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

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

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

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

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

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

Here comes the pain.  And the learning.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Damn.

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

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

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

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

Teachers Aren’t Very Good Teachers

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

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

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

…………………………………………………………….

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

Why LEGO is more valuable than algebra

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

The More You Risk the More You Learn?

Here’s a relationship I’m exploring right now:

The amount you learn is proportionate to the amount you risk.

I’m not sure if it’s universally valid.  There are probably exceptions.  Still, the more I think about it the more I like it.

It’s important to note that “risk” is subjective.  An increase in risk is an increase in the probability and/or magnitude of a result that forces you to do something you’d prefer not to.  Risk can be material, emotional, physical, or psychological.

If you work for an established, large corporation you will learn things.  If you work for an early stage startup you will learn more things.  If you start your own company you will learn even more.  Each stage ratchets up the risk, in this case financial and social (status loss in event of failure), and the learning goes with it.

Physical risk seems to follow the same pattern.  To learn new moves on the court or field you have to be willing to try them.  Each new move has an increased risk of failure or even injury.  Adventure athletes can probably attest to this at the most extreme, where loss of life is a legitimate risk the physical and mental knowledge gained is likely tremendous.

Even in pure intellectual pursuits I expect this is true.  Sitting and reading or contemplating seems an inherently riskless activity but it’s not.  What you can learn is limited by what you explore, what questions you’re willing to ask, and how far you’re willing to go for answers.  If you safely examine comfortable, socially acceptable ideas you may learn a few things.  But the real learning comes when you push yourself and explore things with potentially risky ramifications.  If your beliefs were to change how uncomfortable would it make you?

This doesn’t mean intellectual risk taking is simply reading people diametrically opposed to your own views.  This is one of the least risky things to do.  More likely it involves reading someone reasonable with a number of foundational beliefs in common but with some unexpected angle or paradigm you’ve never considered.  Imagine a knowledgeable libertarian, for example, reading a radical socialist.  Not very risky.  It’s easy to predict what will be argued and responses are already at hand.  It’s riskier for a libertarian to read an anarchist who builds on the same foundation but extends the ideas into more radical territory – territory that might make one seem “impractical” at cocktail parties.

So what does it mean if the more you risk the more you learn?

The conclusion shouldn’t be that more risk is inherently good.  We all love the word “learning” but there is nothing inherently good about learning either.  Don’t necessarily feel guilt for not risking and therefore learning more.  There are plenty of instances where reducing risk, and therefore learning, is the better path.  I’m sure if I played chicken with an oncoming car I’d learn a lot about myself that couldn’t be learned any other way.  Doesn’t mean I should do it.  I’m not sure knowledge helps if you’re dead (then again, how can I know without trying…)

But I think there are some valuable implications to the risk/learning relationship.  If you know your own goals and are honest about them it can help you make decisions.  If you place a tremendously high value on learning something in particular you might consider higher risk situations that will impart a higher level of knowledge.

This is related but (I think) a little bit different than Nassim Taleb’s powerful concept of “skin in the game“.  Skin in the game is about getting more value out of the decisions you do make by being more invested in the outcome, whereas the risk/learning relationship is perhaps slightly broader and has implications for the kind of decisions you make in the first place.

Here’s What We’ve Done in the First Three Years of Praxis

In just two weeks it will mark three years from the day the first Praxis website went live and the first person applied for the program.  It seemed a good time to give a longish recap on what we’re all about, what we’ve been building, and what it’s resulted in so far.

This includes bits of blog posts and updates written over the past few years that reflect the deepest, most important and enduring reasons why we do what we do.

We started with nothing but an idea so powerful it demanded action.  Action is scary.  Action is unknown.  Action is prone to failure and accountable to results.  Action can be nitpicked and potshotted.  Action is also the only way to turn ideas into a powerful force for change.

We didn’t start with a pristine plan or perfect path to execution.  We started with a dogged, enthusiastic commitment to create something new and bold and big to change lives and life itself.

We didn’t start Praxis because we think college is bad, or because we want to convince people it is.  We didn’t start it to be hip and trendy and “disruptive”.  We didn’t start it because we want to point out problems with the world.  We started it because we want to create value for individuals.

There are a lot of young people hungry for valuable experiences and not finding them.  There are a lot of young people unhappy with the education, career, and life options they see before them, searching for something more.  Praxis exists for you.

Praxis is more than a program or a company to me.  It’s the embodiment of a mindset and a way of life.  It is a tangible way to help people live free, self-directed lives.  It’s a community and a set of resources and ideas and businesses and participants built around the understanding that no conveyor belt can lead you to the life you want, and no structure you don’t choose and create yourself will bring you fulfillment.

Praxis is a concrete opportunity, not a vague notion.  It offers an interesting, challenging, amazing job and an interesting, challenging, amazing self-guided educational experience, all with a relentless focus on deliverable results.  It’s a recognition that your life will be determined by the quality of your product more than the pedigree of your paper.  It’s a way to remove the fear and doubt and strictures of the linear ladder to imagined success.  It’s a way to reveal and fan into flame the deep human love of adventure, play, possibility, and experimentation.

I don’t believe doing things you don’t like and hoping it leads to unspecified things you do like is a recipe for success.  Praxis pushes you to define what you don’t like and what you do, to learn what you’re good at and what you’re not, to identify definite outcomes you wish to achieve and definite causality between those outcomes and your desired next step.  Praxis does not ask you to learn things or perform tasks in the hope that it will get you work experience, we give you that work experience from the start.  You cannot separate learning from doing.

Praxis is a recognition that, wherever you get your paycheck, you are your own firm.  The future does not belong to those who follow orders, but those who solve problems with creativity.  The future belongs to entrepreneurs, whether founders or builders within firms.  Entrepreneurial thinking and acting cannot be learned from study, but must be practiced.  Praxis exists to put those eager to learn it into environments right now – not tomorrow, not after more study and certification – where they can be around and become entrepreneurs.

Praxis exists to offer a valuable service to young people who are searching for a way to build their confidence, skills, experience, network, and knowledge.  Praxis is built upon questions like, “Why not now?”, and “Why not me?”

Praxis is about that powerful combination of big picture dreamers and blue-collar doers.  It’s all the imagination of Silicon Valley startups with all the work-ethic of Midwestern small businesses.  It’s grit plus grind plus greatness.  Praxis is the realization that the most radical thing you can do is often the most practical, and that the most practical thing you can do is sometimes be radical.

Praxis is an idea.  The idea is simple.  Find the best way to get from where you are to where you want to be.  If we can help you do that better and faster with a great job that comes with a great education and community, jump in.  If not, we’ll still be rooting for you every step of the way.

We didn’t start Praxis to make enemies or to make friends.  We started it to create value.  We started it because the idea was so powerful we had no choice but to bring it into the world.  We started it because theorizing about ways young people could build their lives wasn’t enough.  We started it because it’s fun, fulfilling, and harder than anything I’ve ever done.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.

When we created Praxis we did it to fill a large and growing gap in the option set facing young people.  So many smart, ambitious, curious individuals are languishing in fluorescently-lit cinder-block classrooms.  Bored.  Racking up debt.  For no clear purpose.

The myth they are steeped in is that they have to do this.  There is no choice.  The options are presented: Be a loser, or sit around for 4-6 years at a cost of tens of thousands.

But the myth goes deeper.

The myth is that learning itself, and by extension self-improvement, are terrible, boring, passionless and must necessarily be enforced by bureaucrats and self-proclaimed authorities.  Your job, if you want to succeed in life (by who’s definition anyway?) is to follow the rules, memorize the disconnected facts, take the tests, pad the resume, apply for the jobs, and wait for the conveyor belt to drop you off at ‘normal’.

How depressing and frustrating this is to so many of the best and brightest.

We set out to cut through the crap.  We wanted these talented young people to stop waiting for real life and to jump into amazing work experiences at amazing companies eager for their help.  We wanted them to shatter the old paradigm of education and start fresh, like newborns do, exploring questions that matter to them, creating their own challenges and structure, diving into a rigorous self-improvement project.

The mindset is simple and powerful.  Awaken your inner entrepreneur.  You own your life.  You own your education.  You own your career.  You are the driving force in your own process of creation.  Do things for the results you value, not the hoops arbitrarily placed before you.

We wanted this entire life-shifting experience to take place in the span of a single year and for a net cost of zero.

I received this email from current Praxis participant Mitchell Earl.  It beautifully illustrates the mindset shift.

“If I had to estimate, I’d say I skipped class 2/3 of the time in college. I don’t sit still well. I couldn’t learn in that type of environment. I need to be stimulated. When I did go to class, I used to take the daily puzzles; either crosswords or sudokus because I needed something to direct my nervous energy toward if I was going to be forced to sit and listen to someone talk at me. I can’t even count the number of times I had a professor yank my newspaper away from me IN COLLEGE.

In my web design class, the syllabus alone put a burr under my saddle reading, “One absence is considered excessive for the course.” I redefined excessive. I turned in my work on time, but I refused to go sit in a classroom and be told how or what to code, design, or write. That’s not how I learn.

I didn’t and don’t want my work to be like grocery store milk, micro-filtered, ultra-pasteurized, standardized, and homogenized. For me to do my best work, I need to have the freedom to explore my creativity. Praxis has shown me that. It’s given me the freedom to explore my own needs as a learner. No one is yanking my puzzle away telling me to pay attention. No one is telling me how to learn. No one is shaming my individuality. With Praxis, I’m free to be me.”

Yes.  That’s exactly it Mitchell.  We set out to create more freedom.  To help you carve out a space, to break the other-imposed mold, and plot your own path to fulfillment as you define it.

Freedom isn’t easy.  It’s much harder work than just doing what everyone else wants and expects.  It takes a lot of deep, philosophical thinking.  It takes self-knowledge and self-honesty.  It takes discipline and hard work.  It takes tolerance of failure and the courage to put yourself in new situations, often over your head, and learn on the fly.  It takes the humility to be in environments where you’re not the smartest person in the room.  Your desire for personal growth must be strong enough to sustain these challenges.

Mitchell is tasting it.  So are our other participants and grads.  This is what we set out to do.  And we’re doing it.  One life at a time.

If you know anyone who sounds a lot like Mitchell was in school, give ’em a little nudge of encouragement to be free.  Remind them the dominant path isn’t the only one, and the best paths are the ones they’ll blaze themselves.  You can even send them my way and I’ll gladly talk with them about taking creative control of their education, career, and life, with or without Praxis.

Let’s awaken people’s dreams and increase the number of those who are truly living free.

Here’s the cool thing.  Praxis grads are kicking ass.  We have story after story of 17, 18, 20, 22, 25 year olds creating amazing results getting awesome jobs and blowing away their classroom bound peers.

What kind of results?

  • Praxis grads are all employed.
  • Their average salary is $50,287.
  • 100% said Praxis helped them achieve a better career and life.

Now entering our third year, we’ve taken an even more dramatic and direct approach to creating value.  We guarantee our graduates job offers at the startup where they get paid to apprentice.

We’re growing every month in applications, participants, business partners, graduates, and most of all young people with an unleashed approach to life.

It’s about individuals, not aggregates and average data.  Still, if you want numbers, put it side by side with the typical path taken by most young people, pressured by parents and teachers who don’t bear the burden themselves:

Praxis

  • Length: 9 months
  • Cost: $12k tuition – $14,400 earnings during the program = ($2,400)
  • Debt: $0
  • Job after graduation: 100%
  • Min. starting salary: $40k ($50k is the average)
  • Net benefit over 5 years: $2,400 (in program) + $170,000 (min. pay, no raises for 4.25 years after graduation) = $172,400

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: $172,400 (assuming you had done Praxis instead)
  • Net benefit over 5 years: -$37k debt -$172,400 opportunity cost = ($209,400)

We’re not done but just getting started.  We are relentlessly committed to creating value for our young customers.  We have to.  We are directly, immediately accountable to them.  That’s what the market does.  We wouldn’t want to be shielded from it.

You can love us or hate us or ignore us or join us.  It doesn’t really matter.  What matters and what will always matter to us is helping those who want to act on their dreams and gain a massive head start on building a life they love.

That’s why we took this risk and created Praxis nearly three years ago.  That’s why we’ve weathered the storms and criticism and risk and pain.  That’s why we get excited about every amazing story and accomplishment by our participants and alumni.

Break the mold.

Isaac

Apprenticeships Aren’t Just for Welders; Startups Aren’t Just for Coders

I make the case over at the Praxis blog that apprenticeships, especially at startups and growing small businesses, are the best possible way to learn and build an awesome career.

Be around people who are doing what you want to do.  Create value for them.  Don’t just theorize, but practice.

“There is no better way to be a part of something meaningful, to learn what entrepreneurship means, to get a great job, and to take the first steps in an exciting career and life than to apprentice at a startup.

Not everyone wants to write code.  And startups need more than just coders.  They need people who love people!  People who want to learn marketing, sales, and operations.  People who are eager to contribute to a powerful vision and help it grow.

If you want to build an amazing career and be a part of the entrepreneurial Renaissance there’s no need to wait on the sidelines or blast out resumes and hope.”

Check out the post and check out Praxis if you want to build a great career today!

“I Hated School but Thought I Had to Do More of It”

One of the youngest participants in the Praxis program, Charles Porges, was just hired on full-time at his business partner, even though he’s not even halfway through the apprenticeship.

No one, Charles included, assumed someone straight out of high school could be doing amazing work in project management and analysis at a growing startup.  If you’re not loving and excelling at formal schooling, how can you build a career and succeed in the market?  Turns out the opposite is more often true.  The academic-focused world tends to devalue what the market values and vice-versa.

Charles’ story is inspiring to me.  Not because he got a job without the debt and waste, but because he’s happy and fulfilled in a challenging, meaningful work environment.  That’s what it’s all about.

I’ll let him tell the story.  Here’s what Charles shared with the Praxis group:

“Yesterday was my first day of working full-time at my business partner.

Words cannot express how ecstatic I am to be in the position that I currently am. Every single day of work is extremely valuable for both my business partner and myself. Not to mention, I believe deeply in the product, and my boss is one of the most interesting people I’ve ever met. Every one of my interactions with him has been both positive and meaningful.

This time about one year ago, I was in online high school, dreading every second I spent in front of my computer. My days were filled with meaningless assignments, time-wasting projects, and a feeling of hopelessness.

And not too long before that, I was in public high school. I felt like I was in a prison for forty hours a week, and on parole when I had to complete hours upon hours of homework. Most teachers were up to par with your average DMV worker, and almost none of my peers shared my ambition or intellectual curiosity. I was nothing short of depressed, and there were many days where I wished I simply didn’t have to wake up in the morning.

Ever since I joined Praxis, I’ve felt like I have been living a different life. Not only am I free from the cage of state-mandated education, but I know that every action I’m taking is for the purpose of creating a better version of myself. My Praxis advisers have been instrumental to my success in the program so far, and I would like to thank them for all of their guidance. I do not know where I would be without this program.

I only wish that I could talk to my younger self and tell him that there is another way!”

If you want to apprentice with a startup, get coaching and rigorous personal development, and learn by doing, let’s talk about Praxis.  Whether you’re coming out of highschool like Charles, in college and wilting, or have a degree but aren’t happy with your career prospects, we can help.

If You’re Flaky, Be Good Flaky

Some people are flaky.  Always flitting from thing to thing, idea to idea.  By the time others get on board they’ve already moved on.

If this is you don’t fear.  You don’t need to curb your curiosity or appetite for change in order to be successful.

Flaky can be a good thing.  I know people who channel this ADD tendency into amazing productivity.  They get excited by a lot of different things and their attention shifts rapidly, but they act on that excitement immediately.  These are people who no sooner get excited by an idea and they’re blogging about it or buying three books on Amazon.  They read the subject, launch the club, have the conversations, and start the project.  They may leave loose ends and sometimes move too quickly, but they leave a beneficial surplus of ideas and energy in their wake that gets picked up by others.

Good flaky shifts attention rapidly but “ships” just as rapidly.

Flaky can be a bad thing too.  I know people who have the same ADD tendencies but with each new interest it’s only talk.  They constantly talk about what they’re going to do, what new thing they’ve discovered, the newest solutions, movements, cures.  They always have something in progress or “almost ready”.  Articles they want to write, websites about to launch, events they are planning with their friend, some new thing or another.  They get you excited but don’t deliver.

Bad flaky shifts attention rapidly and never “ships” anything.

Productive flakes are fun and can be a boon to a team or cause.  It’s pretty easy for people to know their strengths and limitations.  They don’t do well in long-term managerial roles, but they are great for creative projects and rallying people around short-term visions.  They are the kind of people who get away with breaking rules.  People accommodate them and don’t demand as much predictability and consistency.  They can be late.  They can drop communication sometimes.  They can forget things.  These are annoying but known traits that become tolerable given the constant production.  Just when you’re about to get mad that a ball was dropped, a brilliant piece of work you never expected emerges.  Getting sh*t done covers a multitude of eccentricities.

Unproductive flakes are frustrating and drag projects and people down.  They have the same exciting energy and stream of ideas at first, which makes the failure to deliver all the worse.  The roller-coaster of expectations and disappointments gets old fast.  They get ignored.  They burn through social capital.  Their emails don’t get responses.  Ideas and a fun attitude are not enough.  If you’re not shipping they become annoying.  The bad flake turns their greatest asset into a liability.

It’s pretty simple.

If you know you have ADD tendencies, be a good flake.  Immediately act.  Don’t let the moment of inspiration go.  Your lack of long-term focus doesn’t have to ruin you.  But overcome the fear or insecurity or laziness or whatever holds you back and act on your inspiration immediately, always, every time.  You’ll amass a great body of work, gain a solid reputation, and have a lot of fun.

Whatever you do, don’t talk about your latest passion unless and until you’ve shipped something to show for it.

(If you’re not at all prone to flakiness, this post isn’t for you.  Sorry.  You have a different challenge with too much cost-benefit analysis or an obsession over options.)

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.

 

Five Steps to Epiphany

Over at the Praxis blog, I challenge anyone interested in education, entrepreneurship, career success, wealth, happiness, or personal growth to read five books this summer.

Each book is described with an endorsement from someone in the Praxis network.  Check out the article.

The books are:

  1. The Education of Millionaires
  2. The End of Jobs
  3. The Last Safe Investment
  4. Zero to One
  5. How to Find Fulfilling Work

See the full text for details and links to the books.

Seven Deadly Mindsets

Dan Sanchez was kind enough to invite me to coauthor a little piece for FEE.org about mindsets inculcated by the schooling process and how a key step toward personal freedom and growth is recognizing and obliterating them.  This is what my friend Zak Slayback would call “deschooling yourself”.

Check out the article here.  The seven mindsets we outline are:

  1. The conveyor belt mindset
  2. The permission mindset
  3. The student mindset
  4. The teacher mindset
  5. The worker mindset
  6. The recess mindset
  7. The major mindset

From the article,

“The first step toward self-emancipation is certainly not supporting or opposing a presidential candidate. Neither need it be civil disobedience, evasion of government directives, or resistance to the authorities. There is much lower hanging fruit to be had than that.”

And,

“Only a people who first free themselves spiritually and individually can hope to free themselves physically and as a society. It is impossible to liberate people, as Voltaire said, “from the chains they revere.” And the first order of business in improving society is, as Albert Jay Nock said, “to present society with one improved unit.””

Read the full text.

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.

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.

 

Take the ‘Cut it in Half’ Challenge and Improve Your Writing

…and your verbal communication, and time management, and thinking.

Good writing styles may be as unique as people but when it comes to bad writing there’s one nearly universal mistake.

Too many words.

Everyone begins their writing endeavors (whether emails or books) using too many words, too long sentences, and too bulky paragraphs.  It’s hard to economize on words.  The better your language skills and vocabulary, the harder it is.  You want to flex those wordiness muscles!

But good writing is clear and to the point.  Removing needless words makes what’s left more, not less important.  Words are too precious to be drowned in a sea of superfluity.

Here’s a challenge to quickly and dramatically improve your writing:

Cut everything you write in half.

I suggest doing this for at least two weeks.  It will hurt.  It will take a lot of time at first.  But compare results after the experiment.  You will be better.

Every Facebook post, email, essay, blog post, or memo (heck, you can try it with texts and tweets too, but that might be tough) should be halved.  After you write what you want to say, just before you click “send”,  “publish”, “post”, or “save”, go back and cut it in half.  Count words, divide by two and edit down.

I’ve done this and found almost no paragraph I write gets worse as a result.

Give it a shot and see for yourself.

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.

Episode 63: The School Sucks Project, with Brett Veinotte

I’ve been a big fan of the School Sucks Podcast for a few years now, so it was awesome to have Brett on the show to discuss his work and what motivated him to launch it.

We discuss his personal history, the history of schooling, why conspiracy theories are valuable learning tools, and much more.

Check out all things School Sucks here!

This and all episodes are available on SoundCloud, iTunes, YouTube, and Stitcher.