Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Reflections and Interests: How My Life Is Changing, Again

My life is changing. Or, pivoting, as it should in the entrepreneurial journey. A year of bootstrap living teaches many things, not least what you truly desire, and I have reached the point of reconciliation with reality. This is, in a way, the time when I trade off my desire to change the world to the more modest aim of making the enterprise succeed. This is also the time when I understand what can and can't work - that I am no longer twenty year old and fit to the culturally acceptable stereotype of entrepreneurs - and finding other ways of making sense. 

This starts with finding out what I truly want to do. Indeed, my efforts to build something meaningful allow this to come out in sharp relief. And, indeed, my efforts to build a global network business is not recent - I have been at it at least since 2007 - and therefore, what I know now is accumulated over time, through successes and failures. For example, despite my continuous protestation, the point of my work seemed to be understood as making British Education available abroad: This is one of the last things I want to spend my life on given my views on global education. It is only through the effort of creating the business and making the pitch, I have come to understand how this incidental objective, that I took up a competence-based qualification available in Britain simply because I am in Britain, obscured my real goal - that of creating global learning networks around common content and exchange of views. 

In fact, I have come to commit the same mistake that I often advise against: One can't change the system being inside the system. So, my point that education needs to change isn't going to make sense as long as what I do is to promote the cause of education as it is available today. This is indeed a tough problem: We are only bootstrapping and don't have the resources to overhaul education as we know it. And, when reality knocks, as it does now, the only two options available are either to surrender the goals of changing anything and getting back in the fold, or keeping the goals of changing education and give up on the ambition of being a college. Our efforts at accreditation, designing the courses etc., made us look desperate for legitimacy, which we indeed were, and the people we were speaking to indeed saw that and judged us with the usual parameters - how many centuries have we been in business, how big are our buildings, how academic are our credentials - which was not going to work for start-up Higher Education.

The problem is that hawking the usual thing, some kind of easy to diploma delivered online the bad way, may be the easiest way to make money, but I have no aspiration to get into this. This option makes most sense for a small start-up, and it almost seems that everyone we talk to, wants us to do this, but it just does not float our boat. As we see now, we must have appeared incredibly vain to many people, as we spurned their advice to offer a cheap-and-cheerful diploma option, and talked instead about how we want to change education. They were right all along, but we were never interested. [I have always seen this as our Groucho Marx problem - we don't want to partner with people who would have us as partners!]

So, my problem is obvious: How do I make the enterprise succeed and yet not get subsumed by the usual journey to abyss that define For-Profit education, at least in most cases? My idea is to stop being a college. This sounds counter-intuitive, because it is, but this is more in line with what I want to do with my life. The central obsession of my life is to explore the phenomenon of technology-induced change around us - I want to go back to school studying this when things have settled down for me - and the central object of my work ought to be to create an education to help people make sense and negotiate these changes. This theme appears again and again, and yet again, on this blog, and this is exactly what happens in my interactions in person: I always talk about it. The objective of my enterprise, if it's to be successful, is to achieve the unity of pursuit - that I do just this one thing - and indeed, as I have come to realise, I should stop pretending to be a college as a first step.

Indeed, working to survive during these bootstrap days gives me more insight than I hoped it would. The whole business of teaching at the traditional colleges and universities tell me how ill-synchronised education currently is with technological change both inside and outside education; how little concern there is for the students; and how students are on steroids, seeking just the credential and not anything else: All these give me this central idea that education is so stuck to the old industrial world that it is never going to change from inside. It is an interlocked system of teaching, accreditation, funding, student perception and simple lethargy that will come in the way. Technology will change education, not superficially as in YouTube videos but profoundly, but it will change through creative destruction from outside rather than benign enabling from the inside.

My apocalyptic view is prompting me to rethink about my work and my life. All I want to focus on is this interface between education and technology, and I shall consciously shift my engagements to this plain. In the business, this will mean a pivot to the technologies of learning and building a platform for educational innovation, than trying to be a college ourselves. In my own practice, this will mean extricating myself from the old world teaching to committing myself more to research and writing on technology and education interface. This will mean going back to Graduate School, once I have enough money to study again, and committing myself to research this education-and-technology phenomenon. All this, I hope, will allow me to achieve an unity of purpose, in my life and work, which is, I only discover now, what I was seeking all the time.

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How To Live

"Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the grey twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat."

- Theodore Roosevelt

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We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

- T S Eliot

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