If you want to know the future, just look at what fifteen-year-olds are doing today.
–Robert Kiyosaki, Rich Dad, Poor Dad
I was going to harness and encourage the natural curiosity and energy of our youth. I was going to show them by example how they could make a life and a living for themselves and others by pursuing their passions.
It didn’t work out that way.
This year I formally resigned from one of the largest school districts in the country. I could share my story in this post, but I’d rather offer you something more valuable: A glimpse at the future. It’s not nearly as bleak as some people say, but you’ll have to be ready for it.
During my first year teaching biology, I tried to help a tenth grader get his GED. This would allow him to leave school a few years early and pursue his idea for a business startup. A few people expressed their shock that I, a teacher, would try to help a student get out of school.
But shouldn’t that be the goal?
A person in a high position told me my thinking was “dangerous.” He reminded me that school was really designed to train people to be punctual and obedient.
Some students would find their way and become successful business owners. Many more would go to college and possibly become professionals. “But,” he told me, “Walmart will always need people to drive the trucks. And we’ll always need people to build the roads.”
The Digital Future
I appreciated this person’s outlook, but we’re in a different world now. Anything I taught my students in an hour-long biology lesson, they could look up on their own in minutes. Even most of the poorest inner-city kids have a smart phone.
This means virtually anyone with ambition and drive has the chance to teach themselves anything they need to know to pursue their dreams.
We’ll always need people to pave the roads, and we’ll always have people to fill that need. But the web has increased everyone’s potential for upward mobility. We have a wealth of young people bubbling over with creativity, and I don’t want to work for an institution that merely slows them down and gets in their way.
Some people say that today’s teens are all video game addicts, that they spend their waking hours mind-melded to an electronic device with a screen. That’s not too far from the truth, but there’s another truth as well.
Many of these kids are amazingly smart and innovative.
The Gamer’s Education
There is a reason digital games are so addictive, and it’s actually good news. When you fail to reach a goal, you almost always get another chance in a game. You can try a different tactic, or finesse your approach until you figure out a way to succeed. Then you get to “level up.”
This is how the human brain naturally learns. It’s how most new things get invented and built. Video games reinforce that pattern, teaching kids to be resilient and persistent.
As a teacher, I got to see kids apply this persistence to the real world. I watched students approach everything like a video game. They would learn which answers would please a particular teacher. They would figure out just how to get the requisite amount of points on a project with the minimum amount of effort.
They would apply this technique to find the best ways to text in class without getting caught, to minimize their homework, to sell snacks to their classmates for extra money, and even to find a date.
None of these skills seem obviously useful in the traditional school classroom. But there are alternative ways of obtaining an education. I got involved in one of them early on, and I’m working on another one myself.
Education is going to become highly personalized and self-directed in the near future. Here are some of the results I think you can look forward to.
As a marketer, I’m a little bit scared. Even the best copywriting will only work if it’s added to videos, games, and apps. Even then, you’ better have a great product because the buyers of the future are going to be ruthless in their pursuit of whatever they want.
That said, if you can appeal to the emotions of this next generation, you’ll succeed as a marketer and an employer.
This is an exciting time to be in any kind of business. For myself, it’s an exciting time to be back in business. I’ve already collaborated with some young geniuses, and I look forward to hiring more of them to help you become more successful.