Wednesday, May 18, 2016

3/100: The Two Lives

My whole project of 100 days, which, by the way, I am doing well with, is about changing my life. However, changing my life to what is still perhaps unresolved. The overall goal, to go beyond the compromises I had to do after my last experiment at a breakout, remains: But what the next breakout is about needs more thinking.

As I noted in an earlier post, my enthusiasm about the world of education ventures have now somewhat dampened. The reason for this is a realisation, which comes with the exposure I have had over the last several years, that all the talk about education innovation is really neither about education nor about innovation. It is, mostly, about some desperate excess money following concepts and ideas past their sale-by date. And, this does not excite me enough: Or, let's say, it does not make me feel that any hardship is worthwhile to build another of those education apps that no one wants to pay for, or, for that matter, that For-Profit school that would peddle vocational courses and build on a credulous student population which craves for an 'foreign' degree. This is what education innovation in the venture world really is: It is not about new ideas but rather 'scale', a word which has come to mean more students for less cost, and that pursuit of efficiency, rather than effectiveness, dominate all the conversations.

Which is a big mistake. Economists are quite good at formulating theories and models, but have not done, for understandable reasons, one for the self-destruction of capital. The Schumpeterian vision of creative destructuction can be seen in action in the world of venture investment, in education as in others, where the herd mentality rules supreme, and the supposed smart money goes dumb as it follows the boastful illusions created by the few pied-pipers, who produce glitzy reports, collect their fees and watch other peoples' money to line up and self-destruct. This world, which I have become familiar with, runs on gossip, rumours, half-truths, urban legends and usual unfounded claims which the bankers are so capable of. 

My predicament, of course, is that I am somehow stuck in this world. If I set my goal to build a better education offering, I have no other alternative, or not any in plain sight, but to turn to one of these sources of funds and get consumed in and by various ideas of better education spun by people who never taught for a day in their lives. Besides, that mad pursuit of scale is always usually focused on tried and tested new ideas, the pun is entirely intended, and the whole conversation is about copy-and-catchup route of being unique. The conversations are always centered on Cost of Student Acquisition and Teacher-Student Ratios, the analysts' prisms to measure efficacy of education, and almost never about what and how they learn. My aims of building an education to make better citizens and leaders have really no chance of surviving in this world.

So, I continue to live two lives, or, really, two and half lives. One of these would continue, from right now to beyond the 100 day mark, and I shall continue to hawk my business experience and knowledge of markets to whoever would pay for it. The key realisation in the last several years is that it is not worth making sacrifices for to build a For-Profit Education business. I should continue to work, perhaps outside the boring bounds of big companies where executives are more concerned about keeping their jobs than doing anything worthwhile. Something worthwhile may indeed come from it - there are some things which I am involved in may have some potential - but it is not something I wanted to define my life with.

Here, therefore, is the scope for a second life, which I live in waiting. I can afford to be estoteric here - I want to build a humanities education offering using all the tools of the trade that I have learnt through my day jobs, like education technology, project-based and activity-based learning, commitment to practice rather than theory - as I am getting ready to make the sacrifices necessary for it. I am acutely aware that this is not for any venture money - that is after an instrumentalist version of education and completely oblivious of the social and political change around us - and I have to find different kinds of money, public, philanthropic or crowdsourced, to do this effectively. This is what I spend time preparing for: Thinking about how to make humanities education come alive, to break out from its implicitly elitist assumptions (not just those backing technical education thinks humanities is for the leisurely, most people in humanities departments in the universities emphasize that they serve no immediate practical purpose, and are taken to imply that there is no practical objective for a humanities education at all) and to make good humanities education available to a large number of people.

Between the idea and reality, the future and current projects, is my half life, which is my quest of building an working identity, just as I believe one has to do to effect a change in career (an idea advocated by Herminia Ibarra of Insead). I am working to build a business model for a Leadership and Strategy Education, for students in High Schools or College (that bit is yet to be determined) using History, Literature and Philosophy, and through projects, travel and conversations. This is all an imaginary exercise right now - I have no funds and no ability to work on this - but I am hoping that this would provide me with something to focus my mind on, to build partnerships and conversations with like-minded people from across the world and even a context to explore the economic and operational model seriously. 


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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

Last Words

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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