"I think intelligence, per se, is highly overrated." -- Marc Andreesson
Quiz. Who is Marc?
Netscape. Mosaic. And also a new blogger, too.
Fascinating post of his from early June (yes, I'm late to the punchbowl) -- "How to hire the best best people you've ever worked with" -- that caught my attention. His piece resonates on many levels for me. A how-to. Tangible. Focuses on excellence. And also the relationships within the working environment. And a fine guide for any leader hiring new teammates, too. Marc is understandably interested in the tech realm. Esp. start-up's.
But no reason why it doesn't have something to say about our collective efforts as educators. And school communities.
If you were to sit down with your colleagues and students to talk about the 'point' of schooling, you'd inevitably end up with a range of answers circling around the following flag poles:
- getting into college (or the next rung on the proverbial learning ladder)
- citizenship (for you, Chris!) and voting (classic foundation, certainly in the 1800's)
- life-long learning (for all the school mission statement writers out there)
- employment (the nasty one in the bunch, or maybe the fuel for the rest, depending on your POV)
Somewhere on the way to the learning forum -- say the 1950's when Sputnik grabbed America's attention -- the vast majority of our efforts began to point to #1 as the ideal goal. Occasionally we say #4, but sadly it's never with the same joie de vivre in the faculty lounge or school counselor's office where many of our edu-blogging conversations are happening when we're not plugged in. Where #2 and #3 have gone in tangible terms, is hard to say. But we mention them. Occasionally. At least in spirit.
As I'm reading Marc's post -- yes, we're swinging back around to the spark, sports fans -- I'm struck by his statement: "I find intelligence, per se, to be highly overrated."
Compelling words from one of the founders of the entire web browsing phenomenon that makes the world-as-we-are-discovering it so possible. Compelling words from a guy who has certainly re-invented himself on the world stage many times over as well. And compelling words from a guy who knows a thing or two about hiring, about putting the right teams together, about finding talent, about why one person stands out from the mix when resumes all tend to look the same.
Why does this matter?
Because we are seemingly compelled by the nature of all of our educational 'systems' to produce relative carbon copies of students/success to demonstrate that our schools, our programs, our teaching abilities are living up to the promise. We focus, in other words, on easily-measured assessments in the short-term and tangible tactics. On the other hand, we rarely focus on long-term strategies, rarely look to differentiate our programs, rarely consider what 'success' looks like for our graduates when they move to the next level.
There was time when this was vital. Unquestioned. For good reason.
Go back to the late 1800's and make an argument in the town square for a customized educational delivery system or a unique learning style or a graduate who would mash-up traditional practices to develop a global product offering or a multi-cultural frame of reference. You'd have been ignored. Or tar-n-feathered. It was a time where mass production and common reference points and nationalism was a life-n-death issue, and also vital to the validity of our still-young nation (Americans only, here, although many followed or considered their own variation for many reasons), that was on the verge of embracing the industrial revolution (et al) with a fever to beat the band.
Along the way, we developed Carnegie Units, we developed sequences of classes (often for convenience rather than logic -- Bio, Chem, Physics, anyone?), and we developed a growing passion that the 'point' of education was to either fuel the assembly line or the ivory tower, depending on your lot in life. Come the 1950's, the space race, the suburbanization of America, the G.I. Bill (hello, SAT/ACT!), and the need to compete with our then-enemies, the Russians, and suddenly there was an increasing desire to fuel what has since become known as an Information Economy/Age in order to compete, stay relevant, and figure out what to do with veterans coming home from foreign wars and woman who took their place at the assembly plants who also want to keep exercising their mind away from the traditional kitchen sink option. [By this point in the blog post, I'm asking all non-US readers to ignore the obvious filter bias here, and to replace with either a global or local reference list that you know better than I...or just see the gestalt for what it is]
The left side of the brain certainly began to demand attention (since camp fire story-telling had gone the way of the mastadon and pre-Enlightenment). Linear thinking processes began to dominate both factory and academia, to be certain. Easy to measure. Easy to focus. Easy to file. Easier to Bell Curve. Easy to hire. And easy to come up with a business magazine comparison of top this and top that.
Silly to argue that it should have been different then. That was the age. A century (or more) of mass industrialization and modernization and competition based on engineering solutions that had very face-to-face impact where 'networks' were hardly mots du jour for anyone. Let alone bringing an entire society/culture along for the ride, providing good homes and jobs, and allowing organizational hierarchies to remain anchored in logic and clarity.
Today, however, we are presented not with its opposite -- too much will remain from the past to suggest that -- but a unique mash-up of possibilities we are all learning to translate and make sense of. Impacting society. Impacting businesses. And impacting education, both teachers and students alike.
Dan Pink argues for the forging of "a whole new mind" where his 6 "conceptual age" aptitudes (or skills) -- design, story, symphony, empathy, play, and meaning -- are the bare bones requirements for relevancy in the future of work and society. In other words, in an age dominated by abundance, Asia, and automation -- where everything we ever dreamed of is available in mass/bulk and anything that can be outsourced cheaper or performed more quickly by a computer -- all makes for a giant re-think of what we mean by the cricital skills our best organizational talents will possess.
Oh, and what we mean by learning.
In other words, Dan Pink might argue that we need to consider what a "conceptual age" school offers that an "information age" school cannot. He might wonder -- as I know he does, since I've had the pleasure of talking with him -- how design, story, symphony, empathy, play, and meaning begin to gain relevance in a school program that understands that the dominance of the left-brain discourse may not best serve our students in the future.
Forget 1.0. Forget 2.0. Forget math vs. language arts. Forget all the obvious dichotomies that we hang our reputations on in a left-brain/linear/information-based age. Instead, imagine what will help your students -- and your colleagues -- remain most vital, most relevant, most agile in the years to come when simply fitting into a pre-existing career or academic path will no longer be taken for granted.
- consider why Marc Andreesson considers intelligence on the team-building and hiring front to be "per se, highly over-rated."
- consider what Dan Pink might mean by elements such as design, story, symphony, empathy, play, and meaning being integrated into the current academic offerings, or used as drivers for what we'll do in the future.
Andreesson -- in his post I previously mentioned -- asks if you know how Microsoft and Google chooses new hires and how Google chooses new hires. Be an interesting question to ask a conference audience. Now, Andreesson might be a bit biased considering that Netscape didn't win the holy tech lottery as the other 2 did, but he makes a good point. Microsoft, he offers, has traditionally asked mind-puzzles -- "Why is a manhole cover round?" (you'll love the 'right' answer, if you read the full post he writes -- classic!). Google, he suggests, passionately looks for compelling PhD's. Both companies are insanely successful, right? So, why does Andreesson suggest that our classic argument for intelligence -- problem solving instincts or degree-based proof -- is "per se, highly over-rated"?
Perhaps because information is free. Perhaps because easily measured intelligence has a limit. Perhaps because our future demands more in the team-building process than it ever did in the past, esp. when projects and economies and organizations shift so quickly, and roles do as well.
What I particularly appreciated about Andreesson's post was where he felt the rubber-hits-the-road in terms of bringing the right people onto a team. He writes:
So I'm not going to try to be comprehensive.
But I am going to relay some lessons learned through hard experience on how to hire the best people you've ever worked with -- particularly for a startup.
What are his criteria?
And can you see over-laps for what we're all striving to do in each one of our classrooms, each one of our schools, each one of our networks, each one of our countries, and beyond?
He seeks the following 3 elements in every new hire:
- DRIVE: "First, drive. I define drive as self-motivation -- people who will walk right through brick walls, on their own power, without having to be asked, to achieve whatever goal is in front of them. People with drive push and push and push and push and push until they succeed."
- CURIOSITY: "Second criterion: curiosity. Curiosity is a proxy for, do you love what you do? Anyone who loves what they do is inherently intensely curious about their field, their profession, their craft. They read about it, study it, talk to other people about it... immerse themselves in it, continuously. And work like hell to stay current in it. Not because they have to. But because they love to.
- ETHICS: "Third and final criterion: ethics. Ethics are hard to test for. But watch for any whiff of less than stellar ethics in any candidate's background or references. And avoid, avoid, avoid. Unethical people are unethical by nature, and the odds of a metaphorical jailhouse conversion are quite low."
Drive, curiosity, ethics. We do an admirable job of testing for linear capacities and occasionally producing projects that "engage" and "inspire". All well in good for keeping kids motivated in the moment and also getting them into college, for example.
But do we have the equally important conversation that centers on a) what will allow our kids to remain 'in' college through graduation or to 'succeed' once the 1-to-1 correlation of SAT scores and freshman-in-college grades disappears by the 2nd year into college (as studies support), and b) what society, companies and social organizations of all sizes/shapes/missions will seek when our graduates knock on their doors?
Do we even know where to start? And can we point to our own programs as proof-positive that we helped? Or do we leave it up to the human dice roll of personality and good timing and vague intangibles that will matter years from now when we no longer have them in class?
I know that when Chris Lehmann began hiring his team as the Science Leadership Academy went from dream to start-up to fully functional school, he innately sought all 3 of these in each of his teachers and teammates (although he certainly used his own language/filters/processes). Same with his kids, on some level. Esp. #1 and #2. And he knew that beneath the School 2.0 sheen of his school, lay both John Dewey and also the belief that he was helping to inspire "21st century citizens", not just future workers for anyone.
While I hardly have the 'answer' for this, I offer it as a question. Certainly one I am trying to solve myself. Also as a conversation spark, if you are so inclined. I get the need to teach the fundamentals. I get that engagement suddenly matters. I get that 2.0 vs. 1.0 helps us sharpen our intellectual blades. I get that we are all under enormous pressures. I get that tools matter and tools don't matter. And I get the system won't change over night.
But I am interested in seeing where we are succeeding in fostering environments that center on developing the spirit of what Andreesson seeks: drive, curiosity, and ethics...and where conceptual age schools are raising out of the soil. And what can happen when it becomes more closely tied to each of our 21st century offerings and our school mission statements and our college admissions CV's and our best-of-the-best classroom projects.
Because the kicker is that if truly successful teams and organizations and social networks are seeking something beyond intelligence that is easily measured in classic terms, and we are dead-set on helping our kids succeed, we are morally charged with the responsibility of working in concert with both ends of the spectrum (foundations and outcomes) simultaneously.
My closing questions (to self, and anyone else with a moment of curiosity):
- In other words, what are our schools really called on to produce/inspire in the years ahead?
- How do we inspired unique graduates, rather than carbon copies that are convenient for measurement and application processes? How do we inspire graduates that want to make a difference, are ready to accept their role in society as "21st century citizens", can actually make sense of an infinitely shifting landscape of opportunities and careers and networks that we mentors need a Rosetta Stone to make sense of given our own training/experiences?
- And will our graduates thank us for our assumptions and choices when all is said and done?
- And are we mistaking the debate-of-tactics for deeper strategies along the way?
Better questions than mine (he smiles, knowing they are out there)?