We are currently preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist, using technologies that haven’t been invented yet, in order to solve problems we don’t even know are problems yet.

– Karl Fisch

Weeks 3-4 : The New World of Work


ere’s a challenge for you: Select someone you admire and then ask them to share the path that got them where they are today. How closely did their initial plan in college match where they are now? What part did mentors and unforeseen opportunities play in altering their course? How did disappointments and roadblocks send them in new and unexpected directions? If they are honest, they will likely ask you take a seat, and inform you it’s going to be a long story. You will hear the expected acknowledgements to hard work and aptitude, but the tale will twist and turn whenever "Destiny", shows up.

Destiny is the moment in the story when the agent walks up to Ashton Kutcher in an Iowa pizza joint and asks if he’s ever considered modeling, or when a teenager named Paul McCartney decides to go and hear a group of school-aged musicians perform at St. Peter's Church Garden Fete, and comes home with a new friend named John. As a colleague of mine describes, "It’s when all three legs of the stool – hard work, talent, and fate - touch the ground at the same time."

In his Commencement address to Stanford’s 2005 graduating class, Steve Job’s reflected on the kind of trust it takes to embrace opportunity. "You can’t connect the dots looking forward", Jobs told the graduates. "You can only connect them looking backwards." Author Daniel Pink writes that, "It’s nice to believe that you can map out every step ahead of time and end up where you want, but that’s a fantasy. The world changes. Ten years from now your industry might not even exist."


Did You Know? 3.0 (October 2008)
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The Pace of Change
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Revenge of the Right Brain
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Listen to my interview with Daniel Pink
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"The last few decades have belonged to a certain kind of person with a certain kind of mind—computer programmers who could crank code, lawyers who could craft contracts, MBAs who could crunch numbers. But the keys to the kingdom are changing hands. The future belongs to a very different kind of person with a very different kind of mind—creators and empathizers, pattern recognizers, and meaning makers. These people—artists, inventors, designers, storytellers, caregivers, consolers, big picture thinkers—will now reap society’s richest rewards and share its greatest joys."
– Daniel Pink, "A Whole New Mind"

In looking to the future, Daniel Pink asks us to think of the last 150 years as a three-act drama.

  • Act I, the Industrial Age

    The lead character in this act was the mass production worker.

  • Act II, the Information Age

    The central figure in this act was the knowledge worker.

  • Act III, the Conceptual Age

    As we enter the "Conceptual Age", creative thinking and collaboration become essential skills for success.

  • Will you be ready?

Here you'll find some of my musings that I think will help support the narrative, and provide some additional information. Check it out here

  • The Value of a College Degree – At the moment there are fifty million “twentysomethings” living in the United States, many of whom are functioning under mountains of uncertainty. “What will I do?” “Where will I live?” “Who will I be?” While attending college has become an increasingly important runway to adulthood, it is offering fewer and fewer direct answers to questions such as these.

    When my father made his bold decision to hitchhike off the family farm and onto a college campus, he left behind confused parents who had never finished high school. Four years later, he had little trouble parlaying his diploma into a teaching job and was soon supporting a family of his own. Like many in his generation, a college degree was the perfect launching pad to a successful adult life.

    Through the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, a college education remained a similar passport to a job for many young Americans. If you weren’t employed, it was likely by choice. If you didn’t like the job you had, you could more often than not find something better. As Sir Ken Robinson notes, university degrees used to have a high market value in part because they were relatively scarce. “In the 1970s,” Robinson writes, “about 1 in 20 people in the old industrialized economies went to college. The current target is one in three, rising to one in two.” When anything becomes too common its value tumbles and something new is needed to create an edge. It isn’t enough to simply have a college degree any more – one needs to be remarkable!

  • And most new college graduates will have to accomplish this feat while running into a headwind. Battling an unemployment rate of nearly 10 percent, roughly half of todays graduates land in jobs that do not require a college degree. With median salaries starting at around $30,000, and median student debt running about the same, there is little room for error. In fact, a recent Newsweek article referred to America’s 18-35 year-old cohorts as “Generation Screwed!”

    Young people read these headlines and know what’s at stake. They recognize the stress and insecurities their parents endure at work, and feel an increasing responsibility to select “practical majors” regardless of whether they are drawn to the subject matter or not. While loved ones may sleep better knowing their son or daughter is studying computer science instead of the classics, the secret is that people who are intrinsically motivated, who do what they do out of the joy of the task itself, almost always outperform their extrinsically motivated peers.

    But what if I am wrong? What if they somehow guess the rapidly changing job market and quickly land work after graduation? And then even as their passionate co-workers succeed around them, I am doubly wrong and nobody cares? They are allowed to spend 30 or 40 years indifferently doing only what’s required, while trying to squeeze as much pleasure into the leftover hours as they can. Is that really a life worth settling for without at least trying to find something more?


The whole secret of a successful life is to find out what it is one's destiny to do, and then to do it.

– Henry Ford

People make career decisions for two different reasons:

  • Instrumental reasons – Because they think it’s going to lead to something else, regardless of whether they enjoy it or it’s worthwhile.
  • Fundamental reasons – Because they think it’s inherently valuable, regardless of what it may or may not lead to.

Question #2

How do you make decisions for your life? Are they more often for fundamental or instrumental reasons? Give an example.

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Matching individuals to their college major exercise
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Here’s an excerpt from a letter that an indignant father sent to his son after hearing that he had opted for an impractical major:

"I am appalled, even horrified, that you have adopted Classics as a major. As a matter of fact, I almost puked on my way home today. … I am a practical man, and for the life of me I cannot possibly understand why you should wish to speak Greek. With whom will you communicate in Greek? …

I suppose you will feel that you are distinguishing yourself from the herd by becoming a Classical snob. … I think you are rapidly becoming a jackass, and the sooner you get out of that filthy atmosphere, the better it will suit me."

Ted Turner’s father, Robert, penned the letter. While harsh, Robert’s reaction is sadly not that unusual. Ted finally relented to his father’s wishes, and changed his major to economics. Though he went on to found the cable news network CNN, Ted sadly never graduated.

Many students encounter tremendous pressure from their parents to adopt “practical” majors, and I’ve talked to a handful of students whose parents flatly refuse to provide for their educational expenses unless they major in something career-oriented. While motivated out of concern, is that the best approach?


Daniel Pink: Choosing a Major
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Assignment #1

Pick two disciplines you think you might like to major in and answer the following question for each: "Why does the world need (fill in the blank)?" This is very different than asking, "How much money does it pay?" Or "What kind of jobs will be available?"

For example, watch Professor Chris Cheatum describe why the world needs chemistry!

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Smart corporations rightly identify creativity as their most precious commodity. Production matters now, but creativity is the source of all growth – the new products, techniques, services, and solutions that distinguish companies that thrive.

Is anybody here an artist? The late Gordon MacKenzie liked to visit grade schools. In fact, the self-proclaimed, "loyally subversive", Hallmark Card employee would start the day with a roomful of kindergarteners, and working his way through the ranks, end up in the sixth grade. Gordon began each class with the same question: "Is anybody here an artist?" If you have a five-year-old in your life, or can drudge up an old memory of what it was like to be one, it is pretty easy to guess how Gordon’s first stop goes. The kindergarteners predictably erupt with excitement, and jostle for Gordon’s attention. Everyone in the room is an artist! But as the day progresses, the excitement wanes. And when Gordon finally asks his question for the last time, only two wary sixth graders are willing to accept the label. “What happened?” Gordon probes. “I just visited the kindergarten class this morning and it’s full of artists! Did they all transfer out?” And then giving himself away, Gordon pauses and regrettably concludes, “No”, I suspect something much worse has happened here. Someone has told you it’s not ok.”

Pablo Picasso claimed that, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once you grow up.” I am not sure anyone has mastered holding on to all the “fairy dust” that is sprinkled over a childhood, but only fools let everything blow away. “I am interested,” wrote cultural anthropologist, Margaret Mead, “in what happens to people who find the whole life so rewarding that they are able to move through it with the same kind of delight in which a child moves through a game.” Mead is referring to the spot at the edge of a bluff where Alexander Graham Bell found his “dreaming place.” Or the first “imagination workshop” Steven Spielberg conceived behind his closed bedroom door. It is how a drawing of two polka-dotted animals, by a four year-old Keith Haring, can still echo in his mature work eighteen years later.

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Keith Haring's “Childhood Drawing
of Two Animals” (1962)
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Keith Haring Untitled Work (1980)


"30 Circles Test"
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Bob McKim was a creativity researcher in the '60s and '70s who led the Stanford design program. He liked to do an exercise with his students called the "30 Circles Test."

Here is how it goes: Using the "30 Circles Test" sheet provided, adapt as many circles, as fast as you can, into objects. (E.g. a baseball, moon) You have one minute. Ready – set – go!
(A minute later…)

How many did you get?
Did you do a variation on a theme? A smiley face? Happy face? Sad face? Sleepy face?

Did you use the examples I gave? (E.g. a baseball, moon)

What McKim’s exercise typically demonstrates is that adults tend to edit themselves. Children, on the other hand, are much better at just going for it.

Several years ago, the Smithsonian Institute had a traveling exhibit entitled, Invention at Play. (See: http://inventionatplay.org) The exhibit was based on the knowledge that numerous inventors link their childhood play with their working lives as inventors. Diaries and notebooks of 19th and early 20th century inventors provide historical evidence of the role of play in the invention process.

Ask the Harry Potter series author, J.K. Rowling where her vivid imagination came from and she won’t point to television, movies, or video games. Instead she will share stories of a childhood spent exploring the wild and beautiful Forest of Dean in Britain.

Journal Assignment #3– Goals

In the book Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert notes that the great Sufi poet and philosopher Rumi once advised his students to write down the three things they most wanted in life. If any item on the list clashes with any other item, Rumi warned, you are destined for unhappiness.

What are your goals in life, and why? Are your goals still connected to your dreams?

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Ashton and I in my Life Design Class
(In case you are confused, I am on the left!)

Don’t Put Your Hand Down! – A couple of years ago, “Two and a Half Men” co-star Ashton Kutcher visited my LIFE DESIGN class. I kept it as a surprise to my students, and when he walked into the room there was a “buzz” of excitement that I wish I could replicate in every lecture. Ashton and I really didn’t have a game plan, and I immediately began worrying about how we would fill the time.

What resulted, however, was one of the most thoughtful discussions I have heard on a college campus. Ashton spoke about his small-town upbringing, and the bitter divorce of his parents. He shared the stories of the high school arrest that confined him to Iowa City, and the “big break” that took him to New York. But there was one moment in particular that I have carried with me ever since.

It was when Ashton asked my students to raise their hands to a series of questions: How many of you think you could be a fireman? How many of you can picture yourself as a CEO? An artist? An engineer? A teacher? With each inquiry, only a scattering of hands would go up. And when Ashton asked, “How many of you believe you could be the President of the United States?” there was but one outstretched arm. “Why”, implored Ashton, “especially, when you are at a point in your lives when everything is still possible!” Many of my students told me later that they promised themselves that afternoon to never put their hand down again.


Ashton Kutcher visits LIFE DESIGN
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