In a global economy, where the most valuable skill you can sell is your knowledge, a good education is no longer just a pathway to opportunity. It is a pre-requisite.
So tonight I ask every American to commit to at least one year or more of higher education or career training.
You may recognize these two quotations from President Obama’s speech to Congress last week. The speech got me thinking about inspiration, and about the nature of systemic change. If someone – anyone – has a Really Big Goal – let’s even call it a “vision” – what effect can that really have?
As a classically trained musician, I’m not an authority on all the finer points of systems theory. However, I understand enough to grasp its major observation, which is: in a system, all the parts work together in synergy. It is impossible to make a change to one part of the system without causing everything else in the system to change, too. Make one tiny change, and you set in motion a dynamic process that changes everything.
In the armchair quarterbacking analysis of the President’s education initiatives, we heard from some experts who think it is flawed, impractical, impossible, too costly, is too ambitious, or didn’t go far enough. Other experts seemed to be all for the plan. I don’t think the President was speaking to the media analysts or the experts. I think he was trying to strike a chord with other visionaries, people who can ask imaginative questions.
- What would it take for the U.S. to be a leading competitor in the world economy?
- What would the U.S. be like if a majority of citizens had training or education beyond high school?
Since it’s a system, each question leads to other questions, perhaps more interesting than the questions I have posed. To me, the biggest question is not “How can we get more people to graduate from college?” or “How can we train teachers for better outcomes for our children?” What if we also began to ask, “How can we spark curiosity as a character trait? How do we support curiosity and creativity in people of all ages? How can we encourage life-long learning, inside and outside of formal, traditional educational settings?
The UP Experience is one place where these questions are asked. The UP Experience surpasses any notion you may have about continuing education, training, or seminars. It’s truly a place where everyone is curious, solution-oriented, and overwhelmingly positive. At The UP Experience, you get to hear from innovators and visionaries who took their curiosity and creativity and applied it at a high level within a very specialized domain. The “miracle” of The UP Experience is that your concept of a specialized domain will explode. Each Unique Perspective is relevant, applicable to your life, and inspires you to look deeper. “I never thought about that! Where can I use this? How can I innovate? How does this affect me? What will I do now?”
At the first UP Experience, in 2008, each speaker gave me a view into a world I could never have imagined. Ray Kurzweil reached into his pocket, and showed us the prototype of a device a little larger than a cell phone, that photographs a page from a book, then processes it into audio, almost instantly. Conceived as a device to aid the blind, the earlier version was the size of a washing machine. Rich Baraniuk, from Rice University, showed instantly update-able textbooks via the internet and his project, Connexions. Christine Ehlig-Economides showed video animations of futuristic transportation solutions for the Houston commute. Malcolm Gladwell told an interesting story about Picasso and Cezanne, about Fleetwood Mac and today’s music industry. Then, he said,
We’ve somehow gotten it into our heads that unless something pays off really quickly, and shows immediate dividends, that it isn’t of any value. That is a profoundly dangerous idea.
Shawn Achor talked about the business benefits of happiness, and Sir Ken Robinson talked about imagination. The Microsoft Surface tabletop technology was unveiled, and much, much more. The lineup for UP 2009 is similarly mind-blowing. The UP Experience goes beyond anything you’d think of as “education.” It is a setting for LEARNING, for innovation, for finding solutions and sharing community.
I get excited when I think about the systemic effects of The UP Experience. Each speaker, each participant is working in a specialized domain, yet is interconnected. How will understanding shame and empathy change our business climate, our educational system, our family dynamics? How will listening to talks about astrophysics, string theory, social media, and neuroscience change anything? You never know. But it will. It has to.