The Satisfaction of Building Something

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I originally wrote this article on Medium, a place I like to share my thoughts from time to time.

My entire life I considered myself a business / marketing / idea guy. I came up with ideas and I’d find someone to build them.With their development expertise and my marketing talents, I thought we would be months away from the next big thing.

That couldn’t be farther from the truth.

A little over a year ago I came to the realization that not only could I not build anything, but I couldn’t even speak the right language. Try having a technical conversation with a developer when you have little to no development experience.

Not fun.

This was my fight or flight moment. Either throw my hands up and give in or get to work and do something about it.

Thankfully I chose the latter.

In eight short weeks, I taught myself the basics of HTML, CSS, Javascript, and Objective-C. I wasn’t going to build the next great iPhone app or social network, but I could carry on an intelligent conversation with developers.

That was my first success story.

For a year, I was pleased with my accomplishment and relished the opportunity to “talk nerdy” with anyone willing to listen. However, soon feelings of self-doubt began creeping into my brain.

Could I actually put my newly acquired skills to work? Could I build something of value, rather than just explain it to someone else in technical terms?

Push came to shove and I had to find out!

Last week I finished building my first website from scratch. Not only was I successful, but I was able to sell it to a local business.

Someone saw value in what I had built. Not bad for the first try.

The biggest reward was not financial though. The feeling of self-satisfaction that I had was overwhelming. I had taken a weakness and taught myself a skill to address it. By no means am I some super ninja coder — I just know enough to build value and get the job done.

Now that the ball is rolling, I don’t want to stop. Next up will be my first web app. I’m sure there will be challenges that lay ahead.

As long as I keep the mantra “Build value and keep learning”, I think I will be just fine.

The Google Generation

It amazes me how many people tell me daily that they don’t know something. There are even more people who tell me that they don’t have certain skill sets. While I commend them on their honesty, I want to smack them upside the head.

Free access to information around the world.

Free access to information around the world.

Anyone over the age of 6 knows about Google and other search engines. If you don’t know  something – Google it. If you don’t have a skill set – Google it. If you can’t find a specific resource – Google it. This one website (and it’s competitors) have revolutionized the way that we interact with information. You can explore the world from your living room.

Free access to information is changing the world. Those that learn to harness the “power of search” will reap the rewards. Those that ignore the paradigm shift are already being left behind. Forget formal education, forget your parent’s advice, stop the damn madness and go Google it!

5 Ideas For Disrupting The Education Industry

As an entrepreneur I am always thinking about the future. What will come next, what can I do to improve our product, or what is the next market trend? One industry is on the verge of disruption: Education. This industry disruption has the potential to be the most important to date. While Apple has changed the way we interact with technology and Square or Dwolla are changing the way we conduct monetary transactions, a disruption in education could fundamentally change learning and how we interact.

The education industry covers a wide range of areas which makes this trend even more interesting. Although most people immediately think of books, classroom supplies, and teacher development, we can not forget about public/private sector financing for education (Kindergarten – College), collaborative learning vs independent learning, or even early childhood education that occurs before children reach “school age.”

Here are the 5 areas that I am most excited to see progress over the next 10 years in the world of education:

1. How we pay – As I already mentioned, this concerns both the public and private sector. Many local and state government budgets are overwhelmed with expenses for education. Most people will spend whatever is needed since this issue is important but look for startups to begin attempting to lower the costs to public organizations, ultimately lowering government spending. The private sector, particularly college, is even worse. Since when should a student pay $55,000 a year to learn? A few companies are already addressing this through online education (ex: Khan Academy) but I expect crowd-funding student scholarships to be an emerging market while other startups simultaneously attack the tuition side of the equation.

2. When we learn – In our global economy children are being taught more information at an earlier age. I expect the US to try to keep pace with this trend. Special preschools are beginning to pop up that introduce children to that global economy but look for more software and technology to be devoted to young children (2-5 years old). Scary to think that the standard may be that a student knows how to read, along with do addition and subtraction before they enter kindergarten.

3. How we learn – This space is quickly becoming crowded. Technology has already made its way into the classroom and many people are racing to find the most effective way to utilize it. From very creative approaches to completely flipping the classroom, teachers are having their eyes opened to the possibilities of the future. No longer will school be boring and useless. Imagine a world where our children go to school, play games all day and learn? Get ready because it is coming.

4. How we measure learning – In the current model a student receives arbitrary grades based on a number of factors that do not pertain to their knowledge. The smartest kid in the classroom could receive a ‘C’ after they got a 100% on the homework but turned it in 2 days late. I am a huge proponent of discipline and accountability but I suspect that this grading system will get revamped. This same model also leads to the idea of a college degree being essential in the job market. The focus is currently on the piece of paper more than on the knowledge obtained while chasing the piece of paper. I expect a shift in this thinking to a system that measures and analyzes the actual knowledge a student holds.

5. How we interact with others – Today in classrooms it is against the rules to share ideas. Don’t even think about working together on a big test… but once you get out in the ‘real world’ you will be eaten alive if you try to make it alone. More and more schools are beginning to adopt project-based learning that allows students to work together and collaborate. Watch for an integration with presentations/public speaking to have a profound impact on the creativity, audacity, and confidence in our students as well. Everyone knows teamwork is essential and I expect the classroom to figure it out soon too.

These trends are just the beginning. The education industry is attractive to so many entrepreneurs because of the large market and the social impact that can be made. Some people are driven by profits but others are driven by improving financial literacy. My hope in writing this post is that more people begin to see this opportunity and attack it. If we can innovate the way we teach and learn than we can begin to solve existing problems, prepare for future ones, and maybe even have a little bit of fun along the way.

Have you seen innovation in education that you are impressed by? What areas do you hope will change in the next 5-10 years? Share your thoughts and ideas below!

“I Don’t Know” Is The Wrong Answer

Remember a time when you wanted to do something but you didn’t have the knowledge to execute the task? This occurs to many people throughout their lives. The common response is something along the lines of “Oh well….I wish I knew how to do that.” But successful people decide to overcome the obstacle and accomplish the task through learning.

These people who do not let a knowledge barrier get in their way are usually the same people who become famous for their accomplishments. Mark Cuban spent every night reading computer software manuals because he figured no one else had the discipline to do it and he would become the most knowledgeable software salesman in the industry. He turned out alright. Bill Gates is notorious for spending so much time reading that he has begun to do it in odd places (even spotted reading and driving!). What I am trying to get at is that “If you don’t know something, go learn it!”

While most people dream of a day when they can pay someone to carry out a task for them without having to try to accomplish it themselves, many will never see this day. About four years ago I decided I was going to begin to take the route least traveled. Each week I pick one subject or area of expertise that I am unknowledgeable in and try to learn as much about it as I can. It can be anything from business to education to science or even sports. This weekly challenge has been step one in my program to acquire knowledge. Step two is to read two different books a month. I must admit that step one is much easier than step two!

The bottom line is that if you don’t know an answer or don’t know how to do something, it is very beneficial to go learn about it. Not only will it help in the current situation but many times you will run into the same issue in the future. In order to apply knowledge you must first gather it. If you can foster a love for learning you will accomplish many things in life. The foundation is crucial, don’t be lazy and wait for someone else. Your future is in your hands, what will you do with it?

60 Minutes on Khan Academy

I have written about Khan Academy before. This is the future of education. Free for anyone, anywhere. It is effective in the classroom because it allows for more one on one interaction with the teacher, while also shifting the role of the teacher to more of a facilitator. Teachers love it, students love it, schools love it, you should love it. Begin learning today at http://www.khanacademy.org!

You Were Raised to Be an Entrepreneur and Didn’t Realize It

http://under30ceo.com/how-to-create-the-next-bill-gates/

This article lays out a great plan for subtle ways a parent can teach business skills to children. Thinking back to my childhood, I disliked most of these tasks described. Little did I know that they were merely training for later in life.

Did you ever participate in any of these activities? Did your parents “force” you to do things that ended up being beneficial? Leave a comment with your stories and experiences below!