"Everything Starts Out Looking Like a Toy" (No.24)
When do old patterns no longer apply? Thinking at the intersection of systems.
This week’s toy: a Robot that drains 3 pointers better than Steph Curry. Imagine if you had this sort of accuracy built into a heads-up display in your eyeglasses. 🏀 -> he’s on 🔥🔥🔥. Edition No. 24 of this newsletter is here - it’s December 12, 2020.
The Big Idea
What’s one of the big changes caused by COVID-19? The Pew Research Center has found that in the United States, a majority of young people now live with their parents.
For many young people in the US, college has been the postwar goal to achieve success. But perhaps this is the time to rethink the post-secondary school goal towards adulthood so that more people can live on their own (if they want to) or build skills and wealth in a different way than college.
Imagine a different path to competency
What if this looked a bit different? If we recast the idea of “adulthood” from “continuous path from technical training or college into a career path” to “the ability to make money and meaning on your own while living on your own, what would the years after high school look like?
Learning how to build a web-based business to learn the fundamentals of business. This could be an effective, in-kind internship where you learn how to fit together available tools, test a hypothesis, practice selling and servicing a concept, and see if you can turn a profit.
Use YouTube to learn a trade. If you want to learn how to fix things, make things, build things, YouTube is a great place to self-teach.
Use Masterclass to learn from the best teachers in the world. If you need to learn from established sources, there are online lectures available at much lower prices per credit hour than a community college or 4 year university.
Prove to yourself that you know how to learn. If you need to learn a subject like statistics, find a online course like one on Udemy or Khan Academy or similar and just … start learning. It won’t be seamless but you will get out of it what you put into it.
This is great if you have the support of parents who allow you live in their home or if you make enough money at your job that you have extra time to devote to the process of learning. But what if you don’t have that support? What does after high school learning look like
Continuous Learning: Hybrid Work + Apprenticeship
Another way to handle this for young people is to set up a #nextPlay for them at any job they are in by making the work and the learning a hybrid process. Every job should have a stepping stone of competencies leading to another role in the same company.
If there’s no obvious choice to add skills, employers should make taking college courses online free for their employees. It may not be as fast to get your degree while on your employer’s dime, but if you can do it in 6 years instead of 4 that’s still getting your degree.
Another Outcome = Less Debt
Instead of exiting college with 40-100k in debt and few job prospects, we should counsel every student to pay for school in cash. Letting their employer foot the bill in exchange for getting a loyal employee who will stay longer (thus lowering the cost of hiring and maintaining teams) should make it easy for employers to see paying for college (or courses, or skill enhancement) as a great investment.
What’s the takeaway? College as we know it is broken. It literally makes 0 sense for someone to spend 25-50k annually to go to classes, end up in debt, and not have a job when they’re done. The learning that we do in college is priceless, so we need to determine how to make that process lifelong, easy, and cheaper for anyone who wants to get ahead.
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Links for Reading and Sharing
These are links that caught my eye.
1/ engaged vs. quantity - Scott Belsky suggests that "density of total usage” > “total users” when testing product. This feels like a corollary of Kevin Kelly’s 1000 True Fans idea, where the “true fans” of a product really use the product thoroughly.
I’d add that the users you need for a new product are not just those who use it a lot; it’s those who use it in unintended ways. Testing a product should yield not just the best-case scenario or a count of how many people can walk the “happy path” - it should also yield those areas that produce the most value (unintended or otherwise).
2/ algorithms need guardrails - AWS announced a tool this week to detect blind spots and bias in machine learning. There’s a theme here of meta-tools needed for software developers and business analysts alike: the ability to understand how the tools we create affect others. If you’re trying to reach a particular audience or target user, you also need to know how to avoid harming them.
3/ How do you know when data is really valuable? - James Currier points out some key ways where aggregating data also builds utility and value. Creating a network effect around data may sound easy, but it depends on more than just the data. Data by itself is not sufficient to build scale or value, especially when you are dependent on other partners to deliver some of that value.
On the Reading/Watching List
I’m really excited to watch Wolfwalkers - which drops this week on Apple+. Disney’s content machine appears to be moving again after COVID which means that there is oodles of Star Wars and Marvel coming out soon as well. But I’m a sucker for good hand-drawn animation, compelling story, and wonderful music.
NPR’s 100 Best Songs of 2020 is a fascinating look into the sounds of 2020. You probably won’t like all of them, and will definitely find familiar artists to revisit or brand new ones to listen to. I’m especially struck by seeing Taylor Swift on this list, and it looks like she wasn’t quite done with 2020, dropping a brand new album this week.
What to do next
Hit reply if you’ve got links to share, data stories, or want to say hello.
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The next big thing always starts out being dismissed as a “toy.” - Chris Dixon