Why are we starting the School of the Possible?
Episode three: Do we really need another innovation training program?
I’ve been getting some interesting feedback on the School of the Possible project. Some people are wondering why we need another “new school” teaching new ways of working for the 21st century. In this context I am talking about organizations like General Assembly, Code Academy, Hyper Island, Ideo U, Luma Institute, Singularity U, and so on.
Others are concerned. They are worried that the technologies we had hoped would liberate us, that would usher into a new and beautiful creative world, are becoming technologies of control and manipulation. They notice that the creators and owners of these proprietary, commercial platforms have conflicting interests that may cause them to prioritize advertisers over users.
Culture expert Carolyn Taylor, author of Walking the Talk, once told me that if you want to know what someone’s priorities are, look at their calendar and their wallet, because where people spend their time and money is a good indicator of where their priorities are.
Most of the “new schools” need money to operate. This is, in part, because they are operating within the aging industrial paradigm. All of us pretty much still live within the industrial paradigm, even though we can already see that a new era is coming. We are undergoing a phase transition that is breaking the platforms of the industrial world. Like a butterfly outgrowing its coccoon, we are developing new ideas, technologies, skills and capabilities that will need a new world platform.
This has happened before, many times. The most recent such phase shift was the Industrial Revolution. In 1700, ninety percent of the US population lived and worked on farms. We still have farms, and the farms are producing more food than ever before, but today in the US, only 2 percent of workers live and work on a farm. In fact when the Department of Commerce measures employment and productivity they actually leave out farming!
That means between 1700 and today, 88 percent of the population had to imagine a place in the new industrial world. That was a long time ago, of course. But imagine what those people went through. They had to re-imagine just about everything in their world. Water would not be drawn from a well but from a tap. Work would not be integrated with life but a separate and distinct place. The commute to work was introduced, as well as things we take for granted like cars, trains, buses, airplanes, supermarkets, shopping malls, refrigerators and televisions. But for every person on a farm, this was an imaginary and potentially threatening, dangerous world. Compared to a farm, cities were dangerous, polluted, noisy places, crowded with people who lived in slums and struggled to make ends meet.
Our modern, industrial platform was created in exactly this way. The brilliant entrepreneurs created the engines of growth and society just had to follow because they needed to live. Cities were where the opportunities were. The jobs. The farmers who migrated to these cities knew things were changing, but didn’t really know what they were getting in to but many felt they had no choice. The business people were creating the future and they just dragged everyone else into the future that the entrepreneurs envisioned.
We face a similar inflection point today. We are all still living on the industrial platform, but we are building a new world platform on top of it. Some of us already live there, because the future is not evenly distributed.
Some people are still living and working on farms, of course, although industrialization has provided many conveniences and many of those farms have industrialized and actually look more like factories than farms.
Some people still manage and work in factories. But the burst of creativity and innovation that created the industrial world has long petered out. If you work in a factory today you probably are worried if there’s a place in the future for you.
Some people are already living in the digital future. If you work at Facebook, or Google, or Amazon, you are building these platforms and to some extent you are already living in the future compared to most of the world.
The rest of the people are still living in the industrial world. Like farmers in the 1700s and 1800s, these people are the most concerned of all. They have found a place on the industrial world platform where they fit, and they worry — correctly — whether the new digital world platform will have a place for them.
Then there are people who feel that they have been left behind by the industrial world. They don’t feel they have a place in today’s world. If you feel this way, your future does not have to be a continuation of the past. The currency of the future will be imagination and ideas. If you have imagination and ideas, you can create a future for yourself in the digital world.
Digital platforms have plenty of niches, probably more than industrial platforms, but they are different. They are built differently for many reasons, but primarily because they are needed to support a different way of working.
The problem with the companies that are building out these big platforms is that they are still at their root built on the industrial monetary system. They are built on certain assumptions. For example: The assumptions that getting work done requires a formal organization, which places people in positions of hierarchy relative to each other, and that to fill those positions you need to create job descriptions, so you can find and hire people who can do those jobs well, and that you need to put these people into defined processes that are supervised by managers.
We are beginning with none of those assumptions. None of them. If you find that to be a scary thought, it is, and it should be.
Matt Webb once gave me a beautiful thought: A platform is an opinion about how the world should work. For example, people in the UK have an opinion that people should drive on the left side of the road. It’s an opinion. It’s also arbitrary, but that decision has cascading effects throughout that platform. Cars must be designed so the driver can sit on the right hand side. This makes it harder to build cars for export to right-driving nations. You get the idea.
So I’ll be honest. I don’t really know too much about the other “new schools.” I do not know if they are actually building platforms or if they intend to. But I do know what their opinions are about how the world should work! And when you are building platforms that’s the most important thing, and it should be the first thing you think about. When it’s a world platform, it will effect all of us. It’s the most important thing any of us should be thinking about.
So when you build a platform you should not do it quickly. You should do it carefully, thoughtfully, and you should get a lot of feedback along the way, especially from the people who will be using that platform.
We are not training people so they can find jobs in the future. We are helping people find their purpose, so they can connect and align with others who share that purpose, so they can create for themselves the job that they want. A job that is based on their personal interests and purpose, that is useful, meaningful, and relevant to others, and that nourishes their soul and improves the world at the same time. That’s the world we want and that’s what our platform needs to support.
We are building a platform for 21st-century learning and entrepreneurship. We are building it slowly and carefully because we want it to last at least a hundred years. So we don’t know a lot yet. But here’s what we know (so far) about our platform. You can derive from our opinions what we think the world should look like.
School of the Possible Platform opinions
- It must be built for the long term. We must build our platform carefully, thoughtfully, slowly and with humility. We must respect not only the complexity of nature and the world around us, but we must also have the humility to realize that we don’t even understand our own complexity, let alone nature. The future is unknown, like a dark forest. You don’t enter a dark forest with a motto like “run fast and break things.” No. Our motto right now is “Slow is smooth and smooth is fast.” This is a phrase that is used in sniper training.
- It must be global and accessible to everyone in the world. If we are building an education platform for the 21st century, it must be accessible to everyone. This does not mean it’s for everyone. Not everyone will want to participate. Not everyone will like it or want to be a part of it. But everyone who wants to connect must be invited.
- It must be purpose-driven and learner-driven. This is an inversion of the 21st-century paradigm and platform. The people who are doing the learning must drive everything. The system is for them and it needs to support and enable them to create their lives.
- It can be beholden to no one. It must be financially and operationally independent. It cannot have a hidden agenda or different priorities for different stakeholders. It cannot have advertising. It must be something that cannot be bought or sold. It can’t IPO. As an institution, it must be independent of those external and internal pressures that might distract it from its purpose.
- Which brings me to our purpose.
School of the Possible purpose.
Our goal is to give everyone on the planet the choice to participate in building the platform that will support and enable their future instead of sitting on the sidelines. To create the future we want instead of just drifting along and seeing what happens.
The past may be written but the future is not. The future is ours to build. find their passion, purpose and place in the digital world. What powers the digital economy is not money so much as passion, purpose and connection. The currency of the future will be creativity and imagination, not rampant creativity but responsible creativity. We need ideas that will make the world better, not ideas that will make a few people a lot of money. That means both passionate people working collectively on things that matter, and a shared responsibility to make a better world that we all really want to live in. A world we can be proud to hand off to our children.
What can we do for you?
The School of the Possible is for everyone in the world. We have to be careful because it will still take a lot of work before we are ready to serve 7.6 billion people. But if you can be patient with us, we will get there. We are going to start with a few people that we will be reaching out to directly. If you want to be part of it but we haven’t reached out to you, please be patient and join our email list to follow our progress. We will get to you!
We will help you get from point A to point B.
Point A is your job in the industrial world.
Point B is your job in the digital world.
We will help you find your way, connect the dots, and create (not find) your next job.