How to Prosper Education Without Being at the Top of Class


The theme of success beyond academics is evident throughout the book. Why is this so important?

I’ve worked with entrepreneurs and start-ups companies for more than 15 years. I look at everything as if it’s a new
product from an unknown start-up. Kids are a product of their education and experiences. In the end, they need to sell
their product – their skills – to employers and customers. A start-up company isn’t about the product. It’s about the
business of that product. What makes a start-up succeed or fail is what’s wrapped around the product. Let’s face it; a lot
of really dumb products have been successful in the marketplace. The most advanced technical product with the best
features doesn’t necessarily win. Kids are the same way. Success is more about those secondary skills and talents, then
the core skill. It’s more about what’s surrounds the core talent. Just like start-ups, most people neglect to develop those
other skills and the necessary perspective for success. They focus exclusively on the core talent.

How do I help my teen or child discover her inner talents?

First, you have to find your talent and that’s a matter of trying new things. Once you know what you want to do then it’s
a matter of figuring out how to get there. Every year in school, teachers ask children what they want to be when they
grow up. I’ve never encountered a teacher who followed up by asking, “Now, how do you plan on doing that”? The
simple answer given by most kids is to go to school for it, but that’s vague and wishful thinking is not a plan. You need to
figure how to develop your core talent, and then you need to figure out what secondary talents you need to package it
up. For many, this may mean getting help from an adult or parent because kids or teens don’t work well in an ambiguous
planning task. It’s unlikely you’ll be able to plan to the end goal, the best most can do is to go from step A to step C. don’t
worry though, by the time you get to step C, you’ll be able to plan the next three steps. Unfortunately, we don’t teach
kids how to plan well.

What advice or encouragement can you give youth who are struggling in school?

School isn’t everything. School addresses one talent – academics. You need to have a basic level of education to function
in society, but not everyone is going to be Albert Einstein. There are many talents in this world. If your talent is art,
music, or sports, then you should develop that talent. Stop spending every waking minute studying, only to get B’s and
fall short. Your time is better spent developing your best talent then struggling to be mediocre at something that isn’t
your talent. What do you think would have become of Mozart if he were required to be a straight ‘A’ student before
practicing his music?

How does this book help youth?

It provides them with a different perspective on success. A lot of times we are told things as children that we just
accept and don’t challenge, only to find out later that they tricked us. One of my favorites is the saying, “It’s not
whether you win or lose that matters, it’s how you play the game”. No, really, winning matters. Who hires an attorney
who loses all his cases, or a doctor who never cures her patients? I encounter way too many entrepreneurs who believe
it’s all about effort – they’ve never learned how to compete. Instead of starting a business with the intent to win, they
start with the belief that they’ll give it the good, ole college try.

What are the changes going on in the world that makes this approach more important to our youth today?

As the world’s economies become more interconnected and globalization continues, our children and young adults will
need to function in an increasing hyper competitive business environment. They need to go beyond what’s taught in
their formal school setting to find their path to success. What they need to do is to develop those skills that
differentiate them from everyone else, even those academically talented individuals need to develop those extra skills
and reframe their thinking about success. It’s no different than a product. If all you have to compete on is price – in this
case, wages – you will lose in a price war. Those developing countries have a lower cost of living and hence a lower
wage base. If all you have is the core skill taught in formal schooling, then it becomes a feature race and anyone can
copy features. Think about the iPhone. It was popular.

What happened?

Other manufacturers copied it, as new
features were added to new versions, everyone else copied them too. Curriculum and course work can be easily
copied. Our children and youths need to develop those not-so-obvious and intangible skills that mean a lot to the end
result, but are not easily copied.

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