you wait in an hour long line to see a mediocre movie because, “We’ve already waited half an hour and I don’t want that to be for nothing!”

I hate to break it to your friend, but it was for nothing.  Past expenditures that can’t be recovered shouldn’t factor in to decisions about the present and future.  It doesn’t matter that you sunk three and a half years and 50 grand into college.  What matters is whether the next six months and ten grand is better spent on college than all other alternatives.  Remove yourself from your prior experience.  If you had never spent any time or money on college and someone offered to put you through lectures for a year if you paid upwards of five figures, would that be your ideal way to spend those resources?  If not, don’t.

Quitting doesn’t make it all for nothing, it makes it all for whatever it is you’ve gained up to this point. If that wasn’t worth it, why would the next semester or year be?  Looking only ahead and not behind, what gets you closer to the kind of experiences and life you will enjoy?

2. Don’t see college as a single, unified product.  College comes as a bundle of goods; knowledge, a social experience, parties, football games, a signal that you’re a normal person, a degree, etc.  Unbundle it.

What parts do you really value?  If it’s knowledge gained from good lectures and discussions, ask yourself if that component can be had better or cheaper elsewhere.  If it’s the social experience, ask them same.  Do you really need four years and six figures to have a good time and meet new friends?  Can football games only be enjoyed if you have student loans?  Is a degree really the most effective and direct route to a career you love?

Consider the individual units of time, money, and energy you put in and get out.  Perhaps it was valuable for the first few semesters before you really knew yourself.  Rather than assuming you have to either take the whole bundle or leave it, take those valuable units, be thankful for them, and when the value ceases, move on to the next best use of the next unit of time, money, and passion.  Economists call this thinking at the margin.  I call it good sense.

3. Don’t let your past control your future. So you once thought your dream was to be a doctor, argue before the Supreme Court, or walk down the aisle in a cap and gown with an MBA.  Now that you’re in the thick of it, it doesn’t move you.  It bores you.  It tires you.  You don’t see the point in all the monotony.  But you’ve always been known as the gal who’s heart was set on that path.  To change course would make everyone think something was terribly wrong. So what.

It’s hard to be really honest with yourself about what makes you come alive.  It’s painful too, as what you wish you were and what you used to be pass away.  The only thing worse is living your present the way your past self wanted, rather than the way your present self needs.  It sucks to be a slave to anything.  Being a slave to your past personality is one of the worst forms.  Break the chains and do what gets you going today.

4. Don’t assume staying the course is a virtue. If you’re being punked by Ashton Kutcher, it’s best to figure it out and quit whatever embarrassing thing you’re doing.  Persistence is a great virtue; unless you’re persisting to drive in the wrong direction, take the wrong medicine, or cut the wrong sequence of wires while defusing a bomb.

Recognizing a fools errand takes insight.  Dropping out for something better takes courage.  If it ain’t right, don’t keep at it.

5. Don’t be a slave to your resume. It’s not that important anyway.

Sure, a college degree it still carries some psychological weight, but not much in a stack of resumes.  Titles, degrees, letters after your name and other accolades seem very important when you’re young and inexperienced in the professional world.  It’s because you have no other metric for success.  The education you’ve experienced for most of your life is all about gold stars and letter grades and honor rolls and GPA.  The market is nothing like that.  It cares about value.  Do you have it?  Can you prove it?

Resumes matter on occasion, but really only after you’ve got a foot in the door through your network, experience, and reputation as a hard worker.  Is college equipping you with those things?

What your resume lacks in degrees it can more than make up for in content.  It’s really impressive when someone is self-aware enough to know college wasn’t working, and bold enough to head for greener pastures.  It stands out from the crowd and opens the way for you to tell your story.  Plus, you can say, “I took the Mark Zuckerberg/Steve Jobs/Bill Gates/Larry Ellison route.”

An employer who writes off your great reputation, smarts, communication skills, and stellar work ethic, just because you don’t have a degree, is probably not someone you want to work with anyway.

6. Don’t forget opportunity cost.  You need to weigh the costs of finishing college.  You’ve got it.  Ignore sunk costs, think at the margin, and all that other stuff I’ve been saying.  Yeah, yeah.  You get out your calculator to add up the dollars, or if you’re more sophisticated, days and dollars.  But you’re ignoring the biggest cost: you.

You are scarce.  You can only be in one place, doing one thing, at one time.  That means for every choice you make there are countless other things you are unable to choose.  The cost of one decision is more than the money paid; it’s the value of the next best alternative.  Once again to the economists, who call this your opportunity cost.

If you’re considering that final fifteen grand for your senior year, you need to add to that the value of your next best option.  Maybe you could work and earn $20,000.  In that case, the cost of the final year is really $35,000.  Make a difference?  You bet.

It’s not just money prices.  Value is subjective.  Maybe you value experience and mentorship, or travel and new cultures, more than the $20,000 job.  You have to give it up to finish school.  Is it worth the price?

When you consider sacrificing four or more prime years of your youth, and being bound to one geographical location for most of that time, college starts to cost a lot more than tuition.  For half the cost and in half the time, you might be able to visit ten countries, start a business, earn some money, and learn computer programming.  That’s just scratching the surface.

Bottom line: Don’t stay in college just because you’re close to the end.  Look ahead rather than behind, figure out what fans your flame, weigh the costs and benefits of every alternative, and do what’s best for you.  Try Praxis for starters.

It’s Time to Shake Things Up

Not long ago, I launched Praxis; a ten-month alternative/supplement to college for entrepreneurial young people who want more.  I want to change the way education and career preparation happen.  I want to unleash a generation of entrepreneurs.  I want to help people escape the college debt trap.  I want to offer a better, faster, cheaper way to discover and pursue dreams.  I don't want to just complain about the status quo, I want to create alternatives.  I am now devoting all of my energy to this project, and, somewhat bitter-sweetly, moving on from the wonderful Institute for Humane Studies.

Since my early teens I've wanted to help people achieve their dreams.  I've wanted to increase opportunity, prosperity, and freedom.  I started doing humanitarian missions.  Before long I noticed that, while noble and fulfilling, such efforts were like a band-aid on a tumor.  It was the political institutions that held so much of the world back from the pursuit of happiness.

I entered the realm of politics, ready to make a difference.  The experience, combined with my introduction of Public Choice Theory, revealed that politics was no cure.  Political actors were following a script already written.  They were followers, not leaders.

The realm of policy, and eventually of education in the ideas of freedom, drew me in.  Ideas are the driving force in the world.  People's beliefs shape what they think about government and other institutions, and what they'll let those institutions get away with.  Policy follows the path blazed by belief.  This led me to the Mackinac Center, where I worked with college students across the state of Michigan.  It led me to IHS, where I worked with students around the world, helping them understand liberty, and helping them find careers where they could advance the ideas that lead to sound institutions, which in turn allow for the peaceful evolution of a free and humane society.

IHS's mission is near and dear to my heart.  They provide knowledge and support to intellectual entrepreneurs.  The big thinkers and communicators who's ideas shape the beliefs of the public.  The innovators who challenge common notions and bust popular myths.  IHS has played a role in the life and work of nearly every one of the contemporary intellectuals I respect most; from Hayek and Friedman, to the younger crop of groundbreaking economists, philosophers, historians, journalists, and "dealers in ideas". It has been an honor, a privilege, and a joy to work for this institution.

I mentioned intellectual entrepreneurs.  But to change the world requires two kinds of entrepreneur.  The innovators in the realm of ideas, who open up our imaginations, help us see what's wrong with what is and to consider what could be.  And the innovators in the realm of enterprise, who create working alternatives to the failing, stagnant institutions of the present day.

People may be willing to question prevailing narratives if given enough intellectual ammunition, but shedding received wisdom and habits is much easier when better alternatives already exist.  You can convince people the Post Office or the telephone monopoly is silly and inefficient, but consider the power of offering them UPS, FedEx, email, cell phones, and WiFi.

It is indeed the work of entrepreneurs, mold-breakers, and "crazy ones" that drives positive change.  I am excited to support the great work of places like IHS as they continue to unleash intellectual entrepreneurs.  I'm even more thrilled now to throw myself headlong into the work of Praxis, as we seek to unleash the practical entrepreneurs.  I hope you'll join me, whatever kind of entrepreneur you are, in creating new ideas, new businesses, new solutions.  Let's do more than dream of a better world.  Let's create it.

Don’t Go to College

Good friend and collaborator T.K. Coleman invited me on his show, “Conversations with FiFi & T.K.” to talk about Praxis and why traditional education doesn’t cut it any more.  We had a great conversation and I got to field some good questions about the Praxis idea.  Made me all the more excited for the start of our first class in February!  Hope you enjoy the interview.

Check out the Praxis Blog

A while back I stopped blogging here every day, as my creative energy was focused on launching Praxis.  Well, Praxis is here, and now it has a blog.  Topics will range from education, entrepreneurship, innovation, hacking your life, business, and everything in between.

I'll be posting there regularly, so check it out!

Why I Love the Anonymity of the Market

A lot of people say they want to know the person who sells to them.  They want a tight-knit Mayberry-like marketplace where you buy from and sell to your friends and family.  Seems more civil and cozy than the widely dispersed and highly specialized global market, doesn't it?  I don't think so.  And I don't think most people realize that the very anonymity they claim to dislike is one of the more humanizing and freeing aspects of the market.

Trying a new format, I recorded this while driving home from Starbucks.

You Were Born an Entrepreneur

Have you ever watched a baby with a goal?  They know what they want, but they don’t know how to get there.  They have limbs they can barely control and a variety of toys, tools, and furniture around them.  They collect information by watching others.  They test and explore, flailing their limbs until they invent their own kind of motion to get from point A to point B.  It’s remarkable when you think about it.  None of the adults around them are crawling, but babies find this solution on their own.  They will not be denied.

It takes years in a conformity-based education system to train that kind of initiative out of us.  In fact, conformity was one of the primary goals of the education system when it was established.  Experts believed that people needed to be molded into uniform widgets, then plugged into an assembly line like spare parts, ready to take orders.  It wasn’t a great model then, and it’s even worse for the world today.

Despite the slower economy, opportunity abounds.  Cloud-computing and other innovations have dramatically reduced the cost of creating, collaborating, and starting a business.  The best businesses are struggling to find people who can come in and add value, out-of-the-box thinking, and innovation.  The market is full of unmet needs, but there aren’t enough entrepreneurs to solve them.

Now is not the time to wait around for more jobs to open up.  Now is not the time to wander aimlessly through a status quo education, or sit in classrooms struggling to stay awake.  Now is the time to rediscover your inner entrepreneur.  Break free.  Pick goals, even if they're notional, and think clearly about the best way to achieve them.  Test different approaches.  Is the well-worn path really the best option?

Why Now is the Time

These are exciting times in education and career training.  The landscape is changing, and everyone knows it.  College degrees are still expected by most employers, but the trend is in the other direction.  Some of the most interesting companies don't care.  They want something that stands out and signals real value.

Online education is exploding.  It still falls short in many ways, but for basic conveyance of knowledge to the motivated learner, it's incredible.  Meanwhile, innovators are furiously trying out ways to test and verify knowledge, make it interactive, and enhance the experience.

Young people are listless and frustrated, but not willing to throw in the towel.  More and more are taking longer to make it through college; not because they're dumb, but because college doesn't help them discover their passions and hone their skills, even in four years, so they try a semester abroad, a new major, and on and on.  They crave a new, immersive experience.  They want something for them, not for the people who created the system.  They want to be the customer, and have their educational needs catered to; rather than feel like the cog who is used by the system then discarded.

Yet there is hesitancy.  Young people want to try something new, and break the mold, but they're scared to be too far out there or too different.  They read articles about the declining value and rising costs of college, but they still see degrees listed as a requirement for many jobs, and their friends and parents keep urging them to go, to finish, and if that's not enough, to try grad school.

Is it a little radical to try something like Praxis?  Yes.  That's precisely why it's so valuable.  Five years ago, doing something other than college was risky. In five years it will be common. Now is that sweet spot, where you have a chance to do something just enough on the edge to make you stand out, but not so far that no one understands. This is the time to push yourself just a little out of the comfort zone, be an innovator, and reap the first mover rewards on the job market.

The opportunity cost is low for young people.  The older you get, the harder it is to try something for a year.  It's always possible, but the mental hurdles become harder to overcome.  Now is the time.

Isaac Morehouse

Isaac Morehouse is the CEO of Crash, the career launch platform, and the founder of Praxis, a startup apprenticeship program. Isaac is dedicated to the relentless pursuit of freedom. He’s written some books, done some podcasting, and is always experimenting with self-directed living and learning.

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109 – FwTK: Listener Questions on Tons of Stuff

After a little rap by TK, we hit this week's "Facebook Warriors" segment hard, covering the weird smugness of aversion to learning on the job for free instead of paying to not learn in a classroom.

Then we take questions.  Tons of questions.  The NBA, hip hop, books, Neil deGrasse Tyson, movies, impostor syndrome, homeschooling, logical consistency, and lots more.

Recommendations: The X Files, The Lost Room, Stranger Things.

If you are a fan of the show, make sure to leave a review on iTunes.

All episodes of the Isaac Morehouse Podcast are available on SoundCloud, iTunes, Google Play, and Stitcher.

One Thing Repeated is More Powerful Than Many Things Attempted

Do one thing every day to become a better version of yourself.

Just one thing, even if it's tiny.  Don't miss a day.

The compounding effect will be immense.

108 – Implementer or Visionary (or why accountants can do cool stuff too!) with Derek Carter

Derek Carter Ceterus

Derek Carter was racing along the path to partnership at a large accounting firm. He had an accounting degree and years of experience busting his ass, taking on more responsibility and leading within the organization. He was managing people and working with autonomy in a large organization.

But his former colleague, Levi Morehouse, kept trying to sell him on leaving. They had worked together before Levi started Ceterus and had been pushing for Derek to join ever since. Eventually, Derek decided to make the leap into the startup world.

He’s now the COO of Ceterus, one of the most innovative and fastest growing accounting startups in the country.

Derek shares his backstory, from how he chose to pursue accounting, to deciding to leave his good job at a big firm to join a startup.

Derek is an outstanding example of an implementer joining with a visionary to make big things happen. If you’re working in a traditional role and excited by the possibility of working with a startup, there's a ton of wisdom for you in this episode.

Covered in this episode:

  • Learning competitiveness from baseball
  • Deciding to pursue an accounting degree
  • What made Northwood University great
  • What are the common characteristics of accountants
  • Why sales skills are necessary to progress as a public firm accountant
  • Derek’s experience starting his career at a large public accounting firm
  • The disconnect between auditing classes in college and auditing reality
  • How did Derek become convinced to leave his stable job to join Ceterus
  • Making the switch from a large established company to a startup
  • What does Derek look for when hiring for Ceterus
  • The decision-making process behind seeking outside investment for Ceterus
  • Advice for implementers who want to work in cool fields, but don’t want to be visionaries
  • Current Opportunities at Ceterus


If you are a fan of the show, make sure to leave a review on iTunes.

All episodes of the Isaac Morehouse Podcast are available on SoundCloud, iTunes, Google Play, and Stitcher.

Seeking the Approval of Dinosaurs

The great secret is that you are already free.

You fail to see it because you believe that dinosaurs rule the earth. You are seeking the approval of dinosaurs.

The truth is these dinosaurs are long extinct. Their great power is only myth.

You are now the great power.

107 – FwTK: Balanced People are Boring, Barber Shops, and Philosophy in 30 Days

Today we're back at it and things get a little weird at first.  We cover lots of stuff, and end with a deep dive on deep dives.

Also we unveil a cool new totally free resource by Praxis!  Philosophy in 30 Days.

Mentioned in the episode: Subway, 'as if it's true', Brian Brenberg, Stanislavsky, barber shops, baristas, labels, Jewish meditation, Dallas Willard, social justice warriors, Sudbury Valley School, soccer, Why Haven't You Read this Book?  Whitney Houston would have failed to mae it on American Idol, deep learning, philosophy in 30 days, Gregory Cokle, balance is boring.

Recommendations: Punished by Reward, and Insult to Intelligence.

If you are a fan of the show, make sure to leave a review on iTunes.

All episodes of the Isaac Morehouse Podcast are available on SoundCloud, iTunes, Google Play, and Stitcher.

Isaac Morehouse

Isaac Morehouse is the founder and CEO of Praxis, a startup apprenticeship program making degrees irrelevant for careers. Isaac is dedicated to the relentless pursuit of freedom. He’s written some books, done some podcasting, and is always experimenting with self-directed living and learning.

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