I continue to have more and more conversations linking education to gainful employment. These interviews and “off-the-record” conversations with leading education minds often extend to infrastructure, politics, social and fiscal responsibility, to global competition and retention. My dear friend and education thought leader, Ann McMullan, recently attended world-renowned writer Thomas L. Friedman’s “Next New World” forum in California. McMullan and I talked about the event and the extension into the pantheon of education, both here and abroad, and she graciously compiled her reflections for all of us below. I hope that this summary provides a platform for future discussion as we all contemplate the Wild West of education in the U.S. and beyond.
Reflections on The New York Times Thomas L. Friedman’s Next New World Forum
June 12, 2014
Mission Bay Conference Center
San Francisco, CA
The New York Times, Thomas Friedman and sponsors HP and University of California brought together thought leaders and innovators to explore ideas on the world we live in, the big trends in technology, and opportunities for business, plus challenges for education. An overriding theme, addressed frequently by Mr. Friedman as he engaged the guests were the questions, “How is my kid going to get a job?” and “What kind of schools should we have and what skills should be taught so that people will thrive in this new world?”
A recurring refrain was the need for schools to produce graduates who are adaptable and entrepreneurial. This reality means that being a life-long learner is not optional. Education is not something you complete…but rather becomes a part of each person’s daily life. That will lead to an education system that is not constructed by times, but instead moves toward “education on demand”. One consequence of a system of “education on demand” is the need to rethink credentialing. There was also much discussion about the ways companies are rethinking their hiring processes, putting more of a focus on proven skills, rather than the label of a university degree.
One take away from the day’s conversations is that if “education on demand” is truly the path in which we are headed, then schools and those who support schools with resources and products need to rethink their business models. The channels for marketing education resources will get very “flat”, to use Thomas Friedman’s lexicon. If students of all ages, and parents of younger students, can bypass the traditional education institutions to get the learning they need to succeed, the methodology for providing those resources, assessments of progress, and credentials will look very different. The challenge to all in the business of education is to determine whether and how to lead that change, or be swept up or swept away by it.
Below are highlights of major points expressed by a few, but not all, of the speakers throughout the day. For a complete list of speakers for the Next New World Forum, with a link to individual bios, please see: https://www.nytfriedmanforum.com/speakers.aspx
Thomas Friedman: “High wage, middle skills jobs have been wiped out by technology in the past 10 years. Quoting Tony Wagner (https://www.tonywagner.com/about-tony), “It is not enough to graduate from high school being college ready, students need to graduate from high school being innovation ready.”
Andrew McAfee, author and co-founder of M.I.T. initiative on the Digital Economy (https://mitsloan.mit.edu/ide/): “Machines are becoming a substitute for your work, rather than complementing your work.” Mr. McAfee also stressed the importance of being able to work as part of a team when he said, “Success comes by combining a properly composed team with technology, rather than an individual combined with technology. It is critical to know how to figure out how to build the right team.
Sebastian Thrun, co-founder and CEO of Udacity (https://www.udacity.com/): “Can we invent a new education system that parallels daily life, in the model of Uber of AirBnB.” These business models are based on the concept of employment on demand. Thrun elaborated on the concept of “education on demand” and spoke of the construct of MOOCs. He acknowledged some of the current pushback on the MOOC concept but reminded the audience that it is a mistake to judge new technologies in their initial phases. “Early adopters do not usually reflect the reality when technology grows and matures.”
Dov Seidman, author and CEO of LRN (https://www.lrn.com/) stressed the importance of the humanity in this technological age, especially as it relates to leadership. Seidman stated that “Leadership is about trend lines not headlines.” He talked about the leadership and accomplishments of Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King and pointed out that both men had “enforced” times to pause and think when they were imprisoned. What they discovered is that to be effective formal authority must give way to moral authority. The lesson for today’s leaders is that they must lead through people, not lead over people.
Beth Comstock, senior VP and CMO for GE (https://www.ge.com/) stated that big business today must be “disruption ready”. She stressed the importance of collaboration with different organizations inside and outside a company, across different sizes, and interest groups. One example is the partnership between GE, a global giant with a long history and Quirky, a new upstart company that focuses on bringing new innovations to market quickly.
Lazlo Bock, Senior VP, People Operations at Google (https://www.google.com/about/company/) spoke of the three or four indicators that Google looks for in their hiring process:
1) Cognitive Ability – Mr. Bock stated that the qualities Google looks for are problem solving, curiosity and the ability to learn. They value these attributes far more than someone who knows it all.
2) Emergent Leadership – People who are willing to step up and lead when needed, but also step out of the way when their particular expertise is not required.
3) Cultural Fit – People who are comfortable with ambiguity, but also have a conscious and humility.
4) Actual Expertise – This is critical for some, but not all, jobs at Google. Engineers need a specific level of expertise, but others who are hired at Google need to be able to learn, be conscientious and come up with something new.
James Manyika, senior partner, director, McKinsey & Company (https://www.mckinsey.com/), spoke about “big distruptive trends”, based on the 2013 McKinsey report, Disruptive technologies: Advances that will transform life, business, and the global economy (https://www.mckinsey.com/insights/business_technology/disruptive_technologies). Mr. Manyika spoke specifically about cloud computing and the mobile internet, the automation of knowledge workers, 3-D printing and its impact on supply chains, energy, synthetic biology and big data analytics. He and Mr. Friedman expounded on the notion of “software defined everything”.
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