I was having coffee with this friend, who like me, studied abroad both in the US and UK talking about how this whole education industry has become so mercenary and price inflation just crazy. And honestly, most of the things they are teaching students are really not used in most of our jobs though it is probably just the thinking and problem-solving skills they cultivate in the process that matters.
Today of course there’s this huge industry that helps to train workers after they graduate in all kinds of skills that are required for them to be corporate cogs; from financial modelling, to giving presentations, business writing and so on. I find it fascinating that one have to shell out more money in order to be trained in these areas after having already spent somewhere around a quarter of a million in an undergraduate degree. Where did learning on the job go? Why do companies expect fresh graduates to immediately be able to plug themselves into the work? How can that even be possible?
Alright, maybe the training industry is there to help people pivot into new types of jobs and so on without having to go in from entry level. But honestly, the best way to learn is really to get on a project, network and meet people who can potentially guide you. Of course you can pay for a coach to support that learning journey; but the quality of these various services are hard to evaluate. You need to rely on good word-of-mouth, and be committed to learn yourself. If you expect to be spoon-feed and that a certificate from these courses would magically qualify you for new things, you’ll have to start changing your mind.
How many new ideas did you come up with over the past week? Or are you now obsessing over whether they were new ideas? How many of those new ideas did you actually share with the world?
I wrote about how we kind of self-censor because of the story we tell ourselves about our ideas. It is equally important to recognise that having an idea, sharing them is just not sufficient. Finding the resources to develop conviction, to allow those ideas to derive million other ideas that you are willing to try, test and implement is so important.
Yet, whilst at a theoretical level we know that this is so important for the human race, for our society, we are not so keen on creating an economy and society that does just that. At certain level, we want people to just accept answers as they are, to follow the rules and to not stir up trouble. But having ideas, and being contrarian, accommodating them needs to be part of a culture that welcomes that sharing, and allows for the continuous innovation.
We are terrible at forecasting how we would think when we get into some kind of situation hypothetically. It is why we can be happier in situations that we think we’d be miserable. Dan Gilbert spoke about this more than 16 years ago.
And part of the reason I think, is that we often associate our identity with just a narrow subset of ourselves such that when things change, we imagine that there’s not much more within our identity to accommodate those events, situations or trauma. Yet our real identity is so much bigger, and so much more. Maya Shankar shares about this a bit more on Brene Brown’s Dare to lead podcast episode.
What do you think about a world where we use our phones for half a decade or so? A world where people could earn enough to feed themselves and a whole family if they had sold just about 20 vacuum cleaners a year doing door-to-door sales. And those vacuum cleaners could probably last those buyers a generation. It was a world where bankers would not be able to afford houses that much bigger than someone who was a hawker.
It was also a world where money lost value faster; and goods less so. So we would treasure things that were bought and sold for money, perhaps more so than the money. We undervalue durability, and we overvalue change in our world today when we constantly want to chase the next shiny object.
Sustainability starts with awareness and consciousness. But it also requires us to recognise how the culture we have today perpetuate that. It came from the stories we inherit during a time of want. My parents didn’t like the idea of ‘second-hand’ and thought it as something of a last resort when one cannot afford. But today, we need to rewrite that story to be about sustainability and waste reduction. I’d rather many of my things be more durable, lasting, but we also need a culture that supports that. Because lasting stuff becoming waste, is not going to end well.
I found it fascinating that corporatism was an original political ideology that has to do with common interest forming groupings that will help to organise the society. It seem to have nothing or little to do with the ‘corporate’ that we know of today. So this piece has nothing to do with that original term and more to do with what we understand about corporate interests, depersonalisation and the need to be human.
Corporates are typically legal persons, they are responsible legally for a lot of things that the law subjects them to. But they can only be as human as the people who makes them up. Yet like a biological organism, they try to sustain itself, and that brings about certain behaviours that can be detrimental to parts of it.
After all, if your hand is stuck in something and there’s a truck which is about to run over you, you’re going to try rip your own hand away to save your life. When you’re in a corporation, and making decisions for the organisation, do you think as a human? Or have you accepted the only thing you care to keep alive, is the corporation?
I recall it used to be when I had some stupid idea about things and I told the adults (this was when I was young) and the response was usually that if it was so easy, it would have been done already. Or that the problem would have been solved. Now what follows is usually not so inspiring as it was intended to be; but I was always encouraged to work hard, learn things, and then try to work on the solution to the problem I care about. That was the good upbringing I had.
But the question is whether we are stuck with the story that if something was so great, someone else would have been able to make it work. Unfortunately, that story is often very much in our head. Important ideas that wins you a Nobel prize often needs to be quite new but they are usually no longer that revolutionary by the time Nobel prize announce the winners. You see, the significant part isn’t about winning the Nobel prize; it’s about changing the world. And changing the world isn’t always about new ideas. They are more often about applying ideas, perhaps existing ones, in new areas, or to even just be able to execute or implement those ideas.
Ideas and improvement in technologies build upon one another. It is the development of satellite technology that allows GPS to exist, and the proliferation of small sensors, GPS receiver hardware that allows the benefit of that satellite to be democratised. Subsequently, it was the development of maps, good quality overlays and mapping of entire cities, that allowed software to properly leverage on the GPS information for navigation. And of course, the business model of ride-hailing apps and food-delivery apps are built upon these innovations. Sequencing of implementation matters; and good ideas are not made bad by circumstances and will require its own time and space to be a great hit. So no, we cannot pretend that great solutions would have already been adopted, and that problems would have been solved if it was ‘that easy’. Our role is to work hard to make the solving of problems ‘ that easy’ by first dealing with prior problems at hand.
You know the objective setting exercise that we do each time we start a project, when we enter a new role and so on? Are you setting benchmarks for success or drawing the line where you define your failures? I think too often, we are thinking more about how failure looks like more than how success looks to be. Or we have such a narrowly defined success that we classify most situations as failures.
I talked about it in the context of regrets before. Our imaginations are so rich that we can be so specific about our alternative lives we forget to live the life that we are given. We fail to enjoy our lives because we are too busy trying to enjoy the life that we think we should be living. It’s the same with our work, and how we want it to turn out – we are so specific about what success means that we think of everything else as failure.
What if we envision just failure – the specific way things fail that you can’t do anything about that is completely counter to what you are achieving. And then we say, that’s it, everything else is success; and that in all other scenarios, you’d be able to make good of it, and at least pick up something that will benefit you somehow.
Then you can start defining where you and your team wants to get to – that range of outcomes where you can be a bit more complacent (isn’t that what you’ve been really after, rather than just what people term ‘success’), and that range of outcomes that would mean there’s more work plans to develop, more reporting and accountability to do. Remember, failure is restricted to that one case you imagined. Everything else is just… life.
“Don’t give them reason to think you’re stupid”, the colleague tells you about your bosses; or your boss tells you about your clients, or your parents tells you about your teachers, or your teacher tells you about the Olympiad judges. The list goes on.
What about finding something that helps them think you are you? The negatives turn us up more than the positives do and so “Don’ts” feature more prominently in our brains than “Dos”. That is largely because fear is a powerful motivator.
But it is also a short term motivator. It is the NOx in your racing engine. It can have damaging effects on your body if you run on fear too much, for too long. Better to draw on purpose, on inspiration as motivators. And so start asking “why” on the “Dos”.
Don’t bother with avoiding things that will make you look stupid. Because if someone wants to think you are stupid, they will eventually find the reason to. Better to consider who you are and what can inform others of that identity of yours. Too much of our work life is about avoiding being stupid, optimising the frills, making ourselves presentable but forgetting what exactly are we trying to present.
When I was young I collected stamps. And I think I still have a massive stamp collection lurking somewhere. I’d collect lots of stamps from my family’s mails, and my relatives, even distant ones would know I was collecting and give me a whole bunch of them. I wasn’t so discerning and I collected a lot of repetitions, and they looked good when I lined them up.
I’d spend hours soaking, extracting them from the paper they were stuck to, and then drying them out in the sun. I figured it was easy to process when you can stick the wet ones on a plastic sheet and leave it out to dry. By just twisting the plastic sheet when the stamps are mostly dry, you could take out the dried stamps easily. And that process itself was interesting. Never mind the actual stamps. They were nice to look at, the designs were interesting but I never did study them so much in detail – I did not know the history of each of those series, nor how they intertwined with history of the countries they were from. There were commemorative editions which helped me discover things about foreign lands and culture. But that was all the curiosity I had about my stamp collection. I was enjoying it; there wasn’t a checklist I was benchmarking myself against and hunting for that ‘rare stamp’ or to complete a particular ‘collection’.
As far as I was concerned, my collection was always complete, and never complete, at the same time. The thing about us in the modern world today is there’s always something more we want to complete our lives, that we forget to enjoy our lives for what it is today. I need to consider more of my stamp collecting days.
I was listening to No Stupid Questions and for some reason I just couldn’t recall and capture the specific episode and reference where I got this from but Angela was mentioning that she is working on a paper that looks at some of the kids in school doing some kind of activity. And the conclusion was somewhat related to how they deal with the particular experience, whether they approach it with the desire to feel better about themselves or to improve themselves through the experience.
I thought that was a very interesting dichotomy; and I’ve never really thought of experiences being set up this way. But indeed, as we go into various experiences, that intention lurking in the background is important. There can be mixed intentions but there will likely be a dominant one; and that can affect our functioning.
If we go into an examination thinking of it as a means for us to be sorted into different boxes, to be defined and ‘caught out’ for the level of proficiency we are at, we are going to enter it with a negative fear. That’s when we think the exam is there to make us feel good or bad about ourselves rather than help us get better thanConsider an alternative where we see the exams as a means to look at how far we have progressed and to uncover our weaknesses so we can work on them. There will be nervousness from anticipation but not that overwhelming kind of negative fear. It will also define how we approach the exam papers when we get them back – whether we just check the grade and toss it aside or mine it for the gold of identifying how we can improve.
Is our education system set up to bother about this? To inculcate the right attitudes? How about the parents? Are parents imparting the right attitude towards test-taking?