Of Twists and Turns, that's my life
A lot happening at my end, which impeded my blog writing for a while. As I restart, I thought I would do so by doing an update. This will, I hope, not only get the conversation started, but also return this blog to its intended purpose.
It has been almost a year I left my job, and I spent the time doing various projects while I explored the idea of setting up connected global network of learning spaces for competency-based learning. Not necessarily I wanted to go back to doing another start-up: Having lived through successful and unsuccessful ones, I have learnt that start-ups can be boring and established organisations can be interesting. Also, after six years of trying to establish an alternative model of education, I have come around to the view that doing it by working with others is a better way than trying to go solo and try to reinvent every cog and wheel of an educational institution.
In fact, I came to see that start-up ecosystem in Education to be what it is: A lot of disparate efforts that lack scale and ambition! It's not that I don't see the value of these start-ups - their wastefulness breed a vast reservoir of ideas that would contribute in the evolution of education sector as a whole - but I believe that funding these efforts with investor money and doing these 'experimentations' with the hope of magical rewards are sure recipes for failure. I am now trying to do this differently: I am looking to work within established institutions in a role that allows me to scout for new ideas and integrate them effectively within the practises of education. That way, I believe, I can concern myself more with educational impact and real outcomes, rather than obsessing over ephemeral ones such as market valuation.
Therefore, in a complete about-turn in my professional life, I am working on two parallel projects. The first, I have stopped doing various 'partnership' projects which was the theme of my engagements over last several months, and taken on a role, within a traditional industry organisation focused on Oil and Gas and Engineering industries, that is concerned with digital transformation of their training and awareness portfolio. This is only a short term role, and I have very specif outcomes to achieve within a tightly defined timescale. But this role focuses my work on finding and introducing innovation within a traditional, and successful, framework, an experience which I guess would be of enormous value to what I do next.
The other project, which I am pursuing in parallel with the aim to transitioning full time into it in the autumn, is to work with an university to create a campus - hopefully a network of campuses in time - that would bring learning and work together. This is a variation of what I was working on before - an e-School which will stand apart to bridge university students into work - but, with hindsight, more meaningful. Again, this is in line with my overall approach - rather than doing something new and novel, I am trying to introduce the new ideas within traditional, regulated framework of an university - and I believe this is more meaningful. My earlier idea, that I shall establish these within start-up hubs and allow university students come and work with companies, fell short of the reality that companies, except a few very enlightened ones, don't want to give time to university students. They want ready people walking into the job, and not spend executive time explaining what they thought was basic stuff. Besides, transforming a student's approach is not a short term thing: 12 weeks to employability may look good on a spreadsheet, but Aristotle's observation that there is no royal road to education is all too accurate.
Hence, I am pursuing two conversations in parallel. One is about a job in a venture-funded new university, where I go and work for a group of people who have set up an university. I bring my ideas and expertise in building a global network of learning centres. The other option is to do this with a traditional university - I am speaking to different ones in different countries - and set up this space, the first, pilot, one, as an experimental campus within itself. I have indeed made some progress on this - and it looks like the most exciting thing that I can get involved in and do for the next several years. This won't make me a Founder, but I can't care less.
Interestingly, all this allows me an inverted look at myself - and inform my work through that. As I lived through my latest existential crisis, I discovered a new set of competencies that I have. Not the traditional ones as Marketing Training or Communication Skills, but new ones in my excitedness about new ideas, ability to understand its potential applications and to bring others on board with it. I have felt the need of rewriting my CV (and LinkedIn profile) completely, as I saw the new competency language to be more useful to me, rather than to cast my highly unusual career into the traditional mould of a 'marketing specialist' or an 'education professional'. In fact, I wish to write stuff like resilience on my CV - I am sure my ability to live on the edge should count - but I know that the traditional language about competencies, which is about using bombastic words to make unfounded claims of success, and success only, prevents such thoughts. But that indeed is another opportunity - creating a new competency framework that doesn't take the basic human abilities for granted and aim to bring them out - that I can integrate into my design of the new institution.