February 4, 2020
Michael B. Horn is a serial founder, education strategy consultant, multiple time best selling author, and much sought after speaker on the future of education and believes we can create education that is more student-centered, helps them build their passions, and fulfill their human potential. What started as a co-authorship of the award-winning book "Disrupting Class" with one of the world’s top experts on innovation and growth, Clayton Christensen, has led this disruptive thinker over a decade long journey to become a leading authority on the future of education, disruptive innovation, and expert on the global EdTech revolution.
I actually think the answer is education and it's taking what we know from what a good educational experience is, how to design it in ways that cause people to ask perplexing, interesting, engaging questions.
Choosing College: How To Make Better Learning Decisions Throughout Your Life by Micheal B Horn & Bob Modesta
Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns by Clay Christensen
The Innovative University: Changing the DNA of Higher Education from the Inside Out by Clay Christensen
On this episode of the evolve podcast. I want to transform schooling systems everywhere in the world. I think we've built schooling systems that were modeled after factories. They treat students as widgets in effect based on the date of manufacture, otherwise known as your birthday.
Welcome to evolve. Listed as one of the hundred most important people in the creation and advancement of the use of technology in education. Today's guest is a serial founder education strategy consultant, multiple time bestselling author and a much sought after speaker on the future of education and believes we can create an education that is more student centered, helps them build their passions and fulfill their human potential. A thesis we strongly agree with on evolve. What started as a co-authorship of the award winning book, disrupting class with one of the world's talk experts in innovation and growth. Clayton Christiansen has led to this disruptive thinker over a decade long journey to become a leading authority on the future of education, disruptive innovation, and an expert on the global ed tech revolution. He's the author and co author of multiple books including Amazon bestseller, blended hundreds of articles featured on Forbes education, next Harvard business review and countless media outlets and has spoken on stages for TEDx, Google and universities across the nation.
Working with an impressive portfolio of education organizations. He serves as the head of strategy for entangled group as a senior partner for entangled solutions as a cofounder and distinguished fellow at Clayton Christensen Institute for disruptive innovation and on the board or advises dozens of educational institutions using the emphasis infamous jobs to be done theory, which has helped create thousands of new services. His new book choosing college has been critically acclaimed by multiple university presidents, governors and executive chairman's as a great personal guide to a complex process and could possibly help you avoid a $29,000 mistake in average student loans. I'm honored to welcome award winning bestselling author of choosing college, cohost, of the future u podcast and and husband of the truck and ice pop aficionado Michael B. Horn.
Thanks so much for having me. I need to bring you around to all my speeches, I think.
Yeah, absolutely. A good, good way to introduce. All right, so tell me about your experiences and the jobs to be done for you when you first started going to Yale and Harvard.
Yeah, I mean it was interesting. I had sorta walk backward through this process of my own life, right when we were writing this book. And I actually had one of our researchers interview me to figure out if this exact question. But it's interesting, when I was going to Yale and applying, going through the process, I was very much in what we call the, helped me get into my best school job. I, I felt like I had put in a lot of work in high school. I had a lot of varied interests sort of all over the map. And for my selection process, I, you know, my parents took me to 10 to 12 campuses fell in love with a couple of them. And then like, I was obsessed was Gail really the right one that had happened? Jazz program was like really important to me. Ironically, I never did anything with jazz.
I was there, but you know, it was really important to me at the time and sort of questions like that. And then I enrolled and it was like, and now what? Right? Because I sort of thought I was a science and math engineering sorta track, actually, I didn't know the word engineering to be fair, but science and math and first-class in was multivariable calculus and, and totally just crushed me. And it was like, okay, now what am I going to do? And so that, you know, it as launched an amazing experience for me, but I was very much all about getting in in retrospect a lot less of what that experience would actually be like once I was there. Now the Harvard business school question is I think equally interesting in the sense that I was working a job that for David Berrigan policy writing, I knew I wanted to get out of that, if you will.
And get away from sort of the Washington DC writing world. And if you'd asked me what I thought I chose Harvard for, I would've said, Oh, it was to transition into another career and sort of get into the business world and things like that. And then you look at my actual decision making process and I was totally in the help me get into my best school job again, like I was thinking joined JD MBA programs, law and business schools, didn't get into Harvard law, got into other joint JD MBA programs and then I visited or walked across the river as it were to the Harvard business school campus one weekend. And my parents were visiting me and I was walking them around the campus and it's, it's gorgeous. I mean it's like a country club there and my dad was looking around and he's like, I don't know what we're talking about here.
It's clear you're going to go here. Like you don't want to be a lawyer, what are you doing? And sure enough, like the decision was basically sealed. I went there and within like a week or something like that, I, I abandoned the Harvard law school ideas and retrospect. I really had no idea what I w I wanted to do. I thought I did. But when clay Christensen came knocking with an opportunity to co author a book with him, it was just too good an opportunity to pass up. And I ended up right back where I started in writing in public policy ironically enough. So it was clearly, you know, very similar. I felt like I deserved the best. I wanted a campus experience that was a prestigious with a great reputation. People that I could reinvent myself with was, was very important and really a broadening experience that would just teach me what I didn't know in many ways.
Yeah, absolutely. You you mentioned, you know, your dad kinda pointing that out for you. And what was your your, your upbringing like in influencing your jobs to be done, you know, in your book you mentioned your dad helping you to learn to write and being like a tough editor for you. How else did he sort of influence you to those jobs to be done?
Yeah, I mean, my dad's been the most amazing role model cause he's been a serial entrepreneur. But he was a lawyer before that, so he's a recovering lawyer. I guess he was, you know, he often felt like, I think my education didn't give me what I really needed to learn in terms of writing or speaking and things of that nature. And so I remember as young as fourth or fifth grade, he would just light into my papers and literally work with me on reworking sentences. And it wasn't that he was doing it for me. He was literally teaching me sentence by sentence, you know, this is what makes for a compelling argument. This is what makes for a sentence. This is why this is a run on, this is why this is garbage and you should trash all these extra words, you know?
And then on the speaking front, I mean, this is maybe the most interesting. I remember fifth grade I ran for student government president and we I worked on a speech with him and so forth. And he literally drilled me I think every single night for like two weeks before I gave it literally hours. And in retrospect, like I took it every like it wasn't the, I mean, you, you think about if, if I really didn't want to do this, I would've just been like, no. Right, right. But he literally every single word addiction, the slant of my voice and sort of pitch and everything. And the pauses before jokes and everything, he just drilled me on it for several weeks and he did that in a lot of my speeches, frankly, that I gave where I, by the end I really learned I think to be a great public speaker or I don't know if I should say great public speaker, but I learned the skills of one I own, I emulate it. And it totally prepared me obviously for my current path, but in a way that I would never have guessed. I mean, I, I, I think I'm a somewhat natural speaker. I am not a natural writer by any means. It is a lot of work for me. And I think my success to the extent I've had it is largely because he was patient and was, was willing to really just pound on me.
Yeah. What made you want to take that that jump, that leap of working with Clay Christensen to write that first book?
Yeah. You know, honestly it was dumb luck. Like it was a November a day and it was at the end of class and he almost threw it aside as a throwaway comment. And I happened to be meeting with him later that day anyway for the paper I was writing for his class, which was on AOL, so very different topic. And at the very, I said, did you really mean coauthor a book with you, applying your ideas on public education because that would be kind of amazing. And he said, yeah, I meant coauthor and I was like, you know, I came here to business school to get away from this. But public education is such a pressing public policy problem of our time. I came from a public school background. I would like to improve the public schools. My brother was a speech writer in the department of education at the time.
And through Gergen I had certainly been exposed to a lot of these challenges and Clay's class literally changed the way I saw everything in the world. It was like putting on the set of lenses that just caused me to see all of these things that I had thought were the fault of individuals are, or the fault of one group or another in just very different ways. And to be able to explain a lot of things that had seemed like mysteries to me. And I just figured, I don't exactly know how this is going to apply to schools, but gosh, if, if there's a way to come up with some creative solutions, I, I bet this might be it. If he'll take me, let's go for it. And then he sat on it for about three months. I was not his first choice. But then he in February I remember he called me in and said, I've prayed about it and I've prayed for you about it. And if this is, you know, let's do this partnership together, let's dive in. And I was like, okay, we're, we're, we're doing this. Like I, it wasn't even, like I said, yes it was, I couldn't say no and it just felt like one of those opportunities that life throws at you that you just do.
Absolutely. That's amazing. So with all of the work around the future of education and trying to improve the life of every student what is your ultimate mission? Like what's the impact that you're wanting to have with your writing and your research?
Yeah, I, I want to transform schooling systems everywhere in the world. I think we've built schooling systems that were modeled after factories. They treat students as widgets in effect based on date of manufacture, otherwise known as your birthday. Plop you in one side, they add value to you and then they ship you out the other side regardless of what you've learned, master the skills, you've absorbed what you can do and so forth. And then they sort you into various tracks and people often say, Oh, that's the flaw of the system. We should blow it up and so forth. And yes, I think that's right. And it's exactly what the system was built to do. And that's why it does it really, really well. And so I think we often don't ask that first question. So my mission, honestly, you know, I want to enable every single student everywhere to be able to build a variety of passions and fulfill their human potential. And to do that, I think we radically need to transform the systems of education top to bottom, frankly and how people think about navigating their lives. And so everything I do is around that a transformation and the individual potential and transformation of the systems and work and so forth that we've put in place to help them unlock opportunities they otherwise wouldn't see.
Absolutely. Well, let's dive in to the individual level a little bit. In your most recent book, choosing college it doesn't excellent job of, you know, diving into the jobs to be done. But can you briefly describe the five jobs for colleges?
Yeah, absolutely. So, and I'll say up front, this isn't what at all what we expected to see. If you'd asked me up front, I would have said, Oh people go to college to get a new job, to switch jobs, to have a coming of age experience, things like that. And it's not at all the language that students use. So their, their reasons are their jobs to be done. The first one is what we call help me get into my best school. So I described that earlier. The second is what we call help me do what's expected of me. So this is almost the flip side of best school. It's I'm going along because it's the next logical step and I've got to satisfy or, or obey others in my life who are expecting me to take this next step. They do it because it's sort of a box that they can check.
It's a safety net that they can fall back on, but they're incredibly apathetic about the college experience when they make that choice. The third job we found is what we call help me get away. So these are students who are running from something but not necessarily towards something they're trying to escape a bad home life or maybe a claustrophobic hometown or something like that. A bad job. And college is something socially acceptable that they can say that they're doing, but they're not actually excited about the college experience itself. The fourth one we found is what we call help me step it up. So these are students who look around them and say, what I'm doing right now and this isn't who I am. I got to get out of this and time's running out. It's now or never, I've got to step it up because other people are depending on me and they tend to have a very clear future or idea of what that future will be and what they're stepping up into.
I want specific skills, credentials and whatnot so that I can move into this next phase of my life. And then the last one we found is what we call, help me extend myself. I think of this as sort of a lifelong learning job, but it's where you say you know, I, I may be in an okay place right now. There's not a great push to change. But I've always wanted to be, do more, learn more, challenge myself in some ways, and now I'm going to open up the time and budget so that I can pursue this thing that I've been wanting to do. And by the way, if it doesn't work out, I can just keep doing what I'm doing right now. It's okay.
Mmm. What I really loved that you love into the book is not just kind of like the logical decisions we might be making around these, but really the emotional and social you know, elements that are kind of pushing us towards one of those over the others.
Yeah. It's so interesting about jobs to be done because I think people historically, they think of it through the analogy of, Oh, people don't want the quarter inch drill. They just want the hole itself. And they think of it as a very functional, as you said, sort of set of steps. But what they don't realize is that what mostly motivates us in our lives are often these social or emotional pulls and pushes and anxieties and habits that are holding us back. And in the case of college in particular, it's a highly social decision. Like the social is key around this that we have created in society is literally off the charts. There's so much pressure from your peers, from your parents, from educators around you around this choice. And that in turn creates a ton of emotional energy and dimensions to this as well about, you know, is this validating who I am as a person?
I mean, one student we talked to, so we, we essentially created these mini documentaries that students making the choice to go to school. One student, when he didn't get into his dream school, he's 18 years old and he says, I thought I had had a midlife crisis and that my life was ruined and it was over. And you're like, Holy cow, you're 18, I have a set of experiences that's going to transform you in ways you don't even understand. That's the emotional weight that is tied to it. That I think comes from this social, a deep social pressure we put on students.
Yeah, absolutely. One of the things that I'm particularly interested in is how entrepreneurs can best serve these jobs in ways that current institutions can't. So where do you see the most potential for entrepreneurs in higher education?
Yeah, I think it's a great question. I mean, I would love to frankly inspire a generation of entrepreneurs to create new disruptive schooling opportunities, educational opportunities to advance people. I think a significant one is in helped me step it up job, you know, people look around, this isn't me. It's now or never. I need to step it up. These are people who are looking for the most immediate path from something to something deep motivation to frankly make sure that they're successful. And it's sort of like the bottom of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. I need to succeed here. And it's not about the degree or whatever it else. It's all about the progress that I'm trying to make in my life and my circumstance. And so I think there's huge opportunity because what students here are looking for is the most convenient, accessible affordable solution that'll get them from point a effectively out of that.
And then to point B, I think it's a huge opportunity. The second one I'd point to, it's really around these helped me get away and help me do what's expected of me. Jobs. I think that we can create college alternatives that look like gap years. We, we started to call them discovery years, years in which you're investing in yourself through a series of immersive experiences, whether that's through work boot camps apprenticeships and the like that really teach people who they are and who they aren't. Maybe more importantly, I think that's a huge opportunity for entrepreneurs to craft a range of new experiences that are much more affordable than the traditional college experience. Teach you way more about what you who you are and what you need to know and your strengths and weaknesses and passions, and then can sort of set you off on a pathway that's productive.
The third one that I'll just mention and then you can push me wherever you want to go from here, but yeah, help me extend myself. This is like that lifelong learning job. What it says to me is that there's just tons of what I would say non-consumption people that need more education or desiring or yearning for more education and college in a traditional, very long degree of some sort, whether that's a masters or even a credential. Frankly from a lot of schools, it's too inconvenient. It's too sort of structured in ways that don't actually match what I need as an individual. And there's a lot of opportunities I think in to tap into this deeply emotional reservoir of energy, of improving yourself to better serve that. And it's why I think platforms like you, to me, YouTube EDU, things like that masterclass. I think that's why those sorts of things have taken off because they're serving that sort of job. But I suspect that as whole sets of new opportunities around that as well.
Yeah. You mentioned one of the things that one of the big problems with current institutions as they try and do a one size fits all approach and that really they should be focusing on serving one job the best way that they can. So what do you see the strengths of entrepreneurs in serving those jobs and maybe where do you see them failing?
Yeah, I think, you know, if entrepreneurs are hyper focused on this is what we're doing, they don't have all these legacy structures, processes, traditions, cultures and so forth that they have to layer in to serve that job, to serve that set of students. And so it's a tremendous advantage, frankly, as they get started and to be able to serve more precisely the actual experiences on a functional, emotional and social level that the people need to succeed. And also not add a lot of trappings that added a lot of costs to the experience. And obviously affordability is a big deal in this space right now. Those are the advantages I think we're entrepreneurs get tripped up often is that they can say, Oh, you know, we serve career switchers. Well, a career switcher who's looking to extend themselves versus one who's looking to step it up are dramatically different things.
Right? And so I extend myself the same urgency isn't there? It's much more emotional. I might want to be applying it into my current reality to step it up. It's like get me the heck out of what I'm doing right now so that I can write and being cognizant, I think of that and not just resorting to categories that are familiar or easy to see, but really understand that emotional and social energy I think is incredibly important. And then I would say, you know, people a lot of times focus on the demographics upfront when they start something, you know, I'm going to serve you know, certain males age X to X and this racial demographic and blah, blah, blah. And we don't do things because we fit in demographics, but, and so I think that's our category or that we often make. But where the demographics can be useful is once you've identified the job that you want to serve, then you can layer those demographics back in to say, okay, if we're going to serve low income students who are maybe one parent household, they have a couple of dependence on them, what other services do we need to provide so that they can make progress in their lives?
And then you can start to say, Oh, this thing that we thought was a nice to have, or something like that. It's actually critical if we're going to help these people advance. But you can only do that really once you start with the job and the motivation of what success looks like and then layer down because otherwise you might just be adding costs or things that actually don't benefit people. I'll give you a quick example. We were talking we're, we're working on a new book sort of around choosing your next thing or choosing career. We're not quite sure what it's going to be called yet. You were talking to one individual recently and she was talking about how she got so fed up with her current job that she was got a new offer from someplace else. Went to her old place and told him, told them this and they're like, Oh, we'll give you a promotion, we'll give you a raise and whatever else.
And like she was like two reactions. One, you're not listening to me. Well, the reason I'm running is because I feel disrespected and I'm not in the room anymore to make big choices. Giving me a raise doesn't address those things. It took me yelling until I was blue in the face for you to do this, saying like, I'm about to quit. Forget it. Like you just don't get me right. And I think if you understand what the actual hiring criteria is, if you will, that next experiences, you can much better tailor those educational experiences or even work experiences to the progress I'm actually trying to make and my actual frustrations as opposed to the perceived ones.
Yeah. So really understanding, you know, what that job to be done is for those people. How do you balance that that need, that they have in that job to be done with what they may need to be successful after college if those things aren't in alignment?
It's a great question because I think one of the fundamental tensions that you're starting to tap into is that we know that for college anyway, it costs a lot of money. There better be a return on the investment, kind of prepare you for a career that can help you make a wage that allows you to repay in many cases, a lot of debt, right? And so I might not be going to college. I, I'm probably checking off a box saying I want a job on the other end, but if I'm an 18 year old, I don't even know what a job is, right? Like I, chances are I don't even work these days in high school, only 40% of high school students have a summer job these days. So so there is misalignment there. I think what you have to decide as an institution is, okay, our core purpose and mission is this.
Our consumers are coming to us to make this sort of progress. How do we be successful on both of these things? And as we put career opportunities in front of them, it is also helping these consumers make progress. And if it, and so it's sort of like we say with jobs to be done, you can't just satisfy one part of the value chain. You actually have to fit it in to help all parts of the value chain make progress. And it's no different here. It's institutional mission, student's job to be done. Also employers jobs to be done, frankly, of who they're hiring because they're in many ways they're, they're, you know, students are sort of the consumer of the education and employers are really the the customer because they're going to take the students out afterward. And if they're not paying them enough, they can't repay the debt and so forth. So if you see that sort of holistic value chain, I think that helps a lot. And frankly, one of our top recommendations in the book is that schools should actually raise their standards for students so that they're really delivering on the skills and competencies and knowledge in a mastery-based ways so that students know that they've succeeded in and actually mastered something meaningful. And then employers on the other side know what this really stands for and what someone will be able to know and do.
Yeah. One of the things that blocks innovation for higher education is the accreditation process and what is the value of an accredited degree to the employers. And is there a way we can maybe sidestep past that entire and lead by working directly with them?
I think it's a huge opportunity that I'm frankly surprised more employers haven't jumped to any of your questions. Super perceptive because I think employers, you know, the reason the accreditation right now really exists is it unlocks federal financial aid. And you can imagine though that it's not the accreditation that's so important to the employers. It's more that they're producing students that they know and trust and so forth. Right. And you could easily imagine that a bunch of employers could band together and create their own defacto accrediting association and then use maybe income share agreements to finance, something like that so that it's a, instead of a debt financing mechanism or relying on government dollars, it's going to be, if you succeed and get a great job on the other end, only then will you pay back a small portion of your income over a certain number of years to repay those institutions. And you could imagine employers helping to set up really an ecosystem like that that, as you said, would bypass the traditional accreditors accrediting system and the like to, to, to create something more robust.
Mmm. You had mentioned that you had come from, you know, the public school education system and dealing with policies around those. And I've mentioned in some other interviews that in order to kind of disrupt K through 12 education, that you kind of have to actually start with higher education and work your way backwards. Can you explain why that is a little?
Yeah, absolutely. I and I will say this was not my original thinking going into the field. I thought you start at the bottom and you build your way up, but I learned over a number of years and a friend and colleague gunner Councilman was instrumental in helping me see this is that ultimately the definition of a good high school is that which gets its students into quote unquote a good college and if college is misfiring and aiming at the wrong things or preparing for the wrong things and so forth, then by definition that's going to have a significant blow back on what we think of is that good high school and it's going to be ending if wrong things and then that by definition is going to fall back into middle school and what we're preparing students for there and it's going to be aiming at the wrong things and then elementary school and so forth and really the ability to make changes in the K through 12 system are dependent at the moment on the higher education system.
Being able to consume them, being able to say, yes, that's something we're excited about and we will accept it. And so for example, if we, we stopped focusing as much on a particular academic competencies or algebra two success for example, is a big one. And we started thinking about, okay, we actually just really want to see students who can think logically understand causation as opposed to correlation as an example. And that's what we really care about. And then have applied it in a range of projects that illustrate that they'd become passionate about certain things if higher ed started to say, that's what we value instead, I can guarantee you it'd be a heck of a lot easier for high school to move past the traditional high school curriculum that I think we should be asking questions about these days. It doesn't happen unless college or higher ed makes that move first with that. Makes sense.
Yeah, absolutely. You mentioned there's quite a bit of, you know, historical legacy around higher ed and a lot of ideals that they've been built on for a hundred years, you know, since they started. And there are any good books or research to kind of dig into what the history of higher ed is?
Yeah, that's a great question. I, I, you know, I think the innovative university actually that clay Christensen wrote with Henry ironing at BYU, Idaho. People think of clay often as the prophet of what's next. But I actually would argue innovative university in many ways was much more of a, a great history of how the higher education system became what it is today and how decisions are made inside of the Academy itself. How, you know, how our majors constructed, how do we decide how many classes it takes to get a certain major? Why is it that we can never shed a certain course? What is the historical roots of that and so forth. And I thought that book did a really good job of sort of chronicling that passed in a pretty digestible way to understand why it's impacting the system the way it is today.
Perfect. Well, I think I'm going to have to digest a little bit of that myself. Let's go ahead and dive into some of the values that you have. Around higher education. There was a, an example that you showcase in the book about jobs to be done around the milkshake. And people basically were coming in and they really didn't care whether the milkshake was healthy or not. They just wanted something, you know, on their trips to work to keep them entertained. You know, it was thick and viscous. And so what my question is, is the restaurant basically had a little bit of a responsibility to create a healthier alternative. So eventually moving to the smoothies to perform that same job to be done. And so knowing this, what do you think institutions, higher ed institutions have a responsibility in making, you know, a quote unquote healthier option or one that's more beneficial for the student?
Yeah. You know, I think a big thing that I took away is that thinking within the traditional constraints of the product category. So credit hours, courses dorms buildings, fancy dining halls, things like that actually constrain us because they trap us into thinking of the structures of the past as opposed to the experiences we need for the future. So once the milkshake or the fast food restaurant realized that it wasn't about, you know, chocolate versus vanilla sigh or something like that, but it was really, as you said, these set of experiences thicker something that would keep you entertained something that would fit neatly, something that would quickly you could dash in gas up and just get on your way as quick as possible. Once they understood the experiences, then they could all of a sudden be like, Oh, it's not about chocolate versus vanilla.
It's about something that actually is engaging, keeps you awake and so forth. Right. And so tiny fruit chunks are important. Not because it's healthy, they don't care about health, otherwise they wouldn't, you know, they wouldn't be buying a milkshake if they did. It's about, you know, the, the swirls of the fruit and chunks and so forth. And so the analogy to higher ed I think is we see a lot of students coming in who have not built passions, who are not clear about why they are. How do you construct a first and second year experience in particular that actually inform students through, again, a range of immersive experiences to figure out this is what I liked doing. Maybe more importantly, this is what I don't like doing. I want more of this, less of that, et cetera. So that they can start to make these decisions.
And what I think is so interesting around that is you start to say, well, it's not about classes. It's not about lectures from a professional in a given field that says, this is what a day in my life is like. Right? It's actually like, I probably have to go out there and experience it. So how do I get to actually do it? Right? I have to do it right. And then a second one, we talked to a community college president and I was telling her some of the research from this and she was like, Oh, totally. Like, you know, if someone wants to be a phlebotomist, we don't actually have them jump right into the guided pathway program for phlebotomy. We had them take a class first to learn, do you even like the sight of blood and touching human beings and drawing and so forth.
And I was like, that's awesome. But do they really need a whole class to figure that out? I mean that's probably like a 10 minute experience. Like here's the needle, blood's coming out. Did you faint? Or not? Like, okay, yes, no right and, but I think we're so in higher ed trapped by these conventional structures. We've lost sight of the original spirit a behind them of why they exist. And if we could escape that, then I think they could construct experiences that are much more in line with the progress that individuals are trying to make in their lives. That will lead to a more fulfilling lives on the other end as well. I mean it's interesting, even if you went back to the beginning of Harvard, they didn't necessarily have courses. They had tutorials and very individualized experiences in the like around the clergy. And leadership and so forth courses and classes have sort of been instantiated in the system again as a, as an artifact of the federal financial aid system, which pays based on time. And so credit hour was a unit of measure we could use to basically reimburse the system. That's a really bad reason, I would argue to keep it in place if that's not the right experience to help the student make progress.
Yeah, and I think this is a big place for disruption for entrepreneurs as well. You know, you can think about immersive experiences like bootcamps and whatnot that are allowing you to have a lot faster experience in this. See if you actually like it, what your skills and abilities are in it and be able to shift out of that at a much lower risk than going through something like college
100% right. And you could even be earning money through some projects for the employers to reduce the cost or even make a little bit right while you're having an immersive experience like this that would enable you to do a two full time. I mean, that's the other aspect of this is we know it's really hard to go to school part time, but we know part-time options are incredibly important because I have to put food on the table. Well what if you blended these things right? So I could be earning some money and that actually counted for the learning. And then part of the learning was I don't want to do that, so I'm going to go switch. And that took me eight weeks at least I learned something I didn't want to do. And you know, I think what we learned from books like range or dark horse is that it's important to have actually a number of reps that have variety of experiences to figure out what am I really good at doing and where's my career path going to meander, if you will too.
[Inaudible] One of the things that keeps getting brought up a lot in this conversation is, you know, the price of higher ed and you were pretty adamant that free college may be the wrong strategy and rolly, you know, make the problems worse. So what problems do you see with free college?
I think there's a number of problems with free college. The first one of which is that it makes what is a very expensive experience for not just individuals but also taxpayers and society. It basically allows us to afford it, but it doesn't actually make it affordable and it actually takes away the pressure to introduce entrepreneurial new experiences that would be that would be more affordable and sort of solve this root cause problem. And then you'd say, well, who, because at least we made it free. Well, the problem is we know that there's a lot of red ink coming up in this country. Retirees are only increasing healthcare costs are only increasing. K-12 education is going to take Garris dollars before higher ed does. And so we're actually over time going to be starting to starve what is a free system? And so that system won't actually get the dollars it needs to continue to improve in this expensive way.
And third, it will then crowd out all of these entrepreneurial experiences that are going to have some costs to them. And some cost, even though it's low cost will appear to be more costly than this subsidized experience is super expensive and so I think it will artificially cause people to basically say, I have to do what's expected of me. There's that job again, right, and go to the college because it's free. I might as well and that's going to be the wrong choice for them and they're not going to be able to make those trade offs in intelligent ways. There are a whole other set of reasons on top of that, but those are the primary ones that I just think if anyone looks at this from a dynamic perspective as opposed to a point in time, you'd see that this won't end in a very good place for private institutions or for-profit models or you know, entrepreneurial businesses.
What business models should they take in higher education? You know, how should they be making money? Yeah, I mean, I think they should be looking at models that pay for success, where students are actually as they make progress, that some portion of the higher ed model is tied to the success that a individual student makes so that they have skin in the game. So there's risk sharing, but not suggesting that students shouldn't have some element of risk in it because I think that's an important motivator and an important way to get students to. But I do think institutions should bear some that responsibility. And if you're trying to innovate, what better way to do so than say we're behind you. Like we're committing with you. You know? And so so Persado graduate school of education, which is a startup, a school of education for teachers in the Boston area got it.
Starter, they align those incentives and said, Hey, we will get you placed. And you do not have to pass a diamond until you're earning a teacher salary of at least $40,000 and and no interest on that. Right? And so that sharing of responsibility and risk that we're so confident that yes, we're new, but we're going to get you the skills to not just get a job but be desirable and get an early I think that's the sort of statement that entrepreneurs ought to make as they design new experiences as private colleges and for, for profit schools more generally. There obviously is a lot of skepticism around them in the public. There's a lot of there were hearings, you know, almost a decade ago about their practices and things of that nature, independent of whether that's right or wrong. I have my own beliefs on it, but I think they would be foolish not to try to align risk with students to say, Hey, we're not trying to be predatory or whatever other lines are said about them. We are truly in you and with you.
Some partying and voice that you gave to students was to realize that they are lifelong learners. And so how have you integrated lifelong learning for yourself?
Yeah. This was something that I had to think about because when we, for example, found that helped me extend myself job, which I think is the consummate lifelong learning job, you're constantly trying to learn more and be more and so forth. I sent to Bob, my coauthor, well, I've never experienced this one. And and he said, well, no, you've never gone back to college under this job. Which would be stupid frankly with, you know, a couple of kids under the age of five and a mortgage and so forth. But you hire books, podcasts, videos, new experiences, talking to individuals that teach you something, right in conferences and meetings and so forth all the time. And that is teaching you new things and giving you new skill sets and knowledge and so forth, and constantly pushing you frankly, you know, getting into a future you podcast, that was stretching me right in, in new ways, and investing in my skillset to be able to communicate through a, another medium as an example, and learning all parts about that and how do you launch it and so forth. And so I think we're all going to be lifelong learners at this stage of our of our lives. Perhaps that's always been true, but I think it's particularly true right now given the rapid advancement of technologies or the change of the workforce and globalization and on and on and on. We are all going to have to be constantly investing in ourselves and figuring out the right rhythm and ways to do that.
Yeah. I think too, you know, with as much as people are changing careers changing what they do, there's this element of having to rescale all the time. And so having that lifelong journey is important.
Yeah, totally. I mean, look, if you think that the technical skills that got you by initially are going to sustain you 10 years hence from now, just look at the change in coding languages, right? Like, you know, 10, 15 years ago you thought just staying with with, with with Java, right? Was gonna somehow get you there and you weren't going to have to learn Python, Ruby on rails, et cetera, and go through sort of that evolution, just like non-starter, right? You constantly have to reskill yourself and it's not going to just be true and [inaudible] technical fields that have technology in them, it's going to be true everywhere. Like marketing today is dramatically different from what it was 15 years ago where HubSpot, digital marketing on Facebook, Google, et cetera, are major parts of your job. And if you do not know those tools and have constantly educated yourself on how to use them, you're a huge set of steps behind these days.
Hmm. Yeah. So you mentioned having two daughters. If you had a magic wand, what would college look like for them?
Great question. It's been asked to me several times in a different way, which is do you expect them or do you want them to go to college? And my answer has always been, I hope that they have the opportunity to make the choice that's right for them. And it's not based on me, right? I want them to be able to be independent of my expectations on them and do what will lead them to have a fulfilling life. I would like to see though lower cost options out of there that still enable them to have the investment in themselves and that diversity of experiences that can teach them about themselves. I mean, when I look back at Yale the history major was important to me. But I didn't really major in history. I majored in the Yale daily news outside of it.
I got to play the Carillon on top of you know, Harkness tower there and you know, however many ton, 26 ton or whatever instrument it is this travel a diverse range of courses and, and meeting people from different walks of life and so forth. That forge to I am, I think I would hope that they were able to do that as well, but in a more affordable, accessible way with a greater swath of students from a variety of walks of life. And so, so I, I in some ways I would love to see unbundled experiences out there where they could go work in Asia, say for a six month time period, you learning a course or two online and that would have some sort of way to measure and capture that so it could signal two other actors, whether they be employers or other schools that this was a meaningful experience and it was in fact mastery based.
They can actually demonstrate that they learned something. Those are the sorts of things that I would love to see evolve. And the last piece is that they can build social capital through their experience. One thing that's very true in my story is that you know, forging strong ties with the old administration led me to my job with David Gergen that led me to Harvard business school. And then I met clay Christiansen and through that, and that led me into my career and my passion and purpose and so forth. That's all a web of people that accidentally sorta sprung up. I would love to see systems be more intentional about cultivating not just loving adults around you, but frankly a web of people and possible mentors that could unlock opportunities in your life. What sort of things are you doing right now to supplement their education as you raise them?
Yeah, that's a good question. We're constantly talking about this at home. You know, I think we, we think we're, we're wrestling. It's a good question. I'm, I'm opening up a little bit here. We wrestle a lot with this because I think we always thought public schools would be what was right for them and where they would go. It may still be at some point, but there's a wonderful Montessori school where we are right now and we're there, you know, loving the opportunity for them to be able to make choices about what they will do in this day. Set goals, reflect, develop executive functioning skills at the age of five at their twins. Is, is incredible. And for them to discover sort of the habits that work for them, and they're very different, right? Even though they're identical, they're very different and for them to start to figure those sorts of things out I think is incredible.
And so for my wife and I are looking at that, we're saying, do we dare take that away? We think that ability to learn how you learn and continue to chart your own course and develop agency and be able to set goals for yourself and figure out how you're going to get there. That's going to be a critical skill in lifelong learning. Do we want to take that away from them and move them into what is a great public education system, but not necessarily one that develops those skill sets because of the nature of the instruction. I'm not convinced that's a good idea and so that's created a, that's one set of things for us. I'd say the other thing that we've been super intentional about is saying you're going to have a long time of academic learning and so forth. How can we create experiences that are not academic in nature at all, that's not in nature, that makes sure that we do things as a family out in sort of the wild without technology and so forth, so that they can connect in different ways and different experiences and, and, and build a grounding for who they are.
That is independent of sort of the noise around them, I think is another important thing. At the same time, being able to use technology in a responsible way, you know, as there set a goal that they want to learn something about it, that they can leverage it in the right way when it's, when it's time. But to have that balance I think in life is incredibly important. And so that's something we think a lot about.
Yeah. Creating that a whole person and reaching in from different aspects of life.
Yeah, that's exactly that. That's a really good way to say it. It's, it's, you know, we know that they're going to be academic to an extent because they've got a, my wife and I both are that way, but we want to make sure that they're well-rounded, that they think about health and they think about, you know, CrossFit is a big part of our lives. Nutrition is a big part of our lives. We want them to have those opportunities. And the last thing I would say, you know, you mentioned it, my wife as an entrepreneur, she has a business called parfait where she does ice pops and the like that are vegan and gluten free and so forth. And for them to get exposure to the business frankly, and building something from scratch I think has been incredibly cool. They ask all sorts of funny questions about money out of that. But for them to be able to see my wife being passionate about something and putting her mind doing and doing it, I think is an incredibly powerful experience that I hope they are able to emulate as well.
Yeah, absolutely. I think that's going to be huge for them growing up. In the book you mentioned that education has the ability to promise, to help people build their passion, fulfill a human potential, and live a lifetime of productive struggle and happiness. What does that mean for you?
Yeah, so on the passion piece, I don't think people naturally have one passion in life. And I don't think you naturally just know it. When you try it the first time, you have to build it, you have to work at it and you have many passions. And so I think you want an education system that gives people opportunities and reps that a variety of things to discover and build those things. Even they might not have first like it, that there is a little push. Like it shouldn't all just be frictionless. Right? There is push that gets into the struggle piece of this, which is struggle is where we, you know, Bob always says the struggling moment is the seed of for innovation. There's no struggle. There's no innovation. Cause we don't have a sense that we could do or need to do something different. And so struggle I think is important.
And it struggled toward happiness, which I don't think is just sort of this bucolic laissez Faire. Like no worries sort of existence, but it's one that is deeply fulfilling. It has lived with other people. It is a part of a community. It is contributing to a community and it is something that fulfills you in a satisfying way. And if you do all those things together, I think it will allow you to fulfill your potential. Which I think is sort of what we're saying is don't leave potential hanging out there right now. The school system, often it looks at your sat score or whatever it is and says this person is a bat. And I think the contention is along those measures perhaps. But if we can find other avenues, I suspect they can be something that's really exciting to them. And what is that right? How do we help them be all that they can be and that they want to be?
What responsibility do you think colleges have for not just preparing students for jobs afterwards or helping them, you know, reach their potential, but giving them the skills and knowledge to tackle the grand challenges we face in the world?
Yeah, it's a great question. I think it's a sticky one because people bring so many different value codes into colleges and universities. But I think in some ways if you, if we started to think more in a multidisciplinary way as opposed to, you know, you are a biology person, you are a chemistry person, you are a history person. What do we do when we take these things and put them together in novel ways and tackle projects of interest to the students? It would be an enormous opportunity and I might have a very different opinion of the problem from you, but at least we can frame it that way and take multiple disciplines to attack it. I I admire deeply what the Minerva project and Minerva schools is doing toward this end. They've identified a set of competencies which are really skills that are transferable across different domains and they are intentionally building, you know, problem solving, logical thinking, creativity and communication, etc.
Across a range of knowledge, disciplines and problems so that you can apply it into these sticky problems. And we know that really compliment complex systems level problems, they aren't solved by people in sub specialties, right? They're solved by people who are able to have enough knowledge about that particular area, but then are able to bring experiences from other realms of life, other analogies from far thinking and apply it into the problem. And so I would love if schools were more intentional about the shaping of those experiences and bringing people from different disciplines together to solve problems and like the teaching was that as opposed to just biology or something like that.
Right. Absolutely. Do you think it would be better to start with the problem and maybe not delineate a discipline and rather this is the problem and we're all focusing working towards that rather than trying to delineate that discipline and then bringing them towards the problem?
It's a great question. The way I guess I'd frame it is I think with the cognitive science and learning sciences says is you want to start with an interesting question or dilemma that doesn't make sense and it hooks people to try to solve what doesn't make sense. And then you build the knowledge and then you start to apply it in rich ways to solve the problem. And the danger of starting just with the problem is that you can stay very surface level and never go deep enough in the underlying sets of knowledge and skills you need to solve it. And so you can end up with something incredibly superficial, but if you start very intentionally around a question that is some sort of a dilemma, something that it doesn't make sense that leaves space for someone to go say, I need to figure out why that is true or why that, you know, why is that happening?
Why is that breakdown occurring? Then it motivates people to do the deep dive and be engaged in the material in much more active learning experiences. I should have said this earlier as well. You know, all of these learning I think should be active learning where you're not just sort of passively sitting back receiving information, but you are constantly trying out solutions, figuring out why they are right or wrong, taking the feedback, adjusting and so forth. Whether that's through a project or even short, rapid fire answers and, and, and argumentation and things. There's a variety of ways to do that. I don't think it's all one thing or the other, but the principle I think is that it's active that you are in or sitting forward or you're standing up and you are actively engaged in, in this material over a repeated intervals that have space between them. So that it really becomes part of who you are.
Before I get to my last question, where can everybody find you? The book, all of that.
Great. So choosing college available on Amazon, Barnes and noble, anywhere you buy books, I can go to my website, Michael B, horn.com. I click on there to buy the book as well. It gives you a few different ways to, to access it. That's probably the best way. Michael B horn.com is also a great way to reach me or find out about what I'm doing. You can sign up for my newsletter there. And then I'm on Twitter at Michael B. Horn. You can also follow me on LinkedIn at I guess it's Michael B. Horn or Michael. I think it's Michael B. Horn there as well. And the Michael B incidentally, so I don't get confused with the UFO Michael Horn guy, but but that's probably the best way to keep up with me and my work and stay in touch with me.
Awesome. Well, my last question Is, how can we push the world to evolve?
Yeah. I've been thinking a lot about this and I actually think the answer is education and it's taking what we know from what a good educational experience is, how to design it in ways that cause people to ask perplexing, interesting, engaging questions. And then through active learning techniques learn about these items using the best of what we know about learning science so that we can build understandings of the problem, a variety of solutions, test and learn what works and so forth and sort of kick off a design process. I maybe that's the other piece of this is I think design thinking which jobs to be done is sort of the front end design thinking, right? To prototyping, understanding the progress, and then actually testing hypotheses. And I think if we can make an army of design thinkers who are learning and testing and learning more and so forth to tackle these challenges and, and make progress, that would be a tremendous asset so that we don't have loyalty to the institution or tradition, but we have loyalty to the purpose of helping people make progress and lead fulfilling lives.
And I think that starts with education, with asking a really good question as you have today. And and then using all that we know about education to move people and to lead people.
Hmm. Well, I love that answer. Michael, thank you so much for coming on the podcast. I really appreciate everything that you've shared today guys. I would definitely recommend diving into choosing college. It was a great look at kind of how you make the decision around a higher education and which you actually want to be doing when you're moving into that, as well as from the entrepreneurs side, how we can begin to start disrupting some of this and tackling this this education dilemma.
Hey, thanks so much for having me and keep disrupting.
Brandon is an entrepreneur, certified professional coach, and podcast host.
His aim is to evolve the individual through education, entertainment, and philosophy so together we can ask the world's biggest questions, build businesses to solve them, & live fulfilling lives in the process.
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