Monday Musings (6/24/19)

Greetings from Lake Tahoe

Hey everybody, 

Greetings from Lake Tahoe! I’m here with family to celebrate my sister’s birthday. We’re golfing, hiking and kayaking and the views are beautiful. 

Two reminders: 

  1. I’ll be hosting a writing workshop in New York City on Monday, July 1st. If you’re interested, you can purchase tickets here.

  2. I’ll be teaching two online courses this summer: Building a Second Brain and Write of Passage. These are serious courses for serious people who want to seriously level up. You’ll learn how to start sharing your ideas online. By the end of the summer, you’ll have such mastery over the information in your life (emails, podcasts, books, meetings, etc.) that other people will think you have a superpower.

You can sign up for these courses here.

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Thoughts on College

College is a mess. For the vast majority of students, it’s a waste of time and money. It’s expensive, hyper-competitive, and quite frankly... not worth all the effort. It’s time to expand the pool of educational offerings.

I have three ideas: help students find work, start college later, or skip college and do four years of service. 

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  1. Help Students Find Work

We need to be clear: Is college a place for students to learn how to be a human? Or is college a place to acquire employment-worthy skills?

Both have their merits. But I suspect we should help students find a job first. College students don’t have enough real-world experience to wrestle with the big questions. As a cohort, they’re not ready to read Thoreau or Twain, Derrida or Dostoyevsky.

First and foremost, colleges should help students acquire in-demand skills. No student should spend four years in a window-less classroom and $200,000 on an education, and still struggle to find a job. And yet, since our colleges focus so much on skills that don’t lead to jobs, too many graduates can’t find work after school. 

I believe that the #1 goal of an college education is to help students find a meaningful career path. Once they find work, they can explore the big questions. I call this Maslow’s Hierarchy of Education. 

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  1. Start College Later

I speak with a college student almost every week. And when I do, I ask about their university experience. Most of them are bored. Their classes don’t satisfy their intellectual curiosity. Some feel that their college environment isn’t challenging enough. Others want to build real-world experience through work.

My own college experience wasn’t stimulating. I felt trapped in North Carolina. My lectures bored me, my peers didn’t challenge me, and my professors lacked real-world experience. When I entered the workforce, I realized I wasn’t prepared for the modern economy. Working my first job in New York City, I learned how incompetent I was. I couldn’t write. I couldn’t use Excel. And I couldn’t close a sale. 

A couple years ago, Fareed Zakaria wrote a book called In Defense of a Liberal Education. I enjoyed it. Everybody should read the great books and watch the great movies. They should study philosophy, history, and the classics. But 18 year-old college students are too young to truly grapple with the big questions. They have no real-world experience and the opportunity cost of not learning employment-ready skills is too high. 

If we insist that colleges should teach the liberal arts, students should enroll in college later. Maybe we can add a buffer between high school and college. Here’s a proposal: After leaving high school, students can tackle a project of their own choosing. Recently, two girls named Priya and Winona devoted two years to traveling across all 50 states and interviewed people about race, culture, and identity. Then, they wrote a book about it.

That’s exactly the kind of experience I’m advocating for. Those two years exploring America likely prepared them for college and gave them enough real-world experience to tackle the big questions.

One of my favorite college study partners was 29. He spent four years in Afghanistan. Those years in the military gave him strength, courage, and ambition. It showed. He skipped the Friday night theme parties and worked harder than the rest of us. In class, his answers were stronger and his work was more thorough than mine. He and I paid the same price for a college education, but I know he learned more than I did. 

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  1. Skip College and Do Four Years of Service

College is not for everybody. Most 18-22 year-olds don’t belong in a classroom. Many of them would rather do four years of service. 

Rather than subsidizing college, the government should fund global service programs. The military is a good start, but it’s not for everybody. Service programs aren’t necessarily a logistics problem. They’re a marketing problem. At first, they wouldn’t be respected. The wage premium and social status given to college graduates is too high, even if that premium is the result of social norms, not additional knowledge.

Service wouldn’t be a second class route if it was respected and admired. Students could work in foreign countries or start a local non-profit organization. The cooler the project, the better. They’d explore a perspective-shifting culture, build practical skills, or travel the 50 states. By the end of it, they’d have a more interesting set of experiences than the average college graduate. 

Maybe students could start a business. Guided by a group of peers and mentors, they could launch whatever business they want. It’s free to start an online business now. Students could learn sales, marketing, product development, finance, and accounting. If they fail, it’d be the fastest learning of their life. And if they succeed, they’d end their education with money in the bank. More real-world knowledge, much less debt, and a profitable business to support them.

Right now, we’re fixing symptoms. We’re encouraging young adults to acquire hundreds of thousands of dollars in student debt. Like lobsters in a bucket, a larger and larger percentage of our youth are elbowing each other for coveted spots at famous universities.

We’re applying band-aids when we need surgery. It’s time to focus on the root causes and expand the pool of offerings.


Fresh Ideas

New Podcast: Steve Cheney

Steve Cheney is the cofounder of Estimote. Before founding Estimote, he was the head of business and platform at GroupMe, which was acquired by Skype.

We talked about:

  • The capital efficiency paradox

  • The internet's next major act

  • Innovation with ‘withered technology’

  • Making people believe in themselves

  • Why writing online is the best way to be discovered

You can listen to the podcast here: iTunes | Website | Overcast


Coolest Things I Learned This Week

The Effects of Caffeine

In the 1980s, NASA scientists exposed spiders to different drugs and observe the webs they constructed. 

The drugs included LSD, speed, marijuana, and caffeine. 

Researchers noted how strikingly incapable the spiders were in constructing anything resembling a normal or logical web that would be of functional use when given caffeine, even relative to the other potent drugs tested. 

Source: Why We Sleep


Avoid Flow

Advice from an accomplished piano player: “Avoid flow. Do what does not come easy.”

“The mistake most weak pianists make is playing, not practicing. If you walk into a music hall at a local university, you’ll hear people ‘playing’ by running through their pieces. This is a huge mistake. Strong pianists drill the most difficult parts of their music, rarely, if ever playing through their pieces in entirety.”


Thoughts on Friendship

  1. “Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art, like the universe itself… It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.” — C.S. Lewis

  2. “In ‘the love of friendship,’ you are understood as you are without mask or pretension. The superficial and functional lies and half-truths of social acquaintance fall away, you can be as you really are. Love allows understanding to dawn, and understanding is precious. Where you are understood, you are at home. Understanding nourishes belonging. When you really feel understood, you feel free to release yourself into the trust and shelter of the other person’s soul… This art of love discloses the special and sacred identity of the other person. Love is the only light that can truly read the secret signature of the other person’s individuality and soul. Love alone is literate in the world of origin; it can decipher identity and destiny.” — John O’Donahue


Cool Blue Light

Blue light, the kind of light that comes from computers and smartphone screen is detrimental to our sleep. It inhibits melatonin release. By distorting our circadian rhythms, blue light makes it hard to fall asleep. 

From Matthew Walker:

“For those wondering why cool blue light is the most potent of the visible light spectrum for regulating melatonin release, the answer lies in our distant ancestral past. Human beings, as we believe is true of all forms of terrestrial organisms, emerged from marine life. The ocean acts like a light filter, stripping away most of the longer, yellow and red wavelength light. What remains is the shorter, blue wavelength light. It is the reason the ocean, and our vision when submerged under its surface, appears blue. Much of marine life, therefore, evolved within the blue visible light spectrum, including the evolution of aquatic eyesight. Our biased sensitivity to cool blue light is a vestigial carryover from our marine forebears. Unfortunately, this evolutionary twist of fate has now come back to haunt us in a new era of blue LED light, discombobulating our melatonin rhythm and thus our sleep-wake rhythm.”


Photo of the Week

I spent the morning kayaking on Lake Tahoe and now I’m off to the golf course to play 18 holes.

Until next week,

David Perell