The formal structures supporting education haven’t changed appreciably in the past several decades. The world continues to move at a dizzying pace and knowledge & information are created faster than ever. Aggregators like search engines and social filters allow for self discovery, autodidacta, and expansive learning beyond the confines of any static medium that preceded the world wide web. Unfortunately, these tools have created a host of other problems including perverse self-filtering, misinformation, and the quandary of distinguishing signal from profuse noise. This talk will share original research from the IIT Institute of Design on homeschoolers, adults in macrobiotic cooking groups, scrapbookers, and Girl Scouts. We will define what we refer to as “reflection deficit disorder,” an inability to reflect on multiple interests, vocations and hobbies in their whole, and why this is a problem.
Normative thinking around entrepreneurship is around solving a “problem” that people have. Many great online experiences aren’t borne from a solution to a problem. What “problem” did facebook solve?
Here’s a useful startup lesson I learned about ideation:
A little while back, I drove down to Portland with Vinita and my buddy Rich and to check out the food cart scene there. On the way there, Rich played his music. Rich has great taste in music, but sometimes it gets a little monotonous listening to one person’s music the entire time. On the way back, we used my grooveshark mobile app (Yes, I got lucky and downloaded it before it ever got pulled) to listen to music. The way it worked, I got to pick a song, then Rich got to pick one, and we alternated back and forth. It eventually became a little game — Who could play once-popular but now uncommon and engaging music on a consistent basis? There was certainly peer validation in the little exercise. Someone would play a song and the other person would do the equivalent of “Liking” the song or some sort of unspoken/unseen “fist bump”.
Fast forward a few weeks later and both Rich, I, and several other friends I know are head-over-heels in love with Turntable.FM, which provides a very similar experience in a number of ways.
How does an entrepreneur learn from this? Well, by now you’re already hopefully living and breathing the PG/YC religion of *making stuff that people want*. A crucial characteristic of making stuff that people want is understanding real world behaviors that are fun and interesting (often social) and using them as inspirational fodder for the creation process.
It seems like many of the great consumer internet startups take a certain real world behavior that people do and extrude them into the real world. Turntable.FM did this beautifully.
If you liked this post, follow @ashbhoopathy and I’ll hit you up with another UX roundup to learn how to make sticky experiences like TTFM.
Here’s an awesome example of content curation via a short form mechanism. It’s called 24in60, and all it is is text based summaries of stuff that has happened in the last day in small chunks (the idea is it takes less than 60 seconds to read).
Here’s a description from the site:
This site is designed for people who either don’t enjoy traditional news or don’t have time for it. While 24in60.com is from a U.S. perspective, the website is focused on covering the most important events of the day that has an important impact on the world and chooses stories that are not speculative or sensationalist. The daily news summary are usually posted in the evening or the following morning.
Awesome. I’ve been advocating for a long time that there needs to be more forms of experiences that use the marketplace to convey how much time they take to consume. This might not work for everything, but it certainly works for news content.
People are busy. Money might be fungible, but increasingly time really isn’t. It’s irreplaceable. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. It’s hard for people to cognitively grasp the notion that time is a limited resource, but I predict a very near future in which products that give people their time back will have inelastic, extraordinarily high demand for them.
Products like RescueTime and 24in60 are already pointing to this type of future.
I think BetterAtlearning plans will work the same way. Teach yourself _______ in only 4 days/weeks/months. I wonder why more marketplaces don’t convey how much time they save people.
Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.
The learning cycle between what is taught and when a student is tested on it is far too short, he proclaimed. Short learning-testing cycles, Wozniak said, are nothing like the projects that technology innovators are afforded in real life.
A really innovative person is known for something that usually took an awful lot of thinking, maybe even over years, and a lot of development in a laboratory putting it together and getting it to work. And it’s new and it’s different. And it’s not something you read about in a book.
The greatest innovation projects Woz participated in at Apple almost always involved technology he was unfamiliar with. But, he said, when you want something for yourself “you work hard to learn it.”
Woz talked about judging student performance by giving “students one long project that spurs innovative thinking at the beginning of a semester and graded on their results.”
“The value of these big projects is you learn diligence, lot of repetition. A lot of hard work results in something that’s your own. Your own. You built it. You have personal pride,” he said. “Personal pride is the strongest motivating force there is.”
This post on “getting to genius” made it to hackernews and I found a few of the ideas fascinating.
At Xerox PARC Alan Kay was known for saying, “A change in perspective is worth 80 IQ points.”
I’ve heard this similar idea about “perspective” from successful angel investors and VCs:
Genius is the extreme form of insight. It’s really not a measure of IQ, although a high IQ helps. I like to think of genius in terms of perspective and thus measure it by how rare and valuable a perspective is.
Getting to a rare perspective is usually a product of building up a mental framework and then seeing patterns in- and making associations or connections among disparate ideas. True genius is seeing associations among things previously unseen.
I think it’s this one that interested me the most, Richard Feynman’s advice on being a genius:
You have to keep a dozen of your favorite problems constantly present in your mind, although by and large they will lay in a dormant state. Every time you hear or read a new trick or a new result, test it against each of your twelve problems to see whether it helps. Every once in a while there will be a hit, and people will say, “How did he do it? He must be a genius!
I find that many personal projects and “interests” operate in much the same way. Sometimes I’m actively pursuing them (whatever “pursuing” might mean… whether researching, implementation, or improving). Sometimes they are dormant and I need to passively reflect upon them before they can move forward.
I often wonder how I could extrude that certain state of mind out into the world. What if people could see my nascent and possibly dormant projects and help contribute to them?
Over the past few years, we’ve developed a “slow hunch” as Steven Johnson might call it: The tools and mechanisms that social systems like Facebook, Twitter, and Quora have “discovered” (notice I didn’t use the word invented) might be incredibly useful to improve humanity and help more people “get to genius”.
Here’s where our intuitive response is really wrong: we have a tendency to indulge our pleasures without respite, and to take frequent breaks from those things that make us miserable. This is exactly backwards. If you want to maximize your pleasure — a great dessert, the delight of furnishing your first real apartment after graduation, a wonderful new relationship — you should trickle it into your life, with frequent breaks for your adaptive response to diminish. If you want to minimize your pain — an unpleasant chore, an awful trip — you should continue straight through without a break, because every time you stop, your adaptive response resets and you experience the discomfort anew.
I’m going to experiment with this for the next week and see what happens. Update coming soon.
If the world were easily explained by some meta production possibilities curve that included every single possible output, I wonder which “output” most people are spending their time, energy, and money. It might seem odd to boil the entire world of production into this simple curve (but economics by its nature is a simplification).
I was reflecting on this because I’m going to a venture capital summit on education in a few days. Reading over the program, I see people who are trying to explore unchartered territory where adventurers have gone before without much success. Very few of the educational startups funded in the previous decade made it (with the exception of the few winners, which were quite large — UPhoenix).
Sometimes, I have this feeling that lots of the economy is about simply transferring value from one hand to another, without much net gain in social value. Some people might have a higher concentration of resources than others, which allows them to buy more things, but ultimately it’s not a game changer.
Think back to macroecon, there are only two ways to “move the curve”.
The two main determinants of the position of the PPF at any given time are the state of technology and management expertise (which are reflected in the available production functions) and the available quantities and productivity of factors of production. Only points on or within a PPF are actually possible to achieve in the short run. In the long run, if technology improves or if the productivity or supply of factors of production increases, the economy’s capacity to produce both goods increases, i.e., economic growth occurs.
Now, I’m no John Maynard Keynes, but this is how I read the last paragraph:
We’re passionate about education and technology because we feel like it shifts the curve. Here’s to helping the economy get bettr.
Yesterday, I (this is Ash writing) gave a presentation to all of the senior faculty at the IIT Stuart Business School about BettrAt and the future of informal learning.
I think the presentation went pretty well (apart from me making a silly mistake with the domain and thinking that the site was down in a state of nervousness) so I couldn’t demo.
After I finished up the presentation, a senior member of the faculty who was running the meeting stood up and said “If the project that Ash is working on or a similar one can truly disrupt education and learning as we know it, do I need you people?” (Talking to the other faculty members there). A hush of silence went over the room… and I was a little thrown by the provocative delivery of the question. I didn’t want to answer though, so I just quietly slipped out while leaving a stack of business cards on the table.
This is something that comes up again and again, particularly after reading Clay Christensen’s Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns. Instructors are potentially worried that their jobs are on the line in this new era of digital learning and instructional delivery. This fear is unfounded, and preposterous. A simple attitudinal shift would help people in the role of instructing (that is, teachers, coaches, and consultants) that the nature of their job is changing from delivering education to facilitating learning.
Design school breeds you to have deep empathy for your users.
Schools of education should breed empathy for people trying to learn complex material who aren’t all wired the same way
People will always have a limited amount of time left in their days (except for Zack Morris who can freeze time), and the amount of information coming at them isn’t decreasing anytime soon. We’ll continue to need human enabled platforms to provide a pathway to learn and improve oneself. If anything, people who are in the role of instructing should welcome platforms like BettrAt to help assemble customized learning plans for individuals because it makes their job easier and they have better “work product”– the students who have learned more and are capable of achieving more.
Organizations that primarily care to help their consumers live richer and more productive lives (the ones that are going to win in the long run anyway) will surely embrace ways to deliver more customized content that maps to what all of their individual consumers are trying to accomplish in their lives. The smart ones will recognize that mass channels are insufficient, ineffective, and can’t compete with personalized ones.