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Life-Long Learning

January 14, 2011

This blog is in danger of becoming a one-trick pony with all its recent emphasis on entrepreneurship and learning. But I can’t resist commenting on this article in the BBC website. It’s a review of The Genius In All of Us, a book by David Shenk. The article ends with the following statements:

It would be folly to suggest that anyone can literally do or become anything. But the new science tells us that it’s equally foolish to think that mediocrity is built into most of us, or that any of us can know our true limits before we’ve applied enormous resources and invested vast amounts of time.

Our abilities are not set in genetic stone. They are soft and sculptable, far into adulthood. With humility, with hope, and with extraordinary determination, greatness is something to which any kid – of any age – can aspire.

It’s the phrase “far into adulthood” that grabs me. In a recent post on entrepreneurship in the Middle East, I made the point that it’s unwise to focus exclusively on encouraging young people to go straight into an entrepreneurial career on graduation. This would be to ignore the huge number of mature adults who work in paid employment, sometimes for decades, and then think to themselves “I can do this better myself”. What counts, at any age, is the “enormous resources and vast amounts of time” referred to in the article. And many people invest that effort while working for others – not only in the private sector but in government and academia – before starting out on their own.

Which is why the conventional paradigm that results in people “getting their education out of the way” by their early-to-mid-twenties is so unfit for purpose in a knowledge economy. It’s not a matter of education opportunities being unavailable to adults. They are, in most regions of the world. But in many cultures, especially in the Middle East, where the certificate is everything and whole careers depend on what you achieve in your twenties, it’s incredibly hard for people to break out of the low achievement straitjacket that results in not having a decent first degree, or any degree at all.

So our increasing understanding of the science of intelligence should persuade employers to look at the hidden potential of their staff who haven’t made it sucessfully through the first hurdles to a high-flying career. Educating Rita, the inspiring story of a young hairdresser who gets a second chance to go to university,  should be the rule, not the exception. 

For those who want to look further at Shenk’s book, here’s another review in the New York Times.

  1. Educating Rita is a great example of the what is possible. I really enjoyed your post.

    • Michael, thanks for your post. Dead Poet’s Society is pretty neat too!

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