School is starting this week in many places. Here in North Carolina, counties have a few different options with respect to virtual learning versus in-person learning versus a combination of the two. My county has elected virtual learning to start, as have many other counties around here. Many of the local universities have elected to bring the kids back to campus for in-person education and it’s not going well. So badly, in fact, that they’ve had to curtail classroom work completely while they rethink the situation.
Rethinking is what many educators are doing these days, as are many businesspeople. I find that to be a silver lining in the midst of this horrible pandemic. What strikes me is that much of this same rethinking has been going on for quite some time but it’s taken the pandemic to bring about the changes. Online education isn’t new and it’s been possible to get degrees from accredited schools for years. Shifting public school education to the online environment is new, however. I know there are a lot of reasons why it hasn’t happened until now – teacher unions, the need for working parents to have “daycare” for their kids, food insecurity (kids get fed at school), and many other reasons. The pandemic – a situation in which people are losing their lives – has forced those other reasons to the background. I think education and our communities will come out of this stronger and more accessible as the issues that prevented the evolution of education are handled from a new perspective.
Think about the film industry. There has been a major disruption in the business and I think much of the disruption is permanent. Theaters are closing and the major chains are in deep financial trouble. Major studios’ investments are tied up in films that should have been released months ago. Everyone is still watching movies, but they’re streaming them. Is this new? Of course not, but having the powers that be in the film industry take a look at how they do business is directly attributable to the pandemic.
The most significant change in the entire industry occurred late in July when AMC Theaters and Universal agreed to shorten the theatrical ‘window’ (the length of time that a movie has to play in a theater). Previously, it was 90 days. Obviously, studios will keep their biggest blockbusters in theaters as long as they’re attracting customers. But now, Universal can transfer its less-lucrative films to rental platforms, like iTunes or Amazon, after 17 days. Other studios, like Warner Brothers, are moving some of its titles to digital-only exclusives, while Paramount and Sony are selling off a portion of their movies directly to Netflix and Amazon.
Disney is releasing their live-action “Mulan” via Disney+. You’ll pay $30 to watch it but if you’d have been taken the family to the theater to see it, that’s a bargain, especially since you can re-watch it as often as you like. How much money this generates (“Mulan” was projected to bring in more than $1 billion at the box-office) will be fascinating. There isn’t much doubt in my mind, however, that making films more accessible and less expensive is a silver lining.
Those are just two areas where I find silver linings. You?
Today is the first day of school around here. If these kids are like many of the ones I’ve met over the years (and maybe even the two we raised), at some point the inevitable question pops up:
Why do I need to go to school?
As they get older, the question changes a bit (probably because they enjoy seeing their friends at school every day):
Why do I need to learn this stuff?
That’s our topic today, and I think it’s something that applies to the business world as well. The answer to the first question is pretty obvious, and it’s not just because your parents are exhausted after driving you around all summer and need you gone for a bit. I’m a lot more interested in the second question because I think that most students, parents, and teachers get the answer wrong. You don’t need to learn “this stuff.” I can’t think of a single instance in my adult life where understanding differential equations or the structure of the carbon atom has been required.
So as a public service, I’m going to give you the answer to the second question which hopefully also answers the first. I’ve given it out before but hey, it’s the first day of school and the questions might come up again so you’re welcome.
You go to school to learn two things.
- How to locate and verify pieces of information (let’s call them facts) in order to formulate your thoughts.
- How to express the thoughts you formulate both orally and in writing to communicate your thinking.
That’s it. Learn those two things and you can pretty much do anything you choose to do in this world. Ask yourself how many business people you know who can do those two things successfully and I’ll bet you also have a list of the best business people you know. In an era when “fake news” is a term thrown around like beads at a Mardi Gras parade, understanding how to determine what news is really fake and what’s just being labeled as such to distract you from facts is critical. Not everything you read in your school books is accurate, but if you don’t have a well-developed BS detector as well as the skills to track down the truth, how will you create accurate thoughts from inaccurate information either in school or beyond?
Please feel free to print this off and hand it to your kids, large or small, who are wondering about school. Feel free to ask yourself if you managed to learn those things along the way as well. If not, maybe it’s back to school for you too?
Some of you know that my professional training was as an educator. Hopefully that shows on the screed from time to time. In fact, my wife and eldest child are also trained teachers and my youngest does education as part of her profession. Focusing on the skills people need is a big deal in our house and that got me thinking about what those skills might be.
I spend a ton of time in the tech world. There are new skills that my clients feel as if they need to acquire almost every day. What is the latest and greatest way to code? How do we employ the social media platform du jour in order to stand out and engage our customer base? What’s the best way to run an A/B test of landing or other pages to optimize conversion rates? Those are only a few of the components of the rapidly changing skill set business people might need these days. You probably won’t find me working with them on those initially.
Instead, I like to start with the skills that matter. First and foremost of these is critical thinking. How would I define that? This is from The National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking, way back when in 1987 and I think it says it pretty well:
Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action. In its exemplary form, it is based on universal intellectual values that transcend subject matter divisions: clarity, accuracy, precision, consistency, relevance, sound evidence, good reasons, depth, breadth, and fairness.
That skill trumps the others. It’s the ability to figure out what data points matter and why. It’s understanding core business issues and not permitting the noise of the business world to clutter up that understanding. It’s what you use, having achieved that understanding, to choose the tools with which to carry out the business goals, strategies, and tactics. The point is this: the tools will change; the need to possess the ability to think critically won’t. Kids learning Word in the schools today may not use it in 10 years. I guarantee they will need to be able to figure out the world around them.
There are other key skills, of course. Writing and speaking clearly are the next in line for me since if you can’t explain your excellent thinking it does little good to the business. First things first, however. That’s how I see it. You?