Monday, September 19, 2011

China and the Education Imperative…

As I sat at breakfast in Beijing, I read an insightful and scary blog (Back to Wrong School) post by Seth Godin about the challenges associated with American education.

It was spot on, in my opinion, and I forwarded it to my the guy in my network who thinks more about the need to revamp education in America more than anyone else…Daniel Lipstein.

A lawyer by day, Daniel has penned some thoughtful ideas including “Superwoman Was Already Here” about Dr. Maria Montessori and shared an article by Steve Denning about the dangers of the factory model of education as well as another piece from the WSJ (subscription required Sad smile) by Jonah Lehrer.

Now, why is all of this important and how does it relate to China?

Well, the reason, in my mind, is that as I see the impact of globalization, technology, and others on the rest of the world, it just reinforces what I already know…that the ONLY way to sustained growth for the US is to recognize that our competitive advantage is a culture of innovation.

It’s in teaching people how to be entrepreneurs and innovators.

By complete coincidence, that same day, my mom forwarded me an email from our friend, Saul Singer, author of Start-up Nation and a leading authority on innovation.

The email was quoting Tom Friedman from the 9/4 Meet the Press (see the 12.50 point in the video)

And what we did [for new book] was actually interview four employers, four major employers, one of whom actually is the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey. And we interviewed him when he was head of the Army Education Corps, and--which is just very recently. And here's what employers will tell you, David. They'll tell you that they're all looking for the same kind of employee now, someone who can do critical reasoning thinking, dot, dot, dot, in order to get an interview. That's not table stakes. What they're actually looking for are people who can adapt, invent, and reinvent the job because, in this hyperconnected world, change is happening so fast.

You know, there are companies now in Silicon Valley that do quarterly employee reviews now because their product cycle's changing so fast. You can't wait till the end of the year to find out you have a bad team manager. Now, that's got to work back toward education. What we argue in the book, basically going forward, is there are really just two kind of countries in the world, HIEs and LIEs, high imagination enabling countries and low imagination enabling countries.

Forget developed and developing. Why is it? Because if I have a spark of an idea now I can go to Delta in Taiwan, they'll design it; skip over to Alibaba in Hangzhou, they'll give me a cheap Chinese manufacturer; and make a jump over to, they'll do my fulfillment and delivery; go to Craigslist and get an accountant; and will do my logo. They're all commodities now. What isn't a commodity is this (snapping fingers). And the countries, actually, that are thriving today, look at Israel, start-up nation. We--we're not going to bail our way out of this crisis. We're not going to stimulate our way out of this crisis. We are only going to educate, ultimately, and imagine and invent our way out of this crisis. 

And Saul adds his own analysis:

What Friedman is saying is what economists have known for many years but many seem to have forgotten: economic growth comes from increasing productivity, most increases in productivity come from innovation, and start-ups and entrepreneurship are the main engine of innovation.

That’s what I’ve seen on my trip to China (and India, Brazil, Russia…). As a nation, we have to just make our peace with the fact that the easy street we had for so long is over and just make a clean break and seriously double-down on this question of re-inventing education.

I certainly don’t have the answers, but I know it’s a huge problem. I also know that people like Daniel are seriously concerned and thinking about it.

We’ve got to raise the alarm before it’s too late and make it a top priority.

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