I currently feel quite lucky to do what I do.
I work at the Octopus Group and get to help build new stuff supported by a very long-term approach from our founders. My job is basically to try and work out how to do things we don’t currently do and how to do things we currently do in different ways.
Over time through working with and observing lots of amazing people, I have started to learn what makes someone good at building something new.
For me, so far it comes down to 3 key things:
A high level of comfort with ambiguity
A high level of curiosity
The ability to disregard the perceived wisdom of how things are “normally” done.
During my time at school those traits were often dismissed, at worst punished. They would often be the things that lead to the dreaded “disruptive” badge. One I was often given (sorry Mum).
But, if you google “disruptive company” you will get pages of hits such as Disruptor 100, The Festival of Disruption, 2018’s Top Disrupters.
If you google “disruptive children”, the sentiment is less positive.
I couldn’t find “2018’s Top Disruptive Children”?—?although I only made it to page 3 of the search results (short attention span) ????
I know it’s too simple but adulation and unprecedented wealth are heaped upon the successful founders and early employees of businesses that disrupted taxis, banking, hotels, food delivery. But the same behaviours of challenging the perceived wisdom, doing things differently, pushing boundaries, challenging legal structures and challenging regulatory environments are actually discouraged in schools and often punished. This to me is a big disconnect.
Why do we worship corporate disrupters but discourage disruptive behaviour in children?
Entrepreneurship is seen as increasingly important for the UK to remain competitive in a world of AI, automation, Brexit and Trump. No one can rely on prior successes. But entrepreneurship does not have to be a binary thing. Yes, you can be a founder of a company but you can also make things better, faster, more exciting at a company you work at by challenging the status quo.
To create an environment where this happens, my view is that education today needs to operate with a less strict syllabus, be delivered through more peer to peer & internet based learning and to be tested with far more project-based tools in order to help develop the comfort with ambiguity, critical thinking and problem solving we need in the future. Teaching “entrepreneurship” is not the answer.
In addition, we have, I believe reached an inflexion point. Historically asymmetry of information was the driver of education, the teacher had the books and the knowledge and they imparted that to the lucky few through sitting in a classroom. Today, through technology, everyone has access to all the information they want if they are willing to google it. The guardian of knowledge role is starting to look very outdated and maybe even a barrier to speed of learning.
But the problem is this?—?The speed at which the world is changing usually dwarves the ability of centrally controlled government bodies to iterate curriculum and delivery models. They are teaching coding to kids in schools. programming languages that will likely be obsolete in 15 years when they hit the workforce. And in all likelihood software will be writing software anyway. The only constant today is change and we need to equip people with the tools to thrive in that environment.
That’s where peer to peer learning models start to look very very interesting. You can see the benefit of small teams working together across functions in the workplace?—?Spotify’s organisational model is well documented as a successful way to structure a business.
And there are post 16 schools applying this thinking to the educational model with a focus on technology. In Ukraine, Paris and California there are free schools teaching tens of thousands of young people under a few key principles:
No teachers?—?a support team propose projects to work on. The solutions will be shaped through internet-based knowledge and co-working
No lectures?—?all project based
Open 24/7?—?work when you like not when the school is open
Students validate others work
These are supported by tech entrepreneurs in the US and to me sound amazing. The focus is on output not input, solve the problem however you like, work in teams, own your own priorities. Do it when you want. A world away from the traditional model.
Ultimately the only certainty is that the relevant skills of today will become obsolete on an increasingly rapid timeframe. All we can do is help develop an educational delivery model that encourages self-learning, creativity, curiosity, the need to learn and iterate from peers and basically the ability to reinvent ones skill sets. Much like companies. Anything we build or learn today we have to assume will be either obsolete or legacy debt in 5 years time (maybe less). These are the timeframes we now operate on.