Saturday, October 22, 2016

Starting at Ground Zero

The last week - or slightly longer may be - was a period of great reset for me. 

I have been thinking closely what I am going to do moving forward. Indeed, there is plenty for me to do right now - an exciting project in development with a professional qualification body, an impending launch of a new education programme in China, an educational software project which seems to be gathering momentum, not to mention my own studies which just commenced - but this is still a point where a road has to be chosen.

Partly, this is because I said yes to too many things in the last couple of months, as I was trying to resettle into a domesticated life in Britain. I have allowed myself plenty of distractions, first the life of a bootstrapping entrepreneur and then being on the move all the time, and it was indeed a point when boring becomes desirable. I did want to have a predictable life, not because I am tired of experiments, but because I realised that I must do something significant now rather than dreaming about various big things and living my life through an unending series of compromises.

Yet, not knowing what that breakthrough project could be, I started talking to many people about many things, which, with hindsight, I now know to be precisely the wrong thing to do. Those who do breakthrough things, do not try different things, though they may explore different paths to the same thing: An insight I belatedly gained. Indeed, such wisdom is only gained through underwhelming realisations, as I did.

Indeed, I had such failures before and I can smell them now. So, yesterday, I walked away from an offer to lead a turnaround of an ailing business: Not because I fear such roles - in fact, my career could perhaps be described as a sequence of such roles - but because I am tired of the conventional projects in education. All that nonsense about emerging markets being naive and crazy about anything smacking of British tradition etc is so very passe for me that even if some desperate investors can put up with my skin colour (which is a serious handicap in that business), I am no longer interested in those superannuated business models. And, it is always a hard job to explain walking away from something which looks attractive in terms of pay and perks, particularly to well-meaning friends who seem to believe that I have no steady profession, and who, perhaps correctly, treat my zeal about education innovation more dinner table talk than anything real or solid.

But, while I tried to explain my lack of enthusiasm to a couple of very disappointed friends, it was also a penny-dropping moment for myself. They did not genuinely believe what I was saying - I was not in education to make a lot of money and therefore, the quality of the opportunity was important to me - because, and this is a question I should indeed be asking myself, if that was the case, why I was on the table in the first place, speaking to a few money-people discussing investments. One does not have breakfasts at Five Star hotels in London if one wants to discuss quality of education or opportunities of transformation: It must be, as one of the investors present helpfully explained, about 'commoditization of education'.

I am in no position to take a holier-than-thou approach, of course. I have spent all my life at that end of education, though the idea never crystrallised as dramatically before. And, it must be a number of things together, not least my own indecision about what I should be spending time doing, that brought to bear the existential crisis of the moment, and all the questions thereafter. 

So, my derived wisdom, the insight about the mistake in my ways: I must seek different paths to that one thing that I really want to do. The For-Profit route, particularly those with investors seeking a quick buck, would definitely take me there, something that I have already known but kept defaulting into. That I was having lots of different conversations parallelly is not, in this case at least, a proof my enterprise, but rather one of my indecisiveness. And, there, the penny has indeed dropped.

So, great reset it is. Next few days will be difficult, as I have to say a lot of No to lots of well-meaning people. But it will be such, and no other, as I must return to base and start again. Even when my friends are perhaps giving up on my ever achieving a breakthrough and started viewing my various adventures as drift (instead of the 21st century portfolio career as I see it to be), I must keep my head down and focus on that one big thing - of buiding a new kind of global higher ed, the E-School as I call it, that I have set out to do.


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