Many of you are reading this blog post on a smart phone after it was posted to a blog that was promoted via social media that has been optimized by algorithms and big data. However, just ten years ago, most of these words were not yet part of our daily use. The iPhone itself has only been around for 11 years so far. For many, this is an exciting time where the pace of change is unimaginably fast. But for those of us with young children, we are faced with the daunting question of how do we prepare our kids for this rapidly changing future.
Consider two well known American companies: IBM and Apple. Both are technology companies, both make great products. But Apple has a very clear “why” which is embodied in its slogan “Think Different.” Its purpose is to help people who create or are a little different. So when Apple decided to expand into the music industry, with iTunes and the iPod, no one questioned the move. But now imagine IBM. What if they announce tomorrow that they’re getting into the music industry? Everyone would be so confused. After all, IBM is a computer company. It has a clear “what” (it makes computers) but not a clear “why” so it can never move beyond computers.
In the same way that having a clearly defined WHY allows Apple to be flexible and fundamentally change what it does, people who have a clearly defined WHY are also able to change and authentically engage with any WHAT.
But this is a lot easier said than done. To many, the natural way to prepare for an uncertain future is to do a little of everything to try and cover all of the bases. This is why so many kids today are playing three sports, two instruments, painting, singing, president of MUN, and taking as many AP classes as their schedule can hold. But this approach can only answer the question “WHAT do I do?”
Specializing > Generalizing
To teach students how to find their own why, we need an entirely different approach. Instead of spreading out and trying a little bit of everything, a why requires focus, depth, and real experience. This is because a why must connect with a person’s core and that connection cannot form with only shallow superficial interaction.
So what does this look like? Instead of doing ten different extracurricular activities that aren’t particularly meaningful, do just one that is personally significant. If you’re really interested in cooking, then stop filling your schedule with all those other activities and spend some serious time in the kitchen. Next, instead of engaging with that activity casually or just as a hobby, take it to the next level and begin to do it the way a professional would. You could sign up for a French cooking class or join a meetup of young professional chefs.
But the hardest part of this is to decide where to start. After all, cutting down on your activities is an incredibly scary idea if you aren’t confident that you’ve found the one thing that you want to keep doing. At The Spike Lab, we follow a simple framework for getting started.
What do you like?
At the most basic level, your why must be something that you like. No one ever became passionate about something that they detested. This can be something you already have a lot of experience in, but it can also be something that you’re just curious about.
- If you were asked to create and teach a new class for your school, what would your new class be about?
- If you could trade jobs with any two people, who would they be and why?
What are you good at?
Your skills are also an important factor to consider. If your why is all about helping girls and women get into computer programming but you don’t know anything about coding, then it’s not going to work very well.
- What are your skills?
- What are your character traits?
What does the world need?
This is where the focus begins to shift outward. A strong why is bigger than the individual and connects with something meaningful.
- What is a problem that you want to solve?
- What is a group you want to help?
One of the most important things about “why” is that it is not discovered, it is developed. Too often we think about it in binary terms: you either have it or you do not. But the truth is that every person who is known to be passionate had to develop that passion over time. The framework introduced in this blog post outlines the very first step to that development process, but to really find your why, serious time and effort are required. After doing this exercise, some students might launch a startup while others might do some more research and learning. The possibilities are endless, but the most important thing is to start right away.
So as parents and educators, our goal is no longer just about the accumulation of knowledge or awards, but to guide our students on their way towards finding their own why. In a world where the content of classroom lessons can be found for free with a quick Google search, it is more important to inspire students with the drive and the will to learn.
The world is changing faster than ever and this next generation needs the flexibility to adapt to those changes. So what are you waiting for?