“Challenging the orthodoxies of Executive Development”

by Didier Marlier on Sunday June 12th, 2011

One of my personal projects is to find partners interested in radically new ways to consider and deliver Executive Education. These could be Business Schools as well as Corporate Academies. I had written a paper about my vision, (http://enablersnetwork.com/user/docs/MBA%20to%20MBL%20September%202009.pdf) which ended up being published in India. However, each time that I engage a dialogue with existing academies, I am disappointed by their attachment to the old winning formulas and orthodoxies… It seems paradoxical that those who pretend to teach others how to break their mental barriers, think out of the box, become truly creative and innovative, are usually much less bold when it comes to challenging their own orthodoxies and business models.

So whilst I am trying to find the partners interested in truly challenging the status quo, one of our readers, Graham Merfield (General Manager of Novecare USA) has shared a truly disruptive news: His son, David, a brilliant “valedictorian of his Princeton, N.J., high school class, is turning down a chance to go to Princeton University to take the fellowship.” Graham was kindly suggesting that the post I had written about Simon Sinek’s “What, How, Why”[1] had inspired his son to convince “them” to grant him the fellowship. David was working since months, on a truly disruptive project (http://www.opentheclassroom.com/) aiming at fundamentally changing classroom sessions… But which fellowship was he talking about?

On September 29th 2010, Peter Thiel[2] a German born, Californian Billionaire (who launched Paypal and was an early investor in Facebook) announced that he was creating “the Thiel Fellowship, which will award $100,000 each to 20 people under 20 years old, in order to spur them to quit college and create their own ventures.” And on May 29th 2011, Associated Press was announcing that 24 brilliant and promising students (including Graham’s son) had accepted to be “paid not to go to College”. Instead they will use their grant to “chase their entrepreneurial dreams for the next two years”[3]… Interviewed by Associated Press on why he was doing this, Thiel replied that “the best young minds can contribute more to society by skipping college and bringing their ideas straight to the real world.”

Of course the guardians of the Orthodoxy Temple are screaming about Thiel’s irresponsibility. For them all bright kids won’t necessarily end up becoming Zuckerbergs (the founder of Facebook) and, following them, Thiel wouldn’t have made it if he weren’t a Stanford Graduate himself… But this is what Dale Stephens another beneficiary of the fellowship had to reply on a CNN interview[4]: “I believe higher education is broken. I left college two months ago because it rewards conformity rather than independence, competition rather than collaboration, regurgitation rather than learning and theory rather than application. Our creativity, innovation and curiosity are schooled out of us. Failure is punished instead of seen as a learning opportunity. We think of college as a stepping-stone to success rather than a means to gain knowledge. College fails to empower us with the skills necessary to become productive members of today’s global entrepreneurial economy”. (http://edition.cnn.com/2011/OPINION/06/03/stephens.college/) I suggest you read the rest of his plea on CNN… It is quite compelling…

I am curious to see how this disruptive experiment will work both for Mr. Thiel and, above all, for the young people (and their parents;) who took the brave decision to let go of a predictable future to pave the way for a new learning style. I can only hope this example will be followed and that it will encourage bolder academics and leadership development professionals to think in brave new ways about their mission. My partners and I certainly volunteer to invest time and passion in thinking and delivering it with them.

Going back to students, I would like to share the end of the address that Chris Anderson, the curator of TED[5] gave to the 2011 graduating class of architects from the Harvard Graduate School of Design (The underlining of some words are mine) as it shows such new ways of thinking about education are based on profound values:

“So I guess my advice would be… Don’t pursue your passion directly. At least not yet. Instead… pursue the things that will empower you. Pursue knowledge. Be relentlessly curious. Listen, learn. You’re leaving Harvard this week, but your learning cannot ever, ever be allowed to stop.

Pursue discipline. It’s an old-fashioned word, but it’s never been more important. Today’s world is full of an impossible number of distractions. The world-changers are those who find a way of ignoring most of them.

And above all: Pursue generosity. Not just because it will add meaning to your life — though it will do that — but because your future is going to be built on great ideas and in the future you are entering, great ideas HAVE to be given away. They do. The world is more interconnected than ever. The rules of what you give and what you hold on to have changed forever. If you hold on to your best ideas, maybe you can for a moment grab some short-term personal commercial gain. But if you let them roam free, they can spread like wildfire, earning you a global reputation. They can be reshaped and improved by others. They can achieve impact and influence in the world far greater than if you were to champion them alone.

If we’ve discovered anything at TED these past few years, it’s that radical openness pays. We gave away our talks on the web, and far from killing demand for the conference, it massively increased it, turning TED from something which reached 800 people once a year to something which reached half a million people every day. We gave away our brand in the form of TEDx, and far from diluting TED, it democratized it, and multiplied its footprint a thousand fold”.

Thank you Graham for sharing the story of your son. We wish him all a great learning journey. Let us know how it goes for him.

Short stops in France and Belgium this week. A good one to you all!



[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Thiel


[4] http://edition.cnn.com/2011/OPINION/06/03/stephens.college/

[5] www.ted.com : In a few years TED has become of of the world’s richest source of knowledge sharing. Many of the clips shown on this blog were found on TED.

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2 Responses to ““Challenging the orthodoxies of Executive Development””

  1. At times we hit the right ideas but it all go wrong when we try to build a theory out of it. “Challenging the orthodoxies of Executive Development” is one such a thing. Instead of creating runaways in colleges, wouldn’t it be better to reform the existing andragogy methodologies and give the benefit to the kids of learning things in environment more suited to development of intellectual capacities, then throw them in streets to learn by kicks. This way one may make them street smart alright but without real intellectual depth needed to rally progress in life in a meaningful way.

  2. I couldn’t agree more.

    I have to say, France has got to be one of the worst places for conformity in education and ironing creativity out of people early on. The further the technological / social expansion goes the more traditional schooling becomes obsolete. How can we teach textbook history in a reality now simulated through graphical representation and a collective virtual knowledge bank? Its very very hard to make a classical for and against argument appear credible and meaningful to children when their encounters of ideas outside of the classroom are closer and closer to a COLLAGE of contemporary culture + knowledge elements which are fully integrated into their social network. Meaningful human social interactions and their engaging power versus against a chronological epistemology of truth based on varied value traditions that are barely present in current oral traditions. Also they are passed on via waning authority figures (The tradtional classroom teacher who directs orders and corrects is just not a colourful OR as powerful as a socially interactive learning beast which concurrently exists alongside). If a teacher can’t engage with the social beast, through the use of interactive media, then the teacher can not be taken seriously by todays kids. Its like a maths teacher trying to teach calculus using only an abacus. It’s an interesting demonstration but if you refuse the use of calculator altogether the kids will go back to their excel spreadsheets and take you for a nutjob.

    On top of the interactive slant, I personally think that in todays society all kids should be taught Politics, philiosophy, and economics from really early on, have body engaging classroom activities for learning spirituality through doing rather than digesting (conflicting words), and they should all be forced to do some kind of mind expanding activity between school and college/work/Uni, like a compulsory minimum 3 month placement doing voluntary work abroad. This of course should be financed by the state, or maybe a compulsary fundraising component to the syllabus.

    This has been bothering me for a while.

    Hmmm… Private individuals/companies paying kids not to go to school, isn’t this like some kind of Capitalist uprising, like a right wing version of a street rebellion; forcing the government to react. Hehe, thats a funny thought place if you imagine it… Tories standing on street corners in trenchcoats handing out 20K wads of cash to respectable looking boys in school blazers and ties (and the politically correct ratio of girls of course 😉


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