Throwback post from CEO Spencer Thompson
As a nation, we have adopted a model of judging people quickly and immediately as to how successful they are. That model is education, or lack there of. Very often in business or dinner parties, conversation can quickly turn to level of education.
"Where did you go to school?" one person may ask. "I am a Harvard/Yale/Princeton/Stanford/Oxford 1997 alumni" responds the individual.
Immediately, as if that person has said the magic words, he is immediately given an immense amount of credibility. People automatically assume that he is successful, regardless of the field he is in. Now, if he mentions that he works for an investment bank such as Goldman Sachs in New York City, people’s eyes begin to widen. He is the definition of success in the Western world. Well educated, established in a world class city and has a well paying job is the perfect combination. That individual at the dinner party will have to work really hard to ruin his reputation.
Let’s compare that to another individual. A person may ask the same question, “Where did you go to school?” Except this time, the second individual answers, “I didn’t go to university, I actually moved to Paris to become an artist” The immediate reaction now will be “Uh huh”, and the conversation will move on. That second individual at the dinner party will have to work really hard to improve his reputation.
Why is this? Why do we measure people’s level of success on where they went to school? Isn’t it about the person and their unique happiness? While it may seem not, that is because most people assume that there is only one type of education in the world. We begin to believe that intelligence is defined by education. Of course, this is not true.
In fact, we believe that there are three levels of education: 1. Formal Education 2. Self-Taught Education 3. “The School of Hard Knocks.” By separating education into three types, we can directly define what each of them represent and how people fit into each one. Let’s take a look at each in more depth and try to understand where people go wrong in judging people’s intelligence based on level of education.
1. Formal Education The most common form of education in the Western world, formal education is the process of going from elementary school —> high school —> bachelor degree program —> and possibly a graduate degree. While going through this process, the students make connections, join extra-curricular activities and prepare themselves for the workforce. After going through high school, students can choose to go to college (usually for more hands-on education) or a formal university (usually more theory and academic work), depending on the career path that they have chosen.
Formal education is perfect for students that want a professional career, whether wanting to become a lawyer, accountant, doctor, psychologist, project manager or something similar. In order to become one of these professionals, very often a bachelors degree is not enough, a graduate or doctorate degree is needed. At the top of the mountain of formal education is university professors, who almost always require a PhD and teaching experience. What about the rest of the students? What about those students that want to become entrepreneurs, athletes, musicians, artists, dancers and other things that are not traditionally taught by formal education? Should they still go through formal education just because the system says to? This comes down to what is known as the “hierarchy of subjects”.
As a culture, we have a predetermined list of subjects that are deemed more important than others. At the top are math and science. In the middle are the languages and social sciences, and at the bottom are the arts. Dance is hardly ever included in a list of academic subjects, and visual arts and music are just above that. Why is this? Why, in formal education, do we treat math and science as the be-all-end-all? The system was built in the Industrial Revolution in order to produce educated individuals for the workforce. Today, those who want to be educated into a formal professional can get their degree, but what about the rest of the professions?
2. Self-Taught Education The second kind of education is not that well known. I believe that in the coming years, self-education will become ever more important as more and more people get generalized degrees, and inflationary education sets in. Self-taught education is simply learning from books, seminars, mentors and the internet under one’s schedule and time. Most great musicians, artists, athletes and entrepreneurs go through this method in order to become the best in their field. That painter that I referred to at the beginning of this article would have been self-taught through books, the internet and mentors she may have met in Paris. She is learning more than the majority of people do in a lifetime.
What are the downsides to going with this method? Well, unless you are quite structured and have a love for learning, it can be difficult at times. In formal education, we are used to the structure of predetermined classes, bells to signal the end of periods and set timelines for each day. With self-taught education, we must set our own schedules, be motivated to learn and discipline ourselves to put in the necessary amount of time to make it work. This becomes very easy if you love what you do. Basketball players that want to improve will gladly go out to the court and shoot hoops for three hours. If we analyze this activity, it is self-teaching because it is improving their muscle memory, abilities and intelligence about the game. To the basketball player, it’s just fun. It doesn’t feel like learning.
To the up-and-coming musician, playing the drums when he gets home is not a chore, it’s a gift. He loves playing his drums day and night. (mind you his family may not like these drums day and night). To the drum player, self-education is something he loves to do. The same thing can go for entrepreneurs. How many stories have you heard of entrepreneurs choosing to forgo formal education in favor of self-teaching? With the power of the internet, we literally have any piece of information that we need at our fingertips. And if you don’t like the way that it is presented online, there are millions of books, magazines and audio files available to purchase. Some great websites for online video learning include:
Academic Earth actually includes some full courses at some of the top universities in the world (Havard, Yale, Stanford) that you can listen to online. I am currently going through the psychology course at Yale right now, all for free. There is no better time in history to get a self-taught education. However, there is still another class of education that we sometimes refer to as “the school of hard knocks”.
3. “The School of Hard Knocks” Many times we read stories of businesspeople or actors that don’t go to college, don’t self-educate continuously and yet still become successful. Why is this? Those people have been through the school of hard knocks. Another way of putting this is education on the fly, or building a plane after jumping off a cliff. No matter what you call it, usually it’s a long journey. Many people that are successful did not start out with this burning vision of success in their minds. In most cases, they just started working at a job and began to grow.
I like to use the example of the restaurant owner that started as a dishwasher 20 years ago. When he was just a kid, fresh out of high school (sometimes not even) he simply needed a job. So he got one as a dishwasher at the local restaurant. Unlike most kids that get a job, however, he began to notice the inner workings of the restaurant. He began to observe how the the food was ordered, all of the prep work that went into dinner service and how the waiters and managers interacted. What started out as a job soon became a free education (that he was actually getting paid for!). Soon, he moved up to bussing tables, working late into the night. Keep in mind, however, that he made plenty of mistakes along the way, and this is a lengthy process. However, fast forward 20 years, and that same individual now owns his own restaurant. By graduating from the school of hard knocks, he knows what to do, what not do to, and how to run a restaurant properly.
The same story is applied over and over again in business. An entrepreneur one day has a brilliant idea that pops into her head. She decides to quit her job and dive full bore into this venture. She has no previous business experience, no contacts and no capital to get started. But she is an entrepreneur, and she will do whatever it takes to succeed. She will go through the school of hard knocks for years before she finally has a company that is profitable, successful and creating jobs around the world. A great story that outlines this is the story of Five Guys Burgers And Fries.
So what have we learned from examining the three different types of education? Well for one, we must observe that one is not better than another. Just because someone decides to go through the formal education system does not make them any more intelligent than someone that decides to open up their own art studio. There are millions of different ways to learn a plethora of activities, and there is no set path to success. Education is completely personalized to the career that you want to achieve.
Here is a great quote to illustrate learning: “For learning to take place with any kind of efficiency students must be motivated. To be motivated, they must become interested. And they become interested when they are actively working on projects which they can relate to their values and goals in life” - Gus Tuberville, President, William Penn College
When you become interested in what you are working on, it no longer becomes work. It becomes something you love to do. Learning should not be a chore, and neither should education. You should learn because you want to, not because you have to. Finding your passion is the key to doing this successfully. Intelligence is not determined by education, because as we have learned, there is more than one type of education. Each type is unique to the career path and the individual taking it. In the end, education is just a means to an end, with that end being success. Success in any field, in whatever way you define it. Remember, success is just another word for happiness.