Monday 10 December 2007

Does an education slow you down?

Why do we go to school? Or university? What is all about? Does anyone remember? Is it just about getting a piece of paper? Is it just about becoming an authority on a subject? Or is there more to it? Isn’t it also about developing leadership abilities? And isn’t also about tapping into your creative energy. And what about learning how to manage processes? And what about learning to listen and absorb knowledge? And what about the opportunity to network, meet people and build relationships?

I was reading an article in a business magazine that was very intriguing. It was a short and well-written piece and it did make me a little nervous. It hinted at the end of the academic system, as we know it. University professors are earning commissions for identifying talent. Perhaps I misunderstood this but it sounds like students are being encouraged to launch start-ups long before they graduate. Young people are dropping out of top universities at faster and faster rates to get into the IT start-up domain. My question is: is it healthy? And when does this end? Is a boy in a school, say, going to drop out at age 14 to start a company? And what next? Is a teenager going to become a billionaire? Is this clever?

Yes, I have a loft of questions on my mind at the moment. Not only are people experiencing extreme pressure and stress at younger and younger ages but soon there is going to be pressure to drop out of university. I mean, if everyone else is doing it then what is wrong with you hanging around campus when there is a revolution going on out there. Furthermore, you continually hear the term "exit strategy" which appears to go hand-in-hand with the majority of these new start-ups. What exactly is an "exit strategy"? Let’s see. 10 years ago we never had so many business oriented publications. We never had students dropping out of universities to launch start-ups. And we never heard of the term "exit strategy". Do you know that it is actually a military term that first surfaced in the Vietnam war – do the job and get out. Yes, guerrilla tactics have come to business. If everyone has an exit strategy, and I mean everyone, then who will actually do any work? I mean, who will be left to do the work if everyone exits. Yes, war has exit strategies because in that you take no prisoners. Is this what business has become? A war? Who is the enemy in this new war? And who are the champions? Perhaps I am getting carried away here. The enemy is quantity again. And quality, our poor understated hero, is really getting pushed aside.

When I was a kid my parents had a car which stayed in our family for over 10 years. These days we change our cars every other year. And the cars are more robust and reliable than ever. This is classic quantity over quality. Let’s look at these in another way. If education = quality and money = quantity then the world seems to be becoming more quantitative each day. Are our values changing? Surely we should become leaders and get educated before we get rich? Surely this will help us cope and it will help us to make a difference. It is not surprising though that quantity rules over quality. We have become a world that ranks everything. Numbers are the order of the day in this the times of the Forbes Rich List, the Fortune 500, etc.

I remember when a Professor was someone with a pipe who had a certain intriguing mystery to them and now they are becoming investment bankers and recruitment brokers. Perhaps I am over-reacting. Perhaps this is just a phase the world is going through. And perhaps technology is not controlling our lives. And perhaps cellphones will stop ringing in cinemas. Perhaps people will stop being slaves to their e-mail. And perhaps the Rand will strengthen.

Sorry. I really lost it there for a minute. My cellphone rang, new e-mail arrived, my fax went off, and my answering machine took a message all at once. Kinda threw my timing out. Oh, and my laptop said it was running low on battery. That really scared me. Where were we? Oh yes, education. I read this somewhere once, "Many people quit looking for work when they find a job." I used to think that people graduate and go on to find a job. But from what I have been seeing out there it looks like there may be a new trend that inspires youngsters to quit school before finding, er, discovering puberty. Sure it is great to have young entrepreneurs in the world. And yes, it is great to have successful kids. But what about dysfunctional kids? And what about people who actually build something they believe in? What about making a difference in the world? These youngsters are talking about exit strategies. Money seems to be the driving force here. Is greed motivating us these days? I really hope not.

Money is a curious subject. One of our IS financial wizards once said, "Money is the root of all evil. But then a man needs roots." Doesn’t an education get us in touch with these roots? Think about this before you think about dropping out of what you started studying. Money is not an easy thing to get your mind around. Don’t get me wrong – I am not saying I don’t appreciate money. I am just sad to see that its power is becoming more and more into play and its competition, poor old quality, is not making any strides. Weird hey, you need money to get an education. But in these times it seems you don’t need an education to get money. Think about this strange irony as we journey deeper into the mystery that has been called the Progress Paradox.

Posted by Ronnie Apteker