I was such an idiot

I often find myself thinking this.

“Wow, I sounded really dumb in that meeting yesterday.”

“That event we did was terrible compared to this one.”

“Damn. Why was I arguing that point over dinner?”

“I actually used to believe this?”

I wrote that blog post?”

“I sent that text message?”

If I think about it too much, I’ll actually cringe when I think about all the dumb things I’ve said and done — the vast majority of which I thought I were really good or really smart while saying and doing them.

But the trap is to let that fear make you stop saying and doing.

I had a great conversation with my friend Ross last week (in which I said a lot of dumb things in retrospect), and we talked about this subject specifically. Ross is in his 60’s and said he feels the same way. I asked, “So it never stops?” and he said, “I certainly hope not.”

What an awesome response.

The minute we stop questioning ourselves and the minute we start feeling like everything we say is the smartest thing in the world is the minute we stop learning. And the minute you stop learning, why are you here?


Being the exception

Society seems to function well thanks to a variety of rules and norms that govern how we interact with others:

  • You don’t chew with your mouth open.
  • You make eye contact when you clink your beers.
  • You wear the same colored socks on both feet.
  • You wait your turn in queues.
  • You don’t ask artists to work for free.

There have been plenty of pieces written about the last point. (Here is one of the more humorous anecdotes.) It’s become pretty well accepted that this is the way we should live our lives.

Unless you’re the exception.

Mark Cuban is the exception, for example. He made a request on his blog asking for community contributions to design a new logo for the Dallas Mavericks. He even unabashedly made clear the terms:

Who will own your design ? The minute you post it, the Mavs will.  If you think its horrible that the Mavs own your design. Do not post.

The average Joe can’t do this. I can’t do this. No one would respond.

But Mark Cuban is the exception.

He could easily pay a designer or 100 designers if he wanted to. But he’s breaking the rule. Maybe you’re offended or you don’t have interest, but maybe you see an opportunity that thousands of other eyeballs could see your design or yours might just be selected to become an iconic brand for a professional sports team.

Maybe it’s unlikely that he’ll select one of these designs to be the next Mavericks logo. Perhaps he never intended to. But who cares? It could lead to an entirely new career for a designer. Or it could lead nowhere. Just because it’s against conventional “rules” doesn’t mean you can’t be excited about it.

Let’s get over the “rules” and start evaluating individual scenarios as they really are. And let’s all think about places where we can become the exception and use that to our advantage.


Presentation development vs. presentation coaching

If you Google “presentation coaching” you’ll find no shortage of experts who are great at helping you to become a “powerful” presenter. They’ll come highly recommended by executives. They’ll have a bulleted list of tips to transform you from an average public speaker to a great one. They’ll even offer you 1×1 coaching services to help you perfect your message!

The problem is that most of these presentation coaches miss the mark. Absolutely they will help you to present yourself better, but oftentimes what’s really needed is for you to present your message better.

99% of the little things that these coaches help you with (eye contact, stand tall, scrunch your toes, use gestures, pause, etc.) are just helping you to compensate for a lack of confidence in what you’re saying, and that lack of confidence is often derived from your true knowledge of  the content, the monotony of the content, or your apathy towards it.

If you invest time in really developing your presentation and crafting the right message, you’ll find that confidence is there for you and you can present in your natural style. Presentation development is the real hard work. Do you care about your audience enough to engage them in a meaningful way? To dig deep and find meaningful stories and anecdotes that will captivate them? To invest hours and hours fine-tuning it? Or are you fine just putting lipstick on your pig?


Open letter to the Penn State Presidential Selection Council

Dear Penn State Presidential Selection Council,

The next President of Penn State has a very difficult road ahead. On top of sorting out the intense ramifications of an enormous scandal, the university has even bigger challenges looming.

Higher education is one of the only industries to have avoided radical disruption over the past two decades, but that is changing, and it is very possible that a big-name university will need to close its doors in the next five years. I really hope that it isn’t Penn State.

Seth Godin’s remarkable manifesto Stop Stealing Dreams challenges us to all ask one very important question, “What is school for?”:

Culture changes to match the economy, not the other way around.

The economy needed an institution that would churn out compliant workers, so we built it. Factories didn’t happen because there were schools; schools happened because there were factories.

The reason so many people grow up to look for a job is that the economy has needed people who would grow up to look for a job. Jobs were invented before workers were invented.

In the post-job universe, workers aren’t really what we need more of, but schools remain focused on yesterday’s needs.

The jobs of the future are in two categories: the downtrodden assemblers of cheap mass goods and the respected creators of the unexpected.

Our parents were well-intentioned. When they grew up, they knew it was the students who went to college who would get the best “jobs” and would therefore have the most opportunities for a great life. But that era is over.

According to a report released by Intuit, 40% of America’s workforce will be freelancers by 2020.

40% of America’s workforce will be freelancers by 2020.

That is not thirty years from now. That is not twenty years from now. That is in seven years — meaning that current high school sophomores — the students currently pondering higher education — the students who would enroll in the fall of 2015 — will be facing this reality upon graduation.

Given that many members of older generations who are supporting families are going to cling to their industrial jobs, what percentage of 20-30 year olds will be freelancers? 60%? 70%? We need to altogether stop talking about the “job market” that students are being prepared for. It just doesn’t exist anymore.

The Thiel fellowship now handsomely rewards students who skip college and opt instead to start learning “on the job” in pursuing their dreams.

Penn State graduates are leaving with tremendous debt and many feel hopeless that their debt can ever be repaid. But simply freezing or reducing tuition addresses the current incidents — not the systemic problems. It’s an outrageous mismatch in the marketplace. And what happens when there’s an outrageous mismatch? People look at the alternatives.

People are going to start taking Mark Cuban’s advice:

Your future depends on your ability to assemble an educational plan that gets you on your path of knowledge and discovery without putting you at risk of attending a school that is doomed to fail , and/or saddling you with a debt heavy balance sheet that prevents you from taking the chances, searching for the opportunities or just being a fuck up for a while. We each take our own path, but nothing shortcuts the dreams of a 22-year-old more than owing a shitload of money.

So why should that current high school sophomore even go to college? College is great when you want to go look for a job. It’s your stamp. It’s your ticket for entry. You need to have it. But in a world of freelancers? You don’t need the stamp anymore.

Pitt, Ohio State, Drexel, Michigan, IUP, Syracuse — these used to be Penn State’s competitors.

Now Peter Thiel is a competitor. Coursera, Khan Academy, Udacity, MITx, OpenCourseWare, edX, TED-Ed, Citizen Circles, and Skillshare are competitors. (And every serious Presidential candidate better know what every single one of those platforms is. Just paying lip service to the acronym “MOOC” doesn’t cut it.) These platforms are offering up new, high-quality educational content every day. For free.

The crazy thing is that Penn State can actually embrace this instead of fear it. It’s a good thing for humanity when students around the world can have access to the very best lessons from the very best professors on the planet. In the words of Thomas Friedman:

I can see a day soon where you’ll create your own college degree by taking the best online courses from the best professors from around the world — some computing from Stanford, some entrepreneurship from Wharton, some ethics from Brandeis, some literature from Edinburgh — paying only the nominal fee for the certificates of completion.

So where should Penn State focus? Where will Penn State be the best?

We need to figure that out quickly because this day is already happening. As of last month, California is the first state to consider landmark legislation that would require their universities to recognize credits for students participating in MOOCs. As of earlier this year, the University of Wisconsin is now offering competency-based bachelors degrees, meaning that students don’t need to pay for overpriced university-offered courses, and can instead take free courses, pass a university-sanctioned test, and then pay a much smaller fee to be awarded a degree. Wisconsin is on the right path.

It’s the new reality, yet Penn State’s antiquated online strategy is woefully underwhelming. Instead of making a wise investment in the quality of courses and thinking about the long-term, we’re increasing the number of lower-quality World Campus courses and setting near-limitless class sizes in largely-automated courses just to jack up unsustainable, short-term revenues. Many of these revenues are coming thanks to the G.I. Bill, which is phenomenal for veterans, but even the United States government (the slow-moving behemoth that it is) will soon wise up and start encouraging lower-cost, higher-quality options for veteran education.

Penn State currently charges $648-$1,375/credit depending on in-state vs. out-of-state which is $1,944-$4,125 for a three-credit class. Many of those classes are certainly worth it. But many are not, and even fewer will be worth it as more and more exceptional, less-expensive offerings become available. The cash cow of “General Education” classes taught in an unexceptional, non-engaging way by graduate students or low-skilled lecturers to classes of hundreds is over. While this reality is tough on the pocketbook, it’s actually a good thing for students. GOOD professors are now more valuable than ever. BAD professors can no longer hide. We should want our students to have the very best education we can offer, and we can now offer better alternatives by recognizing what we’re good at, what we’re not, and where we should embrace complementary offerings.

David Brooks cites philosopher Michael Oakeshott by differentiating practical knowledge vs. technical knowledge. When I ask my peers to reflect on their university educations, they always refer to the practical knowledge. There is still and will continue to be extraordinary value in this at Penn State. For me, it was participating in IST Student Government and participating in the Blue Band where I learned the most. Moving away from home and living with new friends and living in an environment where anything seemed possible are things that had a tremendous influence on who I am today. There is a lot to be said for that in-person, brick and mortar experience.

But how can Penn State sell that? While there’s no question the Nittany Valley has much to offer, no sane person will be paying $250,000 for a glorified summer camp. That’s a tough charge to swallow, and that’s where Penn State should focus its rebuttal. Become a student-centered university. Our research is important, but why are we now called a research institution? Students can’t take the backseat. Embrace the MOOCs. Embrace the alternative course offerings. Ditch the stuff we’re not great at. Figure out how to market the experience. Figure out how to market one-year, two-year, and three-year programs. Work with leaders in secondary education to figure out where’s the gap that needs to be bridged. Perhaps improving secondary education could be a core goal. These are far from the only options as I’m just throwing out ideas here, but this is the type of discourse that should be had with candidates.

We need a President who gets that. We deserve a President who gets that.

If we simply choose a PR-conscious person who says the right things in front of a camera and is good at raising money instead of choosing a visionary ready to navigate the difficult times ahead and who can see a way to differentiate Penn State, we will continue our race to the bottom.

This academy, its rich history, its rich tradition, and its awesome mission are too great to squander. I urge you to please not allow that to happen. A generic leader won’t do. We need to be led into a new era. We need a stubborn, remarkable individual whose goal in life is to help students achieve their deepest dreams.

It would be an honor to dissect any of these points in further detail with anyone reading this. I don’t profess to have all the answers, hence why I’m not applying for the position. I just truly hope that we find someone who understands the urgency in this landscape, doesn’t discount or dismiss the difficultly it presents, has great ideas, and can build a world-class team to execute those ideas for future generations of students.

Thank you for your consideration of these points,
Steve Garguilo, ’09


More and more organizations are realizing the benefits of TEDx

Injecting new ideas and honest, open dialogue into large organizations is catching on worldwide. The Vatican is the latest organization to announce that they are putting together their own TEDx event.

As the TEDx program now celebrates its 4th birthday, it’s growing in many new directions, particularly within corporations. As more and more leaders wake up to the fact that stiff, old bureaucracies are only contributing to a race to the bottom, they are embracing TEDx to help them race to the top.

For the companies, it helps improve employee engagement, it breaks down internal barriers, it gives their people a forum to share ideas, and it helps to improve recruiting and retention of talent. For the employees, it gets them excited about their teams, it gives them inspiration and motivation, and perhaps most importantly it gives them a sense of purpose and a belief in the fact they’re working toward something bigger than themselves.

On March 15 in Washington DC, National Geographic held TEDxDeExtinction — an open forum discussing everything from the very real possibilities of bringing back the dodo to the not-as-real but fun-to-discuss viability of creating Jurassic Park.

One of the trailblazing companies that started doing TEDx internally in 2011, Intuit has now had two big TEDxIntuit conferences. Samsung has used TEDxSamsung to make their workplace more fun, including paper airplane battles and a pretty awesome Michael Jackson flash mob. Procter & Gamble had their first TEDxP&G event in March. Even the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States government held their first TEDxCIA event earlier this year.

And in a hallmark event last week, Intel joined the fun not directly through TEDx, but by being the first corporation to actually pay TED to help them organize TED@Intel. While this definitely cost them significantly more money than having internal employees do it, it guaranteed exceptional quality, and surely companies will be lining up to pay for this service.

Given that we’re at a tipping point for this format to become mainstream, corporate executives afraid of being left behind will soon be scrambling to set up programs of their own. This brings about its own set of challenges, but it’s great to see the spirit of TED spreading all around us.

If you’re part of a large organization, what are you waiting for?


Jackie Bradley Jr.

Less than a month ago, Jackie Bradley Jr. was a AA baseball player just enjoying being in spring training with the Boston Red Sox. An OF who had only played 138 games at the professional level, all the pundits thought he still needed more seasoning before he was ready for the big leagues. Spring training for him would merely be an opportunity to interface with the big league coaches and players, learn a bunch along the way, and then head back to AA where he belonged.

Just 20 months ago, Jackie Bradley Jr. made his professional baseball debut and was playing with the Lowell Spinners.

Even as he hit an incredible .419 in spring training (hitting .300 is considered very good), the talk was that his performance would have no bearing on a promotion. Standard protocol was that he needed more time in the minors. His play in the OF was inspiring, even showing a willingness to play a different position (LF) than his normal position (CF). He hit balls all over the field, impressing teammates and turning many into fans. But the decision-makers were still skeptics: How can he possibly be ready for the major leagues?

Thankfully for Jackie, Red Sox General Manager Ben Cherington and Manager John Farrell took a risk and they gave him a chance. He made the major leagues. Now starting in LF for the Red Sox, he’s made a great impression in the first week of the season, reaching base and driving in a run in each of his first three games, including drawing a key walk in the first win of the season over Boston’s main rival: the New York Yankees.

There are people like Jackie Bradley Jr. all around us who are working their butts off doing everything they can think of just hoping for a better chance. Who can you give that chance to?

And if you’re Jackie Bradley Jr., what can you be doing to help someone notice you to give you that chance? How can you boost your performance even more? How can you differentiate yourself to show someone you’re worth the risk? Or what can you do to give yourself that chance?


#ZeroProblems

I had a great time at SxSW Interactive earlier this month. It’s a very different experience from TED conferences in many ways. At TED and TEDx, you tend to find visionaries and people who are more altruistic, but the criticism is that a lot of these people are all talk — where’s the action? At SxSW, you may not find that altruistic spirit or that vision, but there’s no question that you’re in an atmosphere of hustlers, movers, and shakers.

Keynotes by Elon Musk, Tina Roth Eisenberg, and Matthew Inman were outstanding (sorry Julie Uhrman, I missed yours). The rest is a circus: dozens of sessions going on simultaneously in venues all over town. And that doesn’t include all the other random activities going on in Austin, like Grumpy Cat‘s appearance and subsequent huge lines for photo ops.

I was fortunate to be able to participate in the conference with friends and colleagues Matt Kane (#ideaseveryday) and Ben Walker. One afternoon, we decided to take a break from the madness to sit outside at a quiet bar on a side street in Austin. Armed with nothing more than some large Post-it notes that 3M was giving away, our plan was to sit down and discuss what we had learned so far and talk about some of the new ideas we’d been kicking around. Instead, about five minutes into the conversation this tweet went out:

#ZeroProblems

We decided to put those big Post-it notes to use, creating a few signs advertising our services, then we’d see who was interested. Check out the Storify to see what happened next. Turns out this really resonated with people. #ZeroProblems was born and it was a SxSW sensation!

The coolest part was that then people even started sitting down to solve problems with us. Dozens of people asked how they could help us, even soliciting business from around town and bringing us pizza. Many problems were solved, many interesting conversations were had, many laughs were shared, and many new connections were made. One of my favorite conversations was a 20-minute discussion with some executives from Goodwill talking about new marketing strategies and new ways to reach more people. Together we came up with some really killer ideas and are staying in touch with the Goodwill team to help make them turn into reality.

There are so many things this #ZeroProblems experience demonstrated. It certainly demonstrated that when you give people the slightest bit of permission, they want to open up and share with others. It demonstrated that people want to be a part of something. Once things got going, there was a line to ask us questions, and people just kept popping up out of nowhere. It demonstrated that you don’t necessarily have to be an expert to solve someone’s problems. Sometimes just talking about it with someone leads you to the solution. That’s also one of the principles behind Sugata Mitra’s School in the Cloud.

What little thing could you do to delight people? Or to meet new people? Or to help solve problems? Or to better work towards solving your own problems?

If we are all constantly trying to answer those questions, perhaps we can live in a #ZeroProblems world.


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