Students and Self Esteem

This is the abbreviated version of a Saturday Night Live skit (Basement Karate – Bryan Cranston). What was so striking was the little boy’s reaction to getting shellacked by his old man. I have heard some of the exact same phrases out of my GMAT students….

I know, I know, I shouldn’t laugh . . . but the lines the kid gives at the very end . . . about his performance . . . priceless.

We have all sorts of words for talking about processing events and justifying self esteem. When are we done Competitionprocessing and ready to move forward? How do you balance reflection with action? But more importantly, can we admit when we absolutely stink at something?

It seems difficult to improve if you look at what you just did and can declare that you did everything well. If you did, why did you get your butt kicked? Is there ever a chance that the world will be “fair?”
Is it “fair” that your competition signed your former client at 75% of your price? No. But yes too…. Without that tension, you wouldn’t bother innovating. You wouldn’t bother getting up early, cranking out new products and services, you just wouldn’t bother. And that’s what great about America. If you do bother, you have a chance (in most industries) to out-maneuver your competition. You have a chance to create something of value for yourself, your family, and your community.

So, the world isn’t fair, and you don’t always have an answer for the punch-in-the-face. Surprisingly enough, that’s what’s so great about this big ride.

Cost of Education

Friday night my little sisters graduated from high school. Come Fall they are off to college. What better time to reflect on the changing values of a college education. Does it make sense to go to the best school you get into? Is it worth $100k, $200k in debt?

100000It seems to depend on what we expect to get out of the education.

1. If you just want to get a good liberal arts education so you can be witty conversation at cocktail parties, there are several low cost and no cost alternatives to a proper college. Do you really need to be signed up for Lit 201 to read Beowulf?

You’ll need a copy of the book, the online forum full of medievalists and a few discussion partners to really understand the significance that Beowulf plays in the great context of literature.That would take getting organized, but identifying what you want and going after it are two very useful skills.

Or you could watch any of the Foundations of Western Culture Classes at MIT . . . for free. So there’s really no excuse, if you want access to the best minds, this is a mighty fine start.

2. Perhaps you consider college preparation for the working world. That is perfectly reasonable, but let’s review….

Is there a causal relationship between wage rate and level of education? Is there a relationship between COST of that education and the wage rate? Seth Godin put together a chart comparing the relative, relevant cost increases. I added the aggregate wage data.

If the cost of education was a relatively small percent of the budget, then a 10-fold increase might not be that important. But the cost of education has been and continues to be a stumbling block for many families. Are we really getting the value out of it or is it a luxury item?

If you are preparing for a specific field: engineering, medicine, or any other field where you need access to equipment not likely to be found at Home Depot, then you must get thee to a University. But how is this different from a Vocational school?

3. Or do we really go to college simply because it is socially expected? Can we be honest enough to admit that? It isn’t bad to do things that are socially expected – we stop at stop signs (for those of us outside of Boston), but we shield college under the guise of higher education when in reality most schools require students to sit through junky, giant classes taught by disinterested Teaching Assistants. Star faculty are absent or inaccessible. Students will take multiple choice tests where only one answer is correct.

Where is the HIGHER in this form of education. On the whole schools are teaching average students average material and then handing them an average piece of paper that will not change the job prospects, nor the level of enlightenment.

We would benefit more as a society to teach our kids tolerance for ambiguity.

At no point is there just one option. It is challenging to authentically look at the purpose of our actions.

-All that being said, Kelly and Victoria are off to college in the Fall and I’m mighty proud of them. 🙂 Kate

Yet, all of these require a child to be independent and self motivated . . . isn’t that what we really want for our kids?

Image courtesy of Tax Credits

Start at the Beginning

As students struggle to determine how to invest their time wisely, one question dominates the conversation.

Do I make incremental improvement or do I start from the beginning?

In proper CYA fashion, it depends . . .

Starting OverBut what it depends upon may surprise you.Continue Reading

Consenting Adults Part 2


So how is the Federal Government going to save me from myself today?

Back to the topic of interns . . . which can mean SO many different things depending on the administration…. For the Obama administration it means legislation. In particular, enforcement of legislation against unpaid internships. Never mind that the Obama political campaign is requesting UNPAID Interns right this moment.

InternshipsSpeaking of coincidence, you may want to see Atlas Shrugs on this one…. Included is the reading list for the Winter Interns. Seriously, check it out.

Back to the topic at hand, Interns.

Last week I spurred a private discussion by asking what an Unskilled, Unemployed person is to ask of others if he/she wants to break into a new field.

If you are a musician, you expect to play for hundreds of hours at dives before you gain enough reputation to charge a living wage. Actors and actresses, the same. So why do we have this tumult over interns for Investment Banks? Architecture Firms? Veterinarian Clinics?

I could make a statement about the various values of the end product of each activity, but I’ll refrain.

If you are an unskilled person who wants to break into a new (to you) field, you have to make an offer that someone in the field will find acceptable. It costs me money, both in hard dollars and in my time to train a staff member. That is time that could be spent producing more for my business, picking up additional clients, etc. It is a trade-off to the business owner. So if you are unskilled, but energetic, well, that’s something, but you’d better be ready with more.

One of my students informed me that if he was producing a work product for me, I should pay him. True. If that’s Down Bar Graph Yield Sign White Backgroundwhat we agree to beforehand. If on the other hand you want to work with me either to build your portfolio or because it will give you access to others with potentially bigger and better opportunities, I may not be willing to pay you in dollars. What you can take from your experience is worth phenomenally more than cash.

When you have 2 consenting adults, the situation can be resolved between the 2 parties. There is no need to have the Federal government intervene as though to enforce a collective bargaining agreement.

Let’s circle back to the example of a high schooler who is interested in Architecture and would like to get to know what it is like to be an Architect at the ground level.

The challenge for her right now is that the economy is down. Construction and therefore Architecture are down as well. Few Architectural firms are hiring and those who are certainly aren’t looking for unskilled labor in a field full of skilled labor. How does she convince the firm to spend time and energy training her?

She really has 2 options:

1. She offers to do the work no one else wants to do such as re-arranging the sample store room or cost estimating (both jobs I have done).

2. She lowers her price to work. In this market, that might mean zero.

If she is really interested in Architecture, she will be lucky to get the opportunity to test out her career choice BEFORE she invests 5 years getting her basic credentials for Architecture. One summer was enough for me….

Images courtesy of One Way Stock and Bernard Pollack

Consenting Adults

The Labor Department is out to protect you from yourself. Legislation prohibiting unpaid internships is officially in force.

“If you’re a for-profit employer or you want to pursue an internship with  for-profit employer, there aren’t going to be many circumstances where you can have an internship and not be paid and still be in compliance with the law,” says Nancy J. Leppink of the Labor Department.

What’s all the fuss?

Why is the government beefing up enforcement NOW, when the teenage unemployment rate is 26%?

For teens without marketable skills, where do they start?

Let’s take a hypothetical situation….

Say you are 15 and you are interested in becoming an architect. But you don’t know much about what architects really do, or how they do what they do. What is the fastest way to figure out if architecture is for you?

ArchitectRead a book?

Work for an Architect?

While reading a book about how Architects do what they do is helpful, no amount of reading can prepare you for the actual day-to-day activities of an Architect.Best case, you get a more realistic picture of the profession. Worst case, you still think all architects get to design cool buildings (most do not), and your IM Pei fantasy persists.

Now how about working for an Architect…. If you are in the office you get to see the day-to-day in action.You end up learning that architecture is less about building cool buildings and more about client management. If you’re lucky you’ll get to participate in the mind-numbing meetings. In other words, you’ll get to know if you like architecture enough to deal with the drudgery that it, as with every profession, has.

But here’s the current challenge. Now is a particularly tough time for Architects. Few are hiring and fewer still need unskilled labor when there’s a pile of skilled labor available. It costs an employer a significant investment of time to bring any staff member in – paid or unpaid. How do you as the unskilled teenager convince the firm to hire you?

What do you think?

Image courtesy of Wonderlane

Hot Nerds – Barbie Dedicates Herself to Science

How great! Barbie is officially geeking out.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Computer Scientist won the popular vote for What career would you like Barbie to have next. The vote ultimately split between the under tweens and the adults. Adults pushed for Computer Scientist and the little girls pushed for Anchorwoman. Lots of little Katie Courics on the way.

Computer Scientist Barbie is black legging clad with dashes of bright pink. She is however wearing what appear to be jellies – flat shoes – this writer disapproves. Given Barbie’s natural propensity for heels this is not a match. Barbie is built for heels.

Actually, why is she wearing a handbag across her body, AND carrying a silver briefcase? Computer Scientist Barbie will have no trouble getting the rest of the lab to schlep her servers.

Apologies, that was terribly sexist of me.

I guess Mattel wants to convey an image that Computer Scientist Barbie is practical. You’re just as likely to see her at the Moscone Center for Apple World as you are to see her in Vegas for CES. I just can’t imagine her at an academic conference. Can you? The other speakers will be upstaged just because she walks in the room.

She glides between uber-geeks who live in labs and the rest of us who consume the products the lab rats conceive. GeekyShe is the poster child for science. And it’s about time someone put a pretty face on computer science.

In 2008, women received only 18% of computer science degrees, down from 37% in 1985, according to the National Center for Women & Information Technology.

At all ages we gravitate toward shiny, pretty things. If little girls play with a Comp Sci Barbie, perhaps they’ll be inspired to follow that path.

So the Big Question: MAC vs PC?

Who are we kidding?

Look at the way she is dressed. Bright green, Turquoise, splashes of hot pink . . . over black tights . . . pink shoes (though freakishly flat shoes) . . . this Barbie is a Mac.

If they had put her in a black turtleneck Jobs would’ve sued for trademark infringement.

Or she might’ve been confused for a ballerina.

Maybe the Ken doll will be PC.

What do you think about Computer Scientist Barbie?

Education Issues – State v Federal Standards

Former Intel CEO Craig Barrett is behind the Common Core State Standards Initiative and hopes you will be too….
Mr. Barrett sees common education standards as essential to creating the work force of tomorrow and he wants to Standardsnarrow the gap in education quality among the states. All of which sounds ideal . . . if we can agree on what those standards are. And if we can avoid the common trap of dumbing the standards down so most students in most states can pass – for the sake of passing.

I am all for setting a minimum bar. After all, how can we expect workers to understand the difference between a 401k, Roth IRA, and Keogh Defined Benefit Plan if they can’t do basic math? Labor needs have changed. It is not sufficient to be able to lay brick. Now even a brick layer needs to understand the various mortgage options he has when purchasing a home, the investment choices he has within his retirement account and the economic consequences of his union membership.

The more technology within a field the more precision and understanding for math concepts is needed. Do you want Homer Simpson running the nuclear power plant?

But the setting of standards requires that we come to a consensus on where we want the country to go and we have reason to believe that we know how to get there. With the sensitivities now displayed in textbooks, it’s hard to imagine that any knowledge can be imparted. Can we get everyone together on what is important? Whose values trump?

Without a single responsible party, or a genuine leader, the push for standards falls apart. In all fairness, states can work together the create mutually agreeable standards without involving the federal government, but the slope to federal intervention is slippery, particularly with a federal government that is increasingly centralized. In societies of the past this has typically been the work of a wise elder. We need to find a wise elder.


If you have a suggestion for a “wise elder” please include it in the comments box. If you are filling in a comment box for the first time, don’t fret, the name/email are just to verify that you are human – not spam. That information is not retained or used.

The winner will be interviewed here for his/her suggestions on education standards. If I can figure out how to host you and the person you nominate for lunch, I’ll do that too. Let’s amp up the conversation on education. Please nominate a Wise Elder today!

Image courtesy of U.S. Army CERDEC

Getting the Scoop on Entrepreneurship Early

A new program at Milford High School in upstate NY has opened the doors of entrepreneurship to students in grades 9-12. The students are building their own businesses and interacting with local business owners.

This is a brilliant way to encourage growth!

Continue Reading

Education Issues: Peer Effects?

The gadflies at Fordham are stirring the pot again. Mike Petrilli takes issue with a recent statement from Kevin Welner, “(Tracking student progress) is a destructive practice that has the undeniable effect of lowering expectations and opportunities for students who have already fallen behind.” As far as Mr. Welner is concerned the debate is ideasclosed….Continue Reading

Education Issues

If you do some digging at you will discover that I am a fan of outsourcing. Who wouldn’t be? Get the best talent to do the best work at the best price. That at least is the mantra of outsourcing . . .And oftentimes, outsourcing a project works. But then there are times it doesn’t. And worse, times that it horribly fails. These are the examples we cling to in our protectionist moments, but the reality is, projects fail whether they’re done in Iowa or Indonesia. Sometimes, projects just fail. And sometimes people fail . . .. . . at a project.If you’re still living, you have succeeded at something. Your body has figured out how to do a million different tasks, perfectly coordinated to keep you living. So it’s not that people fail, but projects certainly do fail. All the time.

“Word of Mouse” Advertising

Pilliga_MouseA friend who shall remain nameless recently shared a few of his ebooks with me. He has these crafted for him by ghost writers. What he does right is that he gets stuff done. Volumes of stuff. Where we differ is the quality control. Most of the books were written in barely passable English. And they were written for a very low-level learner. In other words, they are not ebooks you would ever share with any friends, family or clients. They are the kinds of ebooks you would give away to someone who you do not wish to have a relationship with . . .But who is that? When you are in business, is it worth your time to spend any effort on work for those you do not wish to retain? That may depend on your business. If you have low price point products, or products that do not require the consumer to be plugged in, maybe it doesn’t matter what quality you put out. Ebooks are largely a lead generation tool for a backend product or a way to test market interest in niche subjects. The “word of mouse” line comes from one of the books. If you have heard of WOM – Word of Mouth, also known as word of mouth marketing, Word of Mouse may sound cute – like a play on words. Unfortunately, it did not appear to be a play. It appeared to be a misunderstanding between someone who was speaking and someone who was writing. If the quality of the book doesn’t matter, no proofing happens . . .So “word of mouse” stands. And so, my friend’s ebook stands out in my mind. He made it memorable by not editing. But the memory is not a good one. I think about that book each time I hire a writer on Elance or Odesk or face-to-face. Outsourcing simply means he did not write the book – it doesn’t mean that the book was written by a non-native speaker which brings us back to the education issue.

Does quality of education matter?

If you believe that understanding the fundamentals of reading, writing and arithmetic are important, you are in the minority now. Regularly I have students push back when I exhort them to understand the basics instead of working the fancy problems. Sometimes they even complain to headquarters about it.We want to work the fancy problems, but we don’t have the skills to do so. Example:Student A was too proud to dial back to the basic math that I encouraged him to use. He resisted me, then relented and acknowldeged that the drills helped. As the instructor, I recommended the drills because he stunk at multiplication and had serious anxiety. Basic drills are the fastest way to curb both issues . . .Result: Student A kept up the back-and-forth complain then acquiesce behavior and ended up with a score of 640 when test day rolled around. This effectively takes him out of contention for any of the business school programs he was considering, and certainly puts him at a serious disadvantage when applying to any top 10 program. Student B however was keen to get his ultimate goal which includes b-school options. A good test score opens those options so he was game-on for whatever would get him there. He was weaker on math than student A, and about the same on verbal. Student B gave no grief when it came time to dial back and do drills. In other words, Student B did the basics. He didn’t quite get as far as “embracing” the basics, but he did them without complaint. Result: Student B managed to hit 710 on test day. That qualifies as a perfectly acceptable score for any business school, including the top 5 schools. It won’t get him in, but it also won’t keep him out. Both students prepared for the test in 2 weeks. Same duration, same environment – one block away from each other. It all comes down to understanding the basics. The students who do, will out-score their peers. Period. But, in school, we encourage kids to think that rote activities such as multiplication tables are beneath them. That memorizing the Krebs Cycle will cramp their creative learning styles….Baloney. Schools that require students to do these drills and countries who center their education on drills are the very ones who make the gains academically. They are the ones out-testing the US (by an outrageous amount) on not only the ability to do the drills . . . but also on the ability to apply concepts in complex problem solving capacities. In other words, the very creative problem solving that we claim we encourage in our students is HAMPERED by not requiring the students to learn the basics. Until you master the basics you are hacking. We are producing a generation of illiterate hackers, the kinds of students who would write about “word of mouse” advertising.



Leave your comments below.

Image courtesy of Viva Larson

Excellence versus Mastery

Mastery is a path, not a destination so I thought I would clarify a few things that have come up in comments . . .

SurrenderYou can be better than 95% of all other people after you have persevered for 1000 hours in one area.

So if you are a runner, does that mean you have to run for 1000 hours?

Not necessarily.

To be a great runner you must RUN, and you must understand nutrition, particularly your own nutrition, and you must understand hydration – race day versus training run, hot days versus cold days, and you must understand lacing patterns – how you tie your shoes depends on the course and the distance, and you must understand . . .

You get the idea.

For example, it took may many years for me to understand that citrus fruits were causing stomach cramps. I didn’t know – coaches kept handing me orange slices; I kept getting sick – I took it as a sign of athletic weakness.

Practically all sports drinks and mixes and race day stuff have citric acid. It took one killer race where I thought I was going to die on the course for me to realize that I can’t stomach citric acid. I only stayed on that course because so many friends were lining the race route and my best friend was right behind me. Glad I discovered it and glad it was so . . . distinct . . .  I will not make that mistake again. Ever.

WRM Photo 1You also learn things like how to find the finish line….

Miss the finish line once . ..

Miss the finish line once when Dave Scott the Father of Triathlons is handing out trophies . . .

Miss the finish line once when Dave Scott the Father of Triathlons is handing out trophies and you went from 2nd place to 4th because you missed the finish line . . .

. . .  and he spends half the award ceremony gooning you about it . . .

Well, you’re on your way to Mastery at that point.

So, the 1000 hours is for you to be better than 95% percent of those who start in an area. To begin Mastery you must spend 5000 hours of deep practice. At 5000 hours you have achieved excellence. When you are on the Master’s path, the time builds naturally. You can’t help but focus more, improve, stumble back then experience brief blips of brilliance.

You can’t live for the brief blips of brilliance though, that is an ego expression. Mastery is surrendering to the learning and continual improvement. Mastery is the antithesis of Ego.

To become a Master you need 10,000 hours of deep practice. By the time you have reached 10,000 hours, you realize that it was never about being the top 1/2 of 1%. It was always about the process.

A Master’s work is never done. Thankfully so.