The most accomplished Entrepreneurs & Inventors are disproportionately those who grew up operating primarily “outside the system”. Orphans, Low-performers in school, Social outcasts, Dropouts… This phenomenon reached some prominence via Gladwell in his book Outliers.
Note that this is a particular cross-section of “successful” people: Entrepreneurs and Inventors — people who broke new ground and moved their discipline (and possibly all of humanity) forward.
I always thought this “lost loner” conditioning pattern referenced by Gladwell primarily produced a mental toughness, making an individual less risk-averse and thus more willing to “jump ship” from the standard mold of career-building to a more uncertain, but promising approach. I.e. Fear wouldn’t hold them back from a logically smart but high-risk action.
I realized this morning that, while true, that’s probably not the most prominent factor at play.
Rather, the experience of being chronically “adrift” (meaning, nobody is writing your life’s script for you) actually trains a capability of finding, vetting, and securing “anchors” in a continuously new, uncharted domain. It’s a skill set. I.e. Being chronically “lost” as a child and young adult is a training ground for the skill to get “un-lost”.
And, of course, that’s the fundamental activity of entrepreneurship and invention. Getting un-lost. I.e. Continuous study and consolidation of knowledge and security about new territory — weighing a complex system of risks & rewards and acting appropriately in real-time.
It makes sense that those who spent their formative years on a personal mission to get un-lost (initially to avoid repeating traumatic experiences) would have foundational mental skills and behaviors to build on for larger-scale activities of that type.
1. Getting “un-lost” is a skill set like any other, beyond mere mental toughness — and an abandoned or otherwise outcast child naturally builds it out of necessity.
2. That skill set has the potential (often not realized) for continued growth beyond mere personal security. I.e. Entrepreneurship & Invention.
1. To employ this concept in an educational context (e.g. As a parent seeking the best future for their child) bears inherent risks. I.e. The child can’t learn to get un-lost without actually being lost in the first place — or at least to “feel” lost.
2. Being or feeling lost is traumatic and dangerous to the child — by definition, the child is responsible for their own safety, and they may not succeed. Allowing a child to experience trauma and danger appears to outsiders to be irresponsible and is met with cultural resistance.
3. The child will, however, eventually need to bear the responsibility of getting un-lost — repeatedly. They will inevitably face this trauma and danger. So the parent does not actually face a choice between safety and danger. It’s a question of danger now or danger later.
4. An inexperienced adult will face fewer dangers than an inexperienced child (bigger, less obviously vulnerable, etc.), so a case could be made for these experiences to occur later. However, the compounding effects of a fully-guided childhood leads to formation of other behavior patterns — many of which are destructive. One of the worst offenders is “wasting time” and “boredom”. Nobody is bored when they are lost and scared. Chronic safety tends to lead to a habit of time-wasting and boredom. And I’m not talking about day-dreaming or other “life of the mind” activities, which have inherent value — I’m talking primarily about continuous stimulation of the pleasure center. Many ways to do this now, but the most common for kids and young adults are gaming and social media — both are simulations of the real world which typically lack proper feedback channels to regulate behavior. Often by design. (Obviously, there are ways to use both of these technology groups beyond mere pleasure center stimulation, as I’m doing with the broadcast of this essay).
5. Sports and other non-school recreation are the primary way most modern people develop the mental skill of getting un-lost — if they develop it at all. Sports simulate the effects of being lost and getting un-lost, and they naturally support rich feedback channels. Though even most sports programs are poorly implemented, especially in the formative years of youth sports — coaches are often not competent in developing the elements of physical and cognitive expertise which enable players assemble their own scripts in real-time as is needed. Mediocre techniques and bad habits are tolerated — and then made permanent via continuous practice and reinforcement. And the response is either to accept poor performance and smooth it over with “you did your best” — which is bull shit — or to attempt to marionette the players into winning performance, which is obviously a mockery of the purpose of the sport.
6. We can design educational environments more effectively if we apply a coherent set of principles. Real innovation in human learning and development has largely been abandoned, I think, in favor of other technology domains with higher return on investment of effort. In education, you are rewarded for delivering high test scores (an imaginary metric of present capability and future success), despite a system of universally-recognized, built-in constraints and difficulties. Like the matadors who don’t get gored by the bull, educators with successful classrooms (particularly in regions of poverty) are applauded as incredibly skillful, heroic outliers.
7. Those of us who aim to sidestep much of the difficulties posed by schooling are mostly lost. There is a parochial and largely unimaginative homeschooling undercurrent, a red-headed stepchild charter school network (i.e. Mostly disliked by public school leaders, yet still beholden to many of the same rules as the rest of the “family”), and a promising, yet ultimately disappointing body of private schools, which serve primarily to ensure your child is surrounded by others of his or her social caste. Thus, being lost — we must get un-lost by assembling a body of scientific principles, methods, and techniques. And this will likely be done on an individual level — with scale-up very carefully designed so as to avoid the same pitfalls as the above-mentioned alternatives.
8. It is likely that incumbent systems of education will begin to respond when an alternative has reached sufficient prominence as to threaten the extinction of its forebear. Just as automakers are now rapidly bringing EVs online… as CA considers outlawing the internal combustion engine. Now that technology has finally “ratcheted forward” on automobiles, the incumbents in that domain area are responding — which, of course, was Elon Musk’s aim from Tesla’s beginning. My hope, just as Elon’s was and still is, is that the incumbents will respond to a well-conceived, threatening alternative by copying it and competing with it directly.
9. For-profit education is not impossible, but it must be carefully guided by other motives which genuinely supersede the profit motive. Succession from one system of governance to the next is a key risk factor.
10. It’s unknown how human development strategies will integrate artificial intelligence technologies. It may serve as the enabling force to up-end of the incumbent system of education. More likely, it will redefine education for humanity. Particularly, if we succeed in joining our biological hardware with the artificial via Brain-Machine Interface. This is still sufficiently distant (barring a near-term singularity event) that it may not be too useful to plan for at the moment.