Joseph Kennedy (JFK’s father in a letter to Harvard’s Dean of Freshman). I think this so called bad fault is a common characteristic of many successful and interesting individuals.
Your heroes will inspire you. You will emulate them. Overtime, your heroes will begin to define you.
Growing up, you are introduced to potential heroes by your parents, in school, while watching TV, by your friends, etc. It is your choice to decide which ones you will revere and hold dear. Society and your surroundings have a strong role as well…but in the end, it is your choice.
Choosing the right heroes can lead to you pursuing ambitious projects and careers. If more people had the right heroes…society would be pushed forward faster.
Having the right heroes which leads to inspiration can be the beginning to a lot of wonderful outcomes. Inspiration is powerful. I am reminded of the quotes:
If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.
Antoine de Saint Exupéry
In the culture of America, in a free culture, you get what you celebrate.
As Dean Kamen says, we need to focus on the demand side of education. Scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs and agents of social change need to held up in high regard. Culture is very powerful.
Great parents can inspire their children. Maybe somehow this could be scaled through the educational system and efforts by the media.
I don’t know what the full solution but I know I will make sure that I choose my heroes carefully. I hope you will do the same.
Last week it was announced that Gumroad just raised $7 million dollars from KPCB. Gumroad is based on the super simple concept of selling something with just a link. The concept is simple, almost too simple. Though it is potentially very powerful if it becomes the go to way to sell content on facebook and twitter.
When I met Sahil, the founder of Gumroad, 9 months ago one thing that stuck out was him saying that he thought Gumroad had the potential to become a thing. I was intrigued, usually people don’t talk this way about products. Plus he has a track record of working for startups that have become things: pinterest and Turntable.fm. Despite that track record it was difficult for me to understand how this simple concept would become a thing and also why gumroad would take off instead of an inevitable clone or even a preexisting competitor adding this feature.
When I heard the phrase “the potential to become a thing”, I immediately knew what he was referring to but I still have trouble defining it. Becoming a thing is about being the category killer but with a social cred twist.. Instagram became a thing for sharing photos, Kickstarter became a thing for social fundraising, path is on the verge of becoming a thing for sharing intimate moments of your life and Quora is becoming a thing for answering and asking questions. Becoming a thing comes from a combination of having a strong brand, a great user experience and powerful network effects when applicable. Becoming synonymous with the action that your site allows for is the culmination of becoming a thing. This is how startups are able to take off and become successful de facto monopolies.
Certain products become a thing because they are is so much better than the competitors. Google’s ascent to becoming the top search engine is a great example of this. They had an anti-marketing marketing style that became hip and a simplified user experience but where they really shined was in having search results that were much better than their competitors.
Instagram is an example of how having a great user experience and becoming cool can lead to a startup taking off. The company took off because it became a thing. It became cool to take and share photos with the service. Of course the great user experience was part of it and helped the initial spark. Though now, even if a competitor had the same or even a better user experience it’d just be called a clone and almost certainly couldn’t catch up. Using instagram is the modern day (or should I say retro) version of the kodak moment. Instagram says the service is about “a world more connected through photos” and I think the service gives users a photographer’s lens for viewing the world. Many of my friends excitedly say I have to “instagram this” when referring to taking mobile photos.
A thing can become a fad. Draw Something may end up being in this camp. It may endure with some level of popularity but certain things can have short life cycles, especially games. It is difficult to differentiate between what will last and what will fade. I think products that fulfill basic human needs will sustain while a lot of “non-franchise worthy” games will fade in popularity.
So how does a startup become a thing? That is a hard question and I don’t think there is a straightforward answer. Usually it can’t be predicted before hand. This is why some companies can shoot up in value so quickly once they find product-market fit. The following are areas that startups should focus on if they are hoping to become a thing:
Educational psychologist Benjamin Bloom did a controlled study and found out that the average student tutored one-to-one using the mastery learning technique would perform two standard deviations better (at the 98th percentile level) than the average student receiving instruction via conventional methods. That is just incredible. It means that with the right teaching methods the average student could perform at an extremely high level. Genetics be damned! I know hiring an individual tutor for each student won’t scale but if we could find the right teaching method, maybe every student could perform two standard deviations better. Maybe with further improvement, they could perform even better. What if the new normal became what is considered a genius level of knowledge acquisition currently?
What that would mean for the economy and society at large would be incredible. The true human potential of each individual could be unlocked. It is hard to completely fathom how society would be different but I think it would be better in a lot of ways. The economy would thrive. More intelligent decisions would be made on political and societal issues. More great things would be created.
We need to find better methods of teaching that will replicate the benefits of tutoring at much lower costs. Technology is likely part of the solution but there is still the need for teacher involvement, especially great teacher involvement. As a technology-inclined autodidact, I am tempted to view the likes of Khan Academy and other self-paced, individualized learning tools as the holy grail. They alone are not. They need to be combined with the human element to reach their full potential. Certain types of instruction, such as project based learning, typically require a hands on teacher or mentor. Also, teachers do more than just teach. They motivate, coach, listen and guide their students. Or at least that is what they do at their very best.
On top of better tools and methodologies, we need a psychological shift. Education needs to be valued very highly. Some research has shown that parental attitudes towards education is one of the most impactful variables on a student’s success…sorry, I can’t find the link right now. Determination needs to be taught to whatever extent it can be taught. If students and their parents valued education and had the right values system, educational outcomes would be much higher.
Combine that with better teaching methodologies and techniques and the outcome would be truly amazing.
I am no expert on this subject, but like many, education is a topic that I deeply care about. Growing up, I received a lot of one-on-one tutoring from my older brother, Peter. While I was still in preschool, he taught me what he was learning in his 5th grade math class. This helped boost me ahead in math and ignite my love of learning. I am also thankful that I went to good public schools, had some great teachers along the way and parents that value education. My father even owned two used and out of print bookstores. I had a limited but impactful exposure to self-paced, computer-based learning. Overall, my primary and secondary school experiences were positive. Though, I imagine how my life would be different if I went to bad public schools and my family wasn’t as supportive. My education would have been completely different.
Without those factors, I don’t know if I would have excelled in school and acquired a love for learning. Society ought to do as much as possible to help each student get as good of an education as possible and instill a love of learning. Watch this space!
Steve Jobs famously said that the computer “is the most remarkable tool that we have ever come up with and it is equivalent to a bicycle for our minds”. If a computer is a bicycle for the mind, what is the internet? A computer just makes the mind more powerful and enhances its memory. A lone computer gives humans tools: it can calculate quickly, store documents and files, help people do work more efficiently and be creative using a new medium. It was a great invention. Though the pre-internet computer era was before my time, I still understand and appreciate how powerful it was (even without being interconnected) in enhancing human abilities. To extend the metaphor though, a bicycle is great, but it is still limited by the input of the user. A computer enhances a persons capability but it is still limited to what that individual can input into a computer. It is still isolated.
The internet changed all of that. Now instead of being dependent on the capabilities of one computer, the whole world is now your tool. You can search the world’s information on Google. Ask the world a question (or a very small but interesting subset of it) on Quora. Share your thoughts on WordPress or Tumblr. Learn using Khan’s Academy, MIT OCW or Stanford’s new online courses. Information has finally become ubiquitous and free.
I want to say that the internet is the most remarkable tool that has ever been come up with an it is equivalent to a rocket ship teleportation device for our minds. Under a literal interpretation, Google maps can take us anywhere instantly. Though more interesting than physical geography, are the worlds of ideas and people. Virtually any piece of knowledge that is in the public domain can be accessed instantly. A connection can be made with any willing person. This democratized access to people and ideas is incredibly powerful. It is what is causing software to eat the world. This virtual teleportation ability has or will cause the disintermediation of most middle men. They will be replaced by centralized virtual hubs of activity in the areas of commerce, learning, social connection, music, wellness, entertainment and more.
Having access to a virtual teleportation device is wonderful, powerful and potentially dangerous. It lets people access what they want instantly and for free. Oftentimes this means content creators aren’t paid for their work and new addictions are created. Games, music and movies (all great things in moderation) win out over more productive pursuits. Addictiveness accelerates. Focusing becomes more difficult. Despite these drawbacks, the internet is still the greatest invention of all time in my mind. Teleport wisely, my friend.
The most sought after job listings can get up to 1,000 resume submissions, especially in a down economy. How is a hiring manager or the future boss of said position supposed to sort through all of these applications? Some how the large stack of resumes have to be whittled down to 10-30 applicants to interview. Traditionally, this has been done by personal connections and the quality of an applicants CV. One’s web presence is quickly becoming an additional important factor, especially for tech related jobs.
It’s Who you Know
Having recommendation(s) from people that the hirer knows can go a long way. Even better if you have built a relationship directly with the person doing the hiring. That way, your resume will float to the top or you might even be able to know about the job opportunity before it is even public information so you won’t have to worry about being just another resume in the stack. As far as how to build a great network: check out the answers for this question on Quora and this video on networking. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor, it is estimated that 50% or more of jobs are found through networking making it a much more important ability than just submitting your resume on job sites.
The Golden Pedigree
The standard method is to quickly filter through the applicants is by quickly sorting through the CVs and seeing who has the most shining resumes: who went to the best colleges while maintaining a high GPA and has worked at name brand employers. The thinking is, if they were good enough for HYPSM and [insert prestigious employer here], they must be good enough for me. This is the quickest proxy for identifying talented and hardworking individuals when you are faced with a flood of resumes. Yes, many great candidates are missed who don’t fit into the mold while some schmucks will still somehow be able to sneak in. Still this is the quickest and most efficient way to sort through a large stack of resumes and hence it is commonly utilized.
The perceived importance of having a golden pedigree has caused intense competition for getting into the nation’s top universities and for job slots with employers who are perceived as being prestigious. Sometimes students are willing to even take jobs that they hate in order to have amazing “exit opportunities”. I know students that have a great passion for finance or strategy consulting and that is great but by no means should other students feel pressured into pursuing those options. Plus for students that don’t fit the conventional mold, there has to be ways to build alternative credentials.
Your Web Presence is The New CV
Most likely a future potential employer will google your name/look for your web presence and whatever comes up will be used in evaluating you as a candidate. Some forward thinking companies such as Union Square Ventures have gone as far as only asking for an applicants web presence when applying for a position. The ability to write thoughtfully and passionately about a topic is a great way to demonstrate interest in an area. Also, your web presence is a great place to display qualities and accomplishments that don’t fit neatly on a resume and these are areas where you can really stick out. The importance of your web presence will only increase in value over time as it becomes a more integral portion of the hiring process.
In conclusion, I hope that one’s online presence and other alternative, non-exclusionary credentials help democratize the job application process. What skills you have learned and can display should be more important than one’s alma mater or there lack of. Despite that, I think which school you go to is becoming more important for most students because competition for good jobs is intensifying. That being said, for those with an entrepreneurial mindset, great things can be achieved and jobs can be found with or without such degrees. It will just be that much harder for those without the high-value formal credentials to fall back on.
great interviews…allow [the interviewee] to meander and go deep and long. The way Rolling Stone, Playboy, Interview and even Wired (briefly) used to do.
These types of interviews are some of my favorite. There needs to be more done in this style. The Steve Jobs and Bill Gates Playboy interviews are classic. I wonder which interviews done of late will still be referred back to 15 or 25 years later. It definitely depends on the future outcome of the interviewee but the quality of the interview matters as well.