Few years back, while at the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos, I met the organizational psychologist Adam Grant on top of the Rinnerhorn Mountain. His book, Give and Take had helped shape critical aspects of Network Capital, and I was eager to learn more about his upcoming projects. As luck would have it, we happened to share the last cable car back to the meeting.
Floating down through the clouds, Adam shared three key insights with me about nurturing original thinking and entrepreneurship.
Adam’s Key Insights
First, innovation and economic growth rates of entire countries can be traced back to the books children read.
Second, finding the right mentors is hard but we can locate relatable role models in stories of great originals in history and fiction.
Third, the logic of consequence and the fear of failure are huge barriers to innovation in classrooms and even boardrooms.
Adam’s insights, when placed in the Indian context, help to explain why the education system there has consistently failed to inspire students to learn and innovate.
Tiny History Lesson
To get the complete picture, one has to go back to 1835 when the British historian T.B. Macaulay, writing in his notorious 1835 Minute on Education, said:
“We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern, a class of persons Indian in blood and color, but English in tastes, in opinions, in morals and in intellect.”
In simple words, Macaulay’s vision was to create a nation of obedient, efficient and polite clerks - and his hangover has lingered long after his death. Even after independence, the new Indian Government’s first five-year plan grossly ignored the importance of school education by allocating less than $2 million for the entire duration. Macaulay’s hangover was so profound that even as recently as a few years ago, around half the questions in school examinations required students to commit facts to memory.
For example: “What is the speed of light to eight significant figures?”
I am not sure what such a question is meant to accomplish but it surely isn’t innovation, originality or entrepreneurship.
I have been thinking about this ever since I was in school. You can take a look at my TED talk if you wish to explore this further.
The World Economic Forum’s “Future of Jobs Report” examines how technology is changing the very nature of work. It highlights the new skills we will need for the jobs of the future, and examines how artificial intelligence can augment existing jobs, create new tasks, and open up an entirely new range of livelihoods for workers. Crucially, the report recommends taking personal responsibility for our lifelong learning and career development.
To see how this works in practice, consider the Japanese philosophy of “Ikigai”. “Ikigai” means "a reason for being." According to this concept, the secret to finding meaningful work is identifying what you love, what you are good at, what the world needs and what you can get paid for. In your ideal job, these four factors converge, and passion meets practicality.
The Standardized Anti-IKIGAI Schools
Unfortunately, most schools today are not designed to inspire IKIGAI among students. They do their best to standardize creativity and mass-produce mediocrity, leaving their students frustrated and dissatisfied. It can be deeply unsettling to graduate from such an education system and then be bombarded with recommendations to “follow your passion”. How are we supposed to follow our passion without any institutional, cultural or systemic encouragement, career support or mentoring?
This problem is particularly acute in Asian countries, despite the great innovators that the region has produced. Unfortunately, exceptions don’t disprove the norm. We need to do better if we want to meet the challenges of the future, especially as the average career is likely to increase by years and even decades.
After deep reflection on the educational crisis in countries like India, Network Capital has decided to set up a chain of schools on the cloud. Our first iteration is the summer school that will admit 50 students.
This is a hand-written note I shared with Network Capital’s parents subgroup.
Our Three-Pronged Approach for the Summer School
First, thinking deeply. Let’s call it second order thinking. In our modern lives of perennial distractions, the ability to be indistractable (a term coined by author Nir Eyal) is our super power. Be it religion or politics or policy or business, there are obvious things that everyone claims to be aware of (surface level knowledge) but very few actually dive deep and form their own points of view. It is easy to be loud and wrong. Sitting comfortably in an echo chamber is the enemy of good decision making. And if you cannot make sound, contrarian decisions, you will end up following the herd. Students deserve better. They need to learn to form their own views based on facts and first-principles thinking. Competition and FOMO is for losers, I argue in my Harvard Business Review article.
Clarity is power and second-order thinking enables that. It is a habit shaped with practice. You won’t suddenly become a deep thinker tomorrow but if you commit to trying, in a few months it will seem natural. You will be able to filter signal from noise.
Second, writing clearly. Network Capital would not exist if we didn’t learn how to communicate complex ideas through the power of words. It is an acquired skill honed with practice Almost every leader worth remembering writes well. Good writing is persuasive, stylist and as Elizabeth Gilbert likes to call - surprising and inevitable. Good writing is both art and science. Students and future leaders must master writing if they wish to build meaningful careers in any sector.
Third, speak purposefully. As students embark upon their career trajectories, they will learn that complex coordination is the single most important charter for getting stuff done. They will need to learn to inspire people, give tough feedback and do so with empathy. Legendary investor Warren Buffet says that one of the best investments he has ever made is to enroll in a public speaking course. He was petrified of sharing his views publicly and the course helped him become reasonably good. He explains that speaking well is an asset that will pay dividends for 60-70 years and turn out to be a liability if kept unchecked.
Who Will Teach in the NC Summer School
Our faculty studied at Oxford, Harvard, INSEAD, Wharton, Kellogg, LBS, Stanford, Cambridge, Columbia, MIT, among others. They worked at Google, Microsoft, Facebook, McKinsey, Teach for America etc. Students will hear from top .1% of professionals around the world. If you wish to explore further, take a look at our masterclasses and podcasts. Pick any session. By the time you finish, you would have learned something interesting.
My mission is to make the Network Capital Summer School the most meaningful learning experience you have ever had. We will of course learn deep-reading, critical thinking, public speaking and writing but we will partake of all assignments and micro-experiments keeping self and community care in mind.
We want to ensure personal attention for each student so we will stop enrolments when the class size reaches 50. We are already half way there so you may want to hurry.
Founder, Network Capital
Writer, Harvard Business Review
P.S. We recently had our 1 year anniversary of Network Capital TV. Read my reflections here.