Last week I went to a talk by Ian Mason, co-founder of Virgin Startup, where he mostly proffered sound general advise about the startup business world to eager ears in the audience. He also chatted about his new education business, and when discussing the children who would benefit from his digital products, he said something that unwittingly made my jaw drop; “ you may have a bright child who does well at school and may go on to study law, and you may have not-so-bright children who might become footballers or ballet dancers.”
I was horrified. A man who is meant to assist visionary business people realise their dreams, had just given credence to the reductionist viewpoint of intelligence based on the grades children get in standardisation-obsessed schools whose relentless testing and emphasis on numerical results beat the creativity and innovation out of any child, then reward them for conformity. School grades, we are led to believe, determine a child’s intelligence. We can then pigeon-hole the child into particular career choices. No credence given to the child that envisions herself in a different way, and wholeheartedly believes she has the intelligence to match. Why don’t we support her, no matter what the education system says about her? The standardised system of education that evolved from the Prussian Model (developed in the late 18th century as an egalitarian form of education that inadvertently evolved to become preparatory centres for compliant workers in the Industrial age) won’t have a bar of it, and children’s dreams can be shattered along the way.
ADHD / ADD and Dyslexia
There are about 500,000,000 people in the world with an attention deficit disorder, which may be hyperactive or inattentive. At school, these kids are considered slow and / or stupid by their peers and an inconvenience by their teachers. Thing is, ADHD / ADD has nothing to do with intelligence. It has to do with the amount of dopamine available in certain parts of the brain. Fifteen percent of the worlds population are dyslexic, and dyslexia has nothing to do with intelligence. Richard Branson has dyslexia!
These people are capable of being lawyers, entrepreneurs, or footballers, whatever they choose. They just need a bottom-up education system. One that recognises the individual child’s psychology and teaches from their viewpoint. Not a hierarchical, one size fits all system that dictates their fate according to standardised tests. Most ‘programs’ that are supposed to ‘support’ these kids are still about funnelling them into standardisation, with the purpose of admission into a university or vocational college, or getting a job as a cog in a wheel. Or even getting into a startup program where the presence of rules is underplayed in order to give a sense of autonomy. The only helpful form of education seems to be home schooling where parents place the child’s needs at the forefront and eschew the rules on a daily basis. Dare I say, it can be helpful for the parents to do most of their kids assignments and online tests for them, because it frees up their kids time so they can shine in other ways.
Startup culture should be visionary and truly disruptive, but it so rarely is. Most startup programs encourage entrepreneurs with ideas that are incremental improvements on old ideas, or new ideas that support current societal attitudes. Nothing wrong with that, but in the rush to ‘accelerate’ these ideas so that entrepreneurs can pitch them to potential investors before everyone else, no ideas are thrashed out over time in order to allow them to evolve into something special and truly unique. The old ‘dreamer’ entrepreneurs were literally day-dreamers. They took their time to daydream and the result could be truly game changing (a term that, admittedly, is now over-used to the point of redundancy). Now people micro-dose LSD for that. Why the rush? Are we all trying to prove how ‘bright’ we are by showing everyone how fast we can go? We’re led to believe that going fast equates with intelligence. It also gives instant gratification and means we’re important and exciting. Going slow just means you’re just stupid. Who decided on these messed up rules, and why do we have to follow them?
There is no doubt that Ian Mason is a ‘bright’ man who is well versed in his field of expertise. He imparts sound advise and appropriately touts the importance of seeking meaning in work as all good business speakers should. However, I had hoped to be dazzled by a visionary thinker like his boss, Richard Branson. I had hoped to hear left-of-field, lateral thinking on this night but was underwhelmed by somewhat predictable offerings. I wanted to hear about business bringing about real societal change, specifically, where ego driven control is disbanded (and heck I don’t care if that’s through allowing AI to run government within a couple of decades, or the release of a lab produced virus that induces empathy in the DNA of all individuals!). I wanted to hear how individuals with differing mental and psychological needs will be considered as normal in the business arena as everyone else. That the Briggs Myer test will be outlawed one day so we can let these brilliant minds into our inner circles without rolling our eyes when they’re there. I wanted to discuss dangerous, society changing ideas that upset people. Above all I wanted to hear that anything’s possible, not “that’s never going to happen.”
The other part of entrepreneurship that has become a badge of honour is having multiple businesses going at once. Of course this can be a good hedging strategy should one or more of your businesses fail. Oversized egos get the added benefit of having adoring minions haplessly doing the vast body of work that multiple businesses require, while the ego-driven boss takes all the credit. We celebrate the multiple business entrepreneur with the assumption these people are ‘bright’. But how clever is it to spread yourself so thin? Isn’t it just a symptom of attention deficiency that’s become bored? Even though hundreds of staff are doing all the work, the business of busy-ness becomes the new purpose for the founder as the passion behind each new startup inevitably wanes and a shiny new one emerges.
The reality is that most people can’t truthfully keep their eyes on the eight ball with too much going on. They are doomed to failure whether professionally, personally, financially, spiritually or psychologically: the fodder of mid-life crises, relationship breakdown, business failure, job loss, and mental illness. While Richard Branson built stamina from multiple business failures, he is a rare beast, and one who started out in a very different era. Trying to emulate his path is folly in an age of online scrutiny and the pressures that follow. Busyness is not enough.
This article was written by Pip Andreas and first appeared on LinkedIn