96 – Decentralizing Wikipedia, with Everipedia Co-Founder George Beall

George Beall

George Beall is a co-founder of Everipedia, the open encyclopedia that takes puts more power in the hands of the public. In his first year of college and before joining Everipedia, George founded a plug and play touchscreen tile technology company.

George is an outstanding example of learning from experience. He has consistently created or joined projects that interest him without waiting for permission or credentials. At a young age, he is already a seasoned entrepreneur. 

Also covered in this episode:

  • What is wrong with Wikipedia?
  • Is Wikipedia censoring information?
  • The bureaucracy of editing on Wikipedia
  • How do you convince people of a problem they may not be aware of?
  • What are Everipedia’s biggest challenges
  • George’s origin story
  • What sparks an interest in entrepreneurship?
  • Creating Touch Tiles as a college freshman
  • Learning from experience vs. a classroom
  • Future targets for Everipedia

Links:

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The Ever Moving Goalposts of Arguments for College

 

You have to go to college to get a good job and make money

Actually, college grads have an average of $35,000 in debt and 60% of them have no job or jobs that don’t require degrees.  Those silly earnings statistics have the causation backwards.

 

But you still need to learn skills for the real world!

Actually, employers report that college grads are completely unprepared for what’s needed in the real world.  You can learn all the skills you need better, faster, and cheaper through an apprenticeship.  College tends to foster all the worst skills; the type that make humans dull rule followers, easily replaceable by machines.

 

You can’t be so one-dimensional and materialistic.  The liberal arts are important to becoming well rounded person.

Precisely why you shouldn’t go to college.  Student knowledge of liberal arts is the same when they exit as when they enter school, and none of them like going to class anyway.  Anyone who is interested can read books and articles or take classes for free or incredibly cheap and get a far better liberal arts education.

 

It’s not about the knowledge, it’s about the network!

College networks are incredibly limited and uniform.  Anyone can build a rich, diverse network through work, travel, social clubs, or any number of ways that don’t cost six figures or take five years.

 

It’s not about the specific job, skills, knowledge, or network, it’s about the glories of the unique campus environment, the parties, the football, the four year escape to live and grow up!

Anyone can move to a college town and have all that and more without ever paying tuition or registering for classes.

 

Employers still need a degree as a signal of hireablility!

Actually, fewer and fewer require it and even those that do care far more about things that actually signal value creation.  A degree is one of the weakest signals on the market and the most expensive.  There are more ways than ever to get great jobs and stand out without wasted time or wasted dime.

 

Some jobs have mandated legal requirements for a degree!

Yes.  Yes they do.  And they shouldn’t.  Of course, many of those jobs are “prestige” careers that students don’t actually enjoy but feel like their parents need them to pursue like law or medicine.  Even there, opportunity to innovate and work in those industries as an entrepreneur without the costly credential exist and are growing rapidly.

 

But old people and parents might look down on you if you don’t do it!

Yep.  They look down on just about everything young people enjoy, create, and do well.  They’ll adjust.

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.

 

How to Skip College and Gain a $200k Head Start

What’s the real cost of college as a path to a career?

It’s not just the time, the boredom, the low quality, or the money.  It’s also the opportunity cost (what else you could be doing) and the cost of entering the professional world with few valuable skills and a mistaken belief that you’re prepared.

This great article in TechCrunch details how universities created the skills gap – the gap between what the market demands and what grads actually have.  There is also a perception gap.  Employers are twice as likely to say that grads are not prepared than the grads themselves – students think college is preparing them for a career, but the market begs to differ.

82% of grads have no job lined up upon graduation.  62% of degree holders are currently either unemployed or working jobs that do not require a degree.

New numbers on student debt just came out, and it’s at a record-breaking $37k per student average.

My colleagues and I ran some back of the envelope numbers comparing college to the Praxis experience.  It’s a 12-month experience (6-month professional bootcamp + 6-month paid apprenticeship), and we wanted to see how it stacks up.

(I should make clear that Praxis is not just a college replacement or alternative.  We also love to help college grads that want a better start to their career than blasting out resumes and hoping for something decent.)

Being conservative, assuming pay well below what our grads actually average, and no raises for 4+ years, and not factoring in interest payments on student loans, we sketched out a little comparison:

Praxis

  • Length: 12 months
  • Cost: $11k tuition – $14,400 earnings during the program = ($3,400)
  • Debt: $0
  • Job after graduation: 96%
  • Starting salary: Let’s say $40k ($50k is average)
  • Net benefit over 5 years: $2,400 (in program) + $170,000 (at 40k, if no raises for 4 years after graduation) = $173,400

College

  • Length: 5+ years on average
  • Cost: $100k (minimum)
  • Debt: $37k average
  • Job after graduation: ??? (82% of grads do not have a job lined up. 62% of degree holders have no job or a job that does not require a degree)
  • Opportunity cost: $173,400 (assuming you had done Praxis instead)
  • Net benefit over 5 years: -$37k debt -$173,400 opportunity cost = ($210,400)

I’ll be the first to tell you that averages and aggregates are not a guide to your life decisions.  None of this can tell you what’s the best path for you.  There is no sense in remarks like, “College is a good/bad idea for young people”, and the same goes for Praxis.  There’s no answer for “young people” in general.

All that matters is each individual.

Take the time to examine your own life, goals, situation, and what makes you excited and fulfilled.  Consider what the next year or two or five could be like for you given your various options.  Don’t just follow the dominant path or rebel against it because you saw some numbers somewhere.

Don’t do stuff you hate.  Don’t do what others want or expect.  Don’t do what’s supposed to give you prestige.  Do what makes you more of who you want to be every day.

How to Avoid ‘The Valley of the Shadow of Debt’

Talking with my colleague Zak Slayback, we were trying to visualize the typical process young people follow to get from high school to a career.  Many are unhappy with it, many come out no closer to a career or fulfilling life – often farther away, and burdened by debt.  They just don’t know what else to do.  They see only one option.

I call it The Valley of the Shadow of Debt.  You see people clamber down because everyone else is and they can’t figure any other way to get to the opportunity on the other side.

But after 4, 5, 6 or more years down there (some never return) you see some come out with a huge burden of debt and a cliff to scale on the other side.  They have no climbing experience or training.  They struggle climbing over each other, tossing resumes up towards opportunities, hoping for a lifeline.

This shouldn’t be the only way.

The Valley of the Shadow of Debt

That’s why we built Praxis.  To bridge the gap from where you are to a world of opportunities in dynamic businesses and startups.  To set you on the path of choosing what you want to do and be, rather than following the crowd down into the valley.

Praxis provides another way.  A direct line to real experience with real work and self-reflection and self-directed learning and coaching and so much more.  Why wait?

The best part?  After your bootcamp and paid apprenticeship, you get a full-time job at an awesome company, guaranteed.

Don’t get stuck in College Chasm.  Let us connect you to the rest of your life.

Praxis Bridge

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.

 

Why Golden Parachutes are Better Than Tenure

People argue for tenure as a way to allow risk taking, bold explorations into controversial ideas, and new frontiers in academia.  Without knowing their job can never be lost, how would professors have the incentive to take risks?  And after all, even if many don’t pay off, the most important advances come from big risks.

Any time you’re in a non-market or highly distorted market, it’s hard to know what really works and what doesn’t since genuine signals are absent.  Higher education is not even close to a functioning free market industry, so in order to assess the merit of claims about the value of tenure we ought to look elsewhere.

If tenure is really effective we should see it in other areas where risk taking and controversial advocacy are necessary.

It turns out we don’t really see it anywhere.  In a genuine market, it’s not used as a mechanism for incentivizing risk-taking behavior, even where such behavior is arguably far more valuable even than it is an academia.

Entrepreneurs do not have tenure.  Their risk has no subsidy or backstop except the safety net of their own skill and ability to earn a living elsewhere if the venture fails.  Raising capital from an investor is one way to create the space necessary to experiment with bold ideas, but investors fight to ensure the opposite of tenure.  They want seats on the board and the freedom to vote the founder out.

Inventors and artists need to explore wild, crazy, unthinkable ideas.  Yet tenure is not common in any private sector research labs or the entertainment industry and certainly not in the garages and basements of individual creators.  Intellectual property laws can provide a kind of hedge against risk for the tiny percentage of creators with the means to gain and defend IP, but on net IP actually increases the risk to inventors and artists (when other people gain patents and sue).  Even if IP is gained, it protects the creation, which still has to sell to consumers, it doesn’t ensure an income for the creator.

What about CEOs?  Especially in large publicly traded companies, CEOs need to be free to take major risks.  They need to alter the brand, company culture, product lines, production processes, and anything else that might be inhibiting growth.  CEOs need to advocate crazy ideas and bring bold new visions to fruition, with no guarantee whatsoever they will work or be well received by customers, employees, or investors.  Billions of dollars and thousands of careers are on the line.  Do boards offer them tenure as a way to ensure they are properly incentivized to make unpopular decisions or advance bold ideas?

Never.

But the need for such protection is real.  An incentive structure too hard on failed risk-taking would be hugely detrimental.  Instead of the beloved tenure, something else has emerged in the market.  The despised “Golden Parachute”.

CEOs of large companies get really nice compensation packages, even if they get fired or the company tanks.  This is a hugely valuable tool.  Without it, the CEO role would be undesirable, and bold changes would almost never occur.  If they know they won’t be left out in the cold after a risky idea fails, they’re more likely to try it.  Additionally, if the previous CEO wasn’t impoverished for failure it will make the search for a high-quality new CEO far easier.  No one wants to work for a place that might destroy them if things don’t work out.

The huge advantage the golden parachute has over tenure is that it protects the individual risk taker without letting them bring down the quality of the institution.  Tenure for CEOs would be a disaster.  Boards would be stuck with bad CEOs for life, embarrassing the company and making everyone suffer.  Golden Parachutes, in contrast, allow for a speedy dismissal of a bad executive before they bring down the firm, but still create an incentive structure for risk-taking on the part of CEOs.

While some level of protection from catastrophic failure or public opinion is valuable for encouraging risk-taking and innovation in some fields, tenure seems an inferior method than what emerges in the market.

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 they 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.

School is a 16-Year Internship for Professors

Want to learn something?  Be around it.

The habits, ideas, processes, and perhaps most importantly, incentives of the environment you want to be a part of will teach you vastly more than consciously studied facts.

Julian Jaynes, in his seminal book on consciousness, cites a study where students were told to compliment any girl wearing read.  Within a week, red outfits were everywhere in the school.  The girls weren’t consciously responding to factual knowledge but internalizing the compliments and altering their behavior subconsciously.  Jaynes argues that learning signals, skills, and even reasoning are not, in fact, conscious processes.  In fact, after taking in the basic structure, being conscious of learning gets in the way and slows the process.

This means the subconscious queues and incentives of the environment are a more powerful force in determing what you learn than whatever conscious topic is presented.  What you pickup on and get rewarded for and see others doing to succeed or fail shapes how your brain transforms and adapts to succeed.

This has some pretty interesting implications for schooling, from kindergarten through college.

The school setting, whatever subject is being taught consciously, is a single-file line-standing, speak-when-given-permission, the “expert” knows all right answers, zero-sum, obedience training program.  The clear “winners” in the school setting are the authority figures and those who best please them.  The academics and kids who do things that academics like.

In other words, school is a 16-year internship for being a professor.

You’re immersed in the daily habits, worldviews, problems solving methods, attitudes, and incentives of professors.  What you learn from shadowing academics isn’t whatever topic they might be teaching as much as how to be like them.

This is, of course, the ideal program if you want to be an academic.  I have many wonderful professor friends and I’ve met some young people who want to be professors.  The system was built for them, and it’s a good fit.  They should stick with it happily.

The problem is that most people have no idea that they are in an extended academic internship.  Most don’t want to be professors or they simply have no idea whether they do or not because they’ve never been around anything else.

You can’t discover what you might enjoy or be good at from academic books and practictioners telling you about it.  You need to experiment and experience it.  You need to be around people doing those things.  You need to apprentice with people other than just academics to learn what people other than academics do and how to succeed in that world.

Get out of the classroom and try real world stuff to find what you enjoy and are good at and immerse yourself in the subconscious learning of how to succeed in whatever environments you explore.  A few courses or books or a major can’t give you that knowledge while your subconscious is fully occupied with learning how to be a professor.

You might not be learning much from the conscious process of schooling (hence forgetting everything after the test), but you’re definitely learning something in school.  The question is, do you want to learn that something?  Will it help you, or set you back in a dynamic marketplace that cares only for value creation, not academic process?

Yes, this realization is precisely why Praxis was created – to give you a real-world apprenticeship with top entrepreneurs in a variety of industries and dynamic businesses.  Check it out.

Stop Telling Good Arguers to Become Lawyers

I’ve met a lot of bright young people planning on law school or in law school.

I’ve also met a lot of unhappy lawyers.

I suspect lots of these young people will end up unhappy lawyers too, and I’ve got a theory as to why.

Lawyers are often “successful” in terms of external indicators and cultural prestige.  They tend to make good money and are held in esteem (lawyer jokes notwithstanding).  And, of course, lawyering is a perfect fit for some people.  I know some very happy lawyers.

But it seems a large percentage of the profession consists of unhappy people.  People who don’t particularly enjoy doing divorce or merger and acquisition paperwork.  Many who wish they could escape.

How did they end up there in the first place?

Because the educational conveyor belt doesn’t know what else to do with truth-seekers.

Everyone is motivated by a lot of things.  But most of us have one core value that, when push comes to shove, trumps the rest.  For some it may be freedom, for others security, adventure, or in the case of many an unhappy lawyer, truth.

Those whose dominant core value is truth are rather relentless.  They’re smart.  They like to argue, and they tend to argue well.  They want to get to the bottom of things.  They want to find the right answers.  They want correct facts and knowledge of right and wrong.  They are willing to examine and explore multiple sides of issues and ideas in the process.

Similar to those whose highest value is independence, they’re comfortable questioning authority.  But the freedom-seekers tend to be more willing to disobey or ignore the rewards and punishments of the education system.  They might rebel against assignments or good grades.  Truth-seekers on the other hand, though happy to question the status quo, are typically comfortable following basic rules and getting good grades as well.  They see winning at the grade system as a way of finding whatever truth is to be found there.

Herein lies the problem, and the beginning of their disproportionate and often unfortunate pursuit of careers in law.  The school system doesn’t know what else to do with them.

There are few ways to channel their truth-seeking desires in school.  There’s little in the way of philosophy, history doesn’t do as much debating as fact-spitting, and even the sciences pre-graduate level don’t really spend time questioning anything fundamental.

What’s left?  Debate and forensics.  Truth-seekers do well here.  They love it.  Most high school debaters will tell you it was the absolute highlight of their educational experience.  They finally got to question everything, look at all sides of issues, argue without being offensive or reprimanded.  And they got to “win”.

Parents and teachers of young truth-seekers are so conditioned with the conveyor belt mindset that they struggle to see beyond an easily identifiable handful of job titles.  The work/identity trap is also strong, so whatever junior likes must immediately be mapped onto a business card.  A focus on external indicators of success furthers the tendency.  The common refrain for young debaters is, “You’re always arguing.  You should be a lawyer!”  What other possible avenues for all this truth-seeking could there be?

“I get to search for the truth?  I get to debate it?  I get to make everyone proud of a prestigious career?  I get to make good money?  Yeah, I guess I do need to go to law school!”

So lots of them do.

And lots of them end up wishing they hadn’t.  They find out too late that most lawyer jobs have little to do with truth-seeking.  The law itself isn’t primarily about truth, and most law jobs are even less so.  They’re about navigating bureaucracy and nearly impenetrable wordplay to help people do very simple tasks like buy and sell things, move money, end or begin professional or personal relationships, or draft up “just in case” language.  It’s a fundamentally conservative endeavor, concerned with protection from liability more than the caution-to-the-wind pursuit of truth that landed them there.

Law requires attention to detail, a high degree of literacy, and plenty of patience and problem solving.  Those things are perfect for some people.  But those whose core value is truth aren’t often among them.

Because their desire for truth was so quickly tracked and careerified, they never had the chance to explore.  Law school is particularly problematic then, because of its astronomical price tag.  Upon completion, more doors have been closed than opened.  There are only so many jobs that pay enough to service the debt.  And by now they’re closer to marriage, kids, and other financial obligations that make lower starting pay gigs tougher.  After law school, they kind of feel like they have to be a lawyer, even if it doesn’t scratch the itch for truth.

A decade later and the debt burden might be gone, but the golden handcuffs replace it.  Quality of life seems locked in.  Mortgages, cars, schools, and prestige can’t easily be downgraded, even if they are unhappy most of the day most days.  It’s lifestyle slavery, and it kind of sucks.

Where else might these truth-seekers have gone with their passion?  Perhaps philosophy.  Not just in the academic sense, which often comes with its own bureaucracy and BS, but more generally.  It’s true, you can be a philosopher and a lawyer or a philosopher and a great many other things.  Your source of income and who you are need not be the same.  Seeking, writing, researching, fact-finding, and questioning are such general and generally valuable traits that a true philosopher can apply them in myriad careers.  But law is a career that makes being defined by anything else particularly hard.

How many authors, podcasters, coaches, mentors, counselors, investigative reporters, or entrepreneurs are at bottom truth-seekers?  Truth as a core value is applicable in a great many areas.  Most of all, someone with the freedom to follow their passion for truth is likely to discover or create a career we can’t even yet imagine.  Sadly, the school conveyor belt tends to corral more than its fair share into law.

So here’s the takeaway: Stop telling good arguers to become lawyers.

Let them explore the world fully and freely.  Let them try a lot of stuff.  Let them follow their questions.  If after real exposure to the day to day reality a career in law appeals to them, great.  They’ll choose law school.  But don’t obsess about placing them on a list of predefined career categories and channeling their core values into it before they know what’s what.

I’m a parent.  I get it.  We worry how our kids will feed themselves and build a life.  If they love something, our mind immediately tries to formalize and monetize it.  My son loves video games and comics and superheroes, and more than once I’ve begun formulating ways to turn this interest into a career as a video game designer or illustrator and set him on that path now.

Fight that urge.  Open the world up to them, not just the few aspects of it that come with a title and salary today.  But everything that it is and could be tomorrow.

This leads to another good question…what are some other career tracks that young people with other core values get placed on too early?…

Put Your Education and Life In Good Hands…Yours

I had an awesome email conversation with a young lady named Hannah who’s busy building the life she wants and realized there is no prefabricated, standardized educational path that will cut it. Here’s an excerpt:

“I originally thought I was on a college path, because I loved academics so much and because everybody told me college was the obvious choice for me, but when I started actively exploring schools I was really unimpressed. I knew from my homeschooling experience that, academically, I could learn pretty much anything I wanted to on my own. I also feel pretty sure that I can learn it better, because I can follow my own instinct and interest and learn it in the way that perfectly suits me, not the one-size-fits-all system. I was horrified by the price tag, felt like four years was a long time to waste in school, and I didn’t have a formulaic career path picked out for which a degree would be a logical first step. I didn’t want the life of any young college graduate I knew, definitely wanted to avoid the college culture, and felt underwhelmed by the curriculum and unimpressed by every professor I’d ever met. At this point in my life, I can’t think of anything I really want to do for which I actually need a college education. The icing on the cake was the moment when I realized: right now I’m free. The moment I commit to a semester of college I become shackled in debt — something I’ll have to shape my life around paying off, rather than exploring interesting projects and developing and growing, which is what I’d rather be doing.”

Check out her blog.

If this resonates with you, check out Praxis.  It’s for people like you and Hannah.  And whether or not Praxis is a fit, you can email me anytime if you’re itching to do your own thing but need someone to talk to!

The Ridiculousness of the “I’m Not Impressed” Facebook Comment

Facebook can be a…uh…special place.  People behave in ways I cannot imagine them behaving in the flesh.  I don’t think this is good or bad, it just is.  Still, it makes for some rather odd and entertaining moments.

The other day I shared a quote from a young college opt-out with whom I was emailing:

“I dropped out of university when I was 19. I had lots of friends there. My grades were great. My future was bright. But I was unhappy and restless. Most of all, I was feeling unfulfilled. So instead of taking out student loans and finishing my degree, I quit.

We talk a lot about “living intentionally.” But during my unfulfilling time at uni, I really came to understand what that means. Going to university right out of high school just because “that’s what you’re supposed to do” isn’t living intentionally. I had no idea who I was or what I wanted out of life, and it occurred to me that perhaps I would be just as clueless and lost upon graduation day.

I didn’t have a business idea or plan for what to do when I quit. I didn’t have a job lined up. I quit uni “the wrong way” according to most people. It was “the risky way,” “the stupid way.” But I survived. I made it work. And I’ve loved every second of the adventure so far.

We’re hardwired for thinking that taking risks and making changes will only end in disaster. We like certainty. We like predictability. We like routines. But there’s a certain danger in routine. Those things that we can “do in our sleep” run the risk of luring us into a slumber we may never wake up from. So I’ll take the discomfort of uncertainty over the slumber of routine each chance I get.”

Cool, right?  It seemed pretty self-evident that I shared this because I thought it was inspiring and some of the many other young people I know who are slowly decaying in college but are afraid to buck social and parental pressure might take heart in her story.

It got some likes and shares, and then this comment popped up:

“This sort of thing brings out the grumpy old man in me. She quit college at 19 and now she all of 20 and not dead yet. What an inspiration! Insert sardonic face here. How much of a risk is she taking? I bet she has parents backstopping her. And I’m supposed to be inspired by her and follow her on Twitter and soak up all her wisdom? Give me a break. I’ll change my tune when she actually, you know, does something.”

I couldn’t help but laugh.  So many hilarious thoughts went through my head.  I don’t normally respond to comments, but considering this girl was insulted by a stranger after I shared her story, I thought I’d post something to stick up for her just a bit.  I had a lot of ideas for responses, but opted to keep it simple with this:

“I think you underestimate just how much pressure young people face to unthinkingly go to college whether they gain anything from it or not. I share this not because this young lady has “arrived”, whatever that means, but because it takes a ton of courage to stop and think about your own life and live it on your terms instead of the conveyor belt you’re pressured into.

Anyone who’s not just bobbing in the current deserves respect.”

There was so much more to say about the comment though.  Here are some of the other responses I considered…

Thanks for your comment!  Maybe, just maybe, you aren’t the intended audience. Maybe you don’t need to follow her on Twitter for inspiration. Maybe middle-aged dudes who are not facing challenges similar to a 19-year-old aren’t supposed to be inspired by her.  Maybe somewhere, some other 19-year-old hates school and is scared to death to face the social pressure of doing something more tailored to her.  Or maybe she should be chastised for not doing something impressive to you yet…

Thanks for your comment!  I wonder what “done something” means?  Could you define what activities and achievements this young lady must complete before she is allowed to have a website or talk about her story in her about section?  What challenges are big enough that she should be allowed to talk about them?  To what authorities should she appeal before sharing her journey or posting a Tweet?

Thanks for your comment!  You’re right, no one is really inspiring who hasn’t succeeded.  Then again, what’s the definition of success if not living a fulfilling life with pride in your choices and accomplishments?  If she earned a million dollars and hated her life and felt shame for her choices, would she be inspiring?  She clearly said this was a big challenge for her to overcome, she did it, and now she’s happy.  Is that not success because you think that challenge would have been easy for someone else?

Thanks for your comment!  FWIW, this young lady is working at a business in Poland right now and started her own accent reduction service for non-native English speakers on the side.  But that’s not relevant.  What’s relevant is that you were offended by the fact that her story was not directly inspiring to you.  Sorry about that!  In the future I’ll make sure to ask if what I post is personally inspiring to you, even if you’re not the intended audience.  I’ll also advise this young woman to seek your permission before feeling proud or sharing her story in the future.

Thanks for your comment!  Let me see if I can boil down the heart of it in summary:  You’re upset because something someone posted to Facebook doesn’t inspire you.  Your post could be shortened a bit to, “I’m not impressed.”  Got it.

Thanks for your comment!  Though it does bring out the grumpy young man in me.  So you’re all of middle-aged-something, you shot down a young stranger’s story on Facebook, and you’re not dead yet.  What, you want me to follow you on Twitter now to soak up more of your dismissive derision?  Please.  Call me when you’ve, you know, done something that piques my interest.

I decided not to post any of those.  It seemed like it would have been mean.  Plus, the Facebook inspiration police might have swarmed and pointed out with deep insight and profound erudition that they’re not impressed anyway.  That would have been crushing.

Check out this podcast episode about call-out culture and the dangers of playing the critic:

Episode 2: TK Coleman on Comments, Critics, and Call-Out Culture

 

The Two Great Secrets of Higher Education

  1. Tuition is paid for one reason: to buy a signal.
  2. That signal is not worth the investment compared to what you can create elsewhere.

These two great secrets are known to almost nobody.  A few people know secret number one, but falsely conclude that the signal is still the best option.

A small but growing number of people partially understand what’s behind secret number two, but because they do not grasp that the product universities sell is a signal, they compare only alternative social and learning experiences to universities, not alternative ways of creating a signal.

The combined understanding of both of these secrets will completely revolutionize the way people think about and engage in education, career preparation, work, and life.

The Signal Secret

  1. Tuition is paid for one reason: to buy a signal.

A small number of economists and thinkers have identified that higher education is valued because of its signalling power.  That is, the college experience does not form people into more valuable or learned individuals capable of doing good work, but it sorts people into groups and attaches degrees to those who were already capable.

Signals are not bad things.  They are very valuable.  Employers need a way to narrow the pool of applicants and weed out the least likely to succeed.  There is a correlation between completing college and being a better worker on average.  But there is no causation.

Harvard doesn’t make you more likely to succeed.  The type of person who gets accepted into Harvard is already more likely to succeed.

Almost everyone objects to calling the product universities sell a signal.  They claim it’s a big bundle of goods.  It’s a social experience.  It’s a network.  It’s knowledge.

It is indeed a bundle of these things and many more, but these are all fringe benefits.  None of them are the core product being purchased.  When you pay to get your oil changed and the waiting room has coffee and magazines it’s a nice perk, but it’s clearly not the service you are purchasing.  If the auto garage didn’t have these comforts you might still go, but if they only sold coffee and magazines without oil changes, you wouldn’t.

College is the same.  Whatever other activities and benefits students may derive from their experience, none of them are the reason they are paying to be there.  They are paying for the signal, period.

It’s easy to prove this point.  List every other element of the higher education bundle.  Sports, parties, talks with professors, lectures, books, living with other young people, etc.  Now ask which of these would be possible if you never paid tuition?  All of them.  Move to a college town, sit in on classes, join clubs, go to events, read books, and live the college life to your heart’s content.

When you take away the credential at the end, it becomes clear how easy it is to get all the other aspects of college for free or very low cost, and often better.

This is also evidenced by the fact that everyone is happy when class is cancelled.  What other good do people pay for upfront and then cheer when it’s not delivered?  It’s because the classroom lectures and tests are not the good being purchased.  They are an additional cost that must be borne in order to get the real product, which is the piece of official paper.  The signal.

Young people may or may not enjoy some or all elements of the college experience.  But the reason they go and pay is because, in their minds, they have to.  They have to to get the signal, because without the signal you can’t get a decent job or be seen as a decent human being, so the prevailing narrative goes.

The signal is the product.  Until that is understood, no amount of tweaking or reforming or innovating any of the other parts of the higher education bundle will matter.

And it turns out, you don’t need the signal college sells after all.

The Alternatives Secret

  1. That signal is not worth the investment compared to what you can create elsewhere.

Everyone is thrilled to show you charts and graphs and statistics about the correlation between degrees and earnings.  None of that matters.

It doesn’t matter because aggregates are not individuals and because data can never show causation.

What happens to the average of some aggregate does not determine what course of action is most beneficial for an individual.  The average Ferrari owner earns a lot more than the average Honda owner.  No one assumes this means buying a Ferrari is a great way to improve your earning potential.

To the individual, the question is not whether college is a good investment for all young people on average.  The question is whether you can build a better signal with less than four plus years and five plus figures.  Turns out, that’s a pretty low bar.

The degree signals that you are probably a little above average for someone your age.  Maybe not even that as degrees proliferate.  This means if you are average or below average in ability, creativity, or work ethic, the degree signal may help you get a better job than you could without it.  (Though it won’t help you keep it.)

If you are above average in ability, creativity, or work ethic the degree signal sells you short.  It makes you blend in with all the lower quality people coming out of the same institution.  (Not only that, the college experience itself tends to foster habits that make you less able, creative, and hardworking.)

Young people today have at their fingertips tools to create signals far more powerful than generic institutional credentials.  Consider the impact of a tailored website that demonstrates the value you have created?  Better yet, a website or product that demonstrates to a company the value you will create for them?

Consider the value of working alongside a successful entrepreneur or industry leader for free or low pay for a year or two and parlaying that into a full-time gig?  Companies hate the searching and hiring process.  They’d always rather promote someone within who has a proven track record of value creation.  Compare the cost of low wages for a year or two to the cost of no wages and huge debt for four.

Businesses need value-creating employees.  They use degrees as an early proxy to eliminate some chunk of applicants (though even this practice is declining for big and small companies alike), but they only use them in absence of a better, clearer, more powerful signal.  When one exists, it trumps the academic credential.  When you realize all they want is proof of ability to create value, the world begins to open up.  How many ways are there to prove that you can?

It’s not only about getting hired.  Professors are quick to tell you that wages are not the only thing that matters when it comes to happiness and success in life.  They are correct.  Yet chasing the degree as the only signal often leaves people with debt that requires a relatively high wage to service, thus cutting off options and opportunities to explore and experiment.

Not least of these explorations is the wonderful and growing world of entrepreneurship.  It’s easier and cheaper than ever to create your own product or launch your own venture.  It’s also more and more valuable.  Machines and software can do rote tasks.  Humans’ greatest value add is creative problem solving and innovation.

The ability to freelance for a living, launch a micro business, or create a major enterprise is expanding every day.  There is no benefit to the degree signal in the world of entrepreneurship.  There are no HR departments wading through resumes looking for checklists.  Here, in fact, the college experience can be more of a detriment than a benefit.  It tends to restrict the imagination to known methods, restrict your network to same-aged people, restrict your financial flexibility and risk-taking, and cut into many of the easiest years for trying something bold when the cost of failure is lowest.

A 20-year-old who launched a KickStarter campaign, built an app, created a website, apprenticed for a small business owner, read 50 books, or even just has an amazing online presence signals more value creation potential than a 22-year-old with a BA and a 3.7 GPA.  Yes, you can supplement the college experience with these other things, but classes and obligations (not only time but financial and parental) get in the way of fully unleashing your independent signal-creating potential.

The Real Revolution

The real revolution in higher education will not come from better delivery mechanisms for lectures, or new platforms to sell the same signal.  It won’t be disrupted by online versions of the brick and mortar establishment.

The real revolution will look as varied as the people participating in it.  It will begin when people understand the two secrets of higher education.  When it is realized that college is selling a signal and that signalling your ability to create value can be done far better in myriad other ways, the world will bloom with alternative methods of getting young people from where they are to where they want to be.

Instead of 16, 17, and 18-year-olds stressing about how to get into colleges, they should focus their energy on how to begin building a better signal.  Instead of 19, 20, and 21-year-olds stressing about majors and minors and GPA’s, they should focus their energy on creating value and building a way to prove it.

What are you signalling?

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Want more?  Check out Praxis, a one-year apprenticeship + professional development + coaching educational experience for young people who want more than college.

Episode 57: Thaddeus Russell on the Launch of Renegade University

Thaddeus Russell comes back to the show to talk about his upcoming project called Renegade University.  RU will be a combination of online lectures, readings and interactive seminars based on his book A Renegade History of the United States and an attitude of individualism and free inquiry.

We also talked about where Thaddeus sees renegades today and how culture changes over time so that black market activities become legal and accepted. We cover his upcoming book that deals with US interventionism abroad and the blowback that ensued, as well as the vastness of pop culture influence, along with what he thinks is wrong with modern universities and current protests over racism and diversity.

Check out more about Thaddeus and the Renegade University at thaddeusrussell.com

This episode sponsored by Praxis and the Foundation for Economic Education.

Apply to Praxis now!

Check out FEE seminars to learn about economics and entrepreneurship this summer!

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