The ‘Kernel,’ Your Community’s Cross-Generational Makerspace Ecosystem

“Beth Jacob is a New Orleans architect and historian whose research specializes in the historic preservation and adaptive reuse of New Orleans’ public markets. Jacob found that these markets and public spaces did more than just offer a space for communities to buy staples. They were true neighborhood places that served as anchors that attracted other businesses to the area as well as providing a physical space for civic discussion.”

These community oases, such as the public markets described above by Beth Jacob, won’t create themselves. In fact any community based effort is competition and will face obstacles put in front of it from big business and very often local government compliant in their activities. It’ll take a concerted effort by all residents of the community, young and old. In my previous piece I discussed the need for us to “Bridge the Gap” between generations as a vehicle for community and societal sustainability. Now it’s time to become pragmatic.

“We can’t just ignore the fact that our generations aren’t connecting and it’s hurting our ourselves and our communities. However disconnected we are today, it will probably be even more in the future. Change isn’t slowing down. And we can’t just wish or legislate away this divide. We have to make a concerted effort to connect the ages – for everyone’s benefit. We have to create the environments and situations that accommodate and nurture these connections.

Imagine if we lived in communities where “shared generational experiences” were a priority. These communities would have abundance of opportunities for “shared experiences; serendipitous opportunities for the young and old to enter each other’s “experience worlds, worlds where the mentee could also do the mentoring. We can do it. And I described in my previous piece, we don’t need a Lady Gaga reaching out to a Tony Bennett on every corner in each of our communities and neighborhoods. We just have to give serendipitous encounters some space to happen.”

But to do this we need to expand our minds to the definition of what these spaces can be. Public markets are just one type of these ‘spaces.’

What this bridging of generations will do is form the foundation for the re-building of the ‘Middle Ring’ housing the melting pot that innovation needs to percolate. And we have a movement, or should I say a mindset, afoot right now that may well prove to the perfect vehicle for this foundation, the makerspace.

A makerspace is a community-operated workspace where people with common interests, often in computers, machining, technology, science, or art can meet, socialize and collaborate. In general, makerspaces function as centers for peer learning and knowledge sharing, in the form of workshops, presentations, and lectures. They usually also offer social activities for their members, such as game nights and parties. Makerspaces function as open community labs incorporating elements of machine shops, workshops and/or studios where makers can come together to share resources and knowledge to build and make things.

“Bridging the Gap” through film and 3D printing

“With one somber PBS documentary and a second project about “negative addictions” under his belt, William D. Caballero wanted to lighten the mood for his next film. That’s when he started giving a close listen to the rambling phone messages left by his Puerto Rican grandfather. “I’d laugh and play them for my friends,” Caballero recalls. “I realized I should do something with the voice mails because I felt like my grandpa’s messages had a universal quality that anybody could identify with.”

But instead of crafting a conventional documentary portrait of the colorful old man, Caballero twisted technologies, including 3D printing, to his own filmmaking ends and made the hilariously charming “How You Doin’ Boy?”

With his 3D printed inch-tall protagonist primed for action, Caballero drove from his New Jersey home to North Carolina and shot the short film’s co-star: a 20th-century rotary dial telephone, in his grandfather’s house. As a final touch, Caballero used Flash software to transform his grandfather’s handwriting samples into a custom font that spells out voice messages on screen.”

Technology is often a great divider amongst generations. But it doesn’t have to be. Technology is nothing but a means to an end. And it’s this that can be the common ground that connects people regardless of age. Remember the workshops of our fathers and grandfathers, and the tinkering that went on there? It was the same with our grandmothers and their crafts. How many grandparents homes aren’t adorned with needlepoint on the walls. Our grandparents didn’t buy art, they made it.

Bill Zimmer, a middle-aged software engineer at the Asylum in New York City, says that what’s going on in the maker movement would be more familiar to denizens of the year 1900 than any period since, because manufacturing is not only being domesticated — it’s being democratized.

Makerspaces aren’t a new thing, they’re an old thing. They’re that old shoe box on the top shelf of the basement closet that you’ve now figured out there’s a lot of interesting stuff in it – stuff that is surprisingly relevant today. Regardless of age, boys and girls like to make things, just like their grandparents do. Why don’t we create a ‘space’ where they can do it together? And let’s make it a space where one can mentor the other.

The older generations can teach the younger generations on the basics and history of ‘making things.’ And then the younger ones can teach their surrogate grandparents on how to bring these basics into the year 2015 through technology advances.

A makerspace should be a community serendipity hub where collaborative ideas can turn into real life things. And the more generationally inclusionary your makerspace is … the more your community will benefit from it.

This ‘space’ can be the seed of the “Bridging the Gap” initiative. We need a ‘Kernel’ … a space where things can grow – physically and sociologically.

chaos

A cross-generational co-creating ‘space’ where everything and everyone is a project

Imagine your community having a ‘space’ where everyone is welcome regardless of age, wealth or any other differentiating factor. Your ‘Kernel, would be a place where things happen, not just talked about. Your ‘Kernel’ is a ‘space’ where people come together under common goals, working together. Imagine your ‘Kernel’ being your community’s hub … a place where anytime of the day of night – things would be discovered, transformed and created.

Imagine your ‘Kernel’ being a makerspace not unlike a modern-day version of your grandfather’s shop – only where the skills and knowledge of yesterday are synthesized with the technology of today. Imagine your ‘Kernel’ being craft center much like you’d see in grandmother’s spare bedroom when you visited her, filled with yarn, paints, fabric and any other material you’d need to ‘make things’ you’d end up taking home to hang on your wall.

Imagine your ‘Kernel’ being a ‘space’ where the smells of its latest culinary concoctions emanate from its doors and windows, all created in a  physical melting pot representative of the metaphorical melting pot making up your community’s residents; young and old, male and female, rich and poor. And all these creations are started right there at your ‘Kernel’ in its greenhouse and gardens. And of course what isn’t eaten of premise is delivered to your community’s unfortunate and those most in need.

“The greatest good you can do for another is not just share your riches, but to reveal to him his own.” ~ Benjamin Disraeli

Your ‘Kernel’ must be about help, cohesion and collaboration. Every member of your community in unique and adds to its social and intellectual fabric. And every member of your community has gifts, talents and resources to offer. Sometimes they are evident to those who possess them. But often they’re not. It’s at this time when it’s up to you and your fellow community members to uncover them and expose these talents to the light so all can see them and benefit.

All too often people treat the knowledge and expertise as possessions to be kept close. It’s up us to show them it’s better for this knowledge to be is spread throughout their community … especially to the young. Your ‘Kernel’ should act as a nexus for these mentoring activities. Research indicates that community centers, even in much lesser forms than what I propose here with the ‘Kernel,’ provide young people with a physical and emotional safe haven. These ‘spaces’ result in higher levels of self-esteem and confidence for its participants than any other social settings including family and school.

“Small opportunities are often the beginning of great enterprises” ~ Demosthenes (384 BC – 322 BC)

Mentoring and guidance in your ‘Kernel’ need not be limited to the young though. Consider your ‘Kernel’ an “Idea Farm” where through collaboration and expertise sharing, pipe dreams turn into community entrepreneurial ventures. Consider your community’s ‘Kernel’ a technical innovation hub where it’s power is derived from solar and clean energy. And the tools available for creative endeavours include 3D printing technologies, laser cutters, screen printers, electronic lathes and all the latest software to run them. And imagine everyone, regardless of age having access and teaching other.

Gugnad (Norwegian): Unpaid voluntary, orchestrated community work.

View your community’s ‘Kernel’ not just a technical incubator, but also one for social innovation. Imagine a social hub where organization, groups and individuals can come together under no auspices of hierarchy to create a new evolution of community involvement and betterment … a hybrid or sorts. And these ideas being shared amongst other ‘Kernels’ throughout the world.

Your community’s ‘Kernel’ should be a melding of librarians, civic leaders, students, professors, union members and trades people. It should combine high teachers with grade school students and grade school teachers with high school students. It should mix small business owners with the unfortunate who make their way via the streets and shelters along with the retired. And your ‘Kernel’ can even bring government and elected officials into the mix … as long as they understand their position is no higher or their influence no more than anyone else.

It’s impossible to calculate the effect your ‘Kernel’ will have on your community. The old will transfer their valuable professional and life skills to the young who are so in need of them. These same young will in turn have a ‘space’ where they can focus their attention and their dreams, other than biding time waiting for the other shoe to fall – standing on the street corner.

Your community will turn into one of a problem solving mentality where everything is a resource and waste has been truncated to a ‘four letter word.’ ‘Resource Maximization’ will be imprinted in the minds of everyone. The elderly, rather focusing only on their next doctor’s appointment, will be exercising their minds, their bodies and the most of all … their spirits. And they’ll be doing all of it in an outwardly community benevolent fashion rather than just holed in their home obsessing about their personal condition.

Your community will be revitalized. New businesses will be created. Not those derived from Wall Street chains and franchises, but ones of ideas born in your community and run by people from your community. And these will be the businesses that provide the genesis for the future to build on – ensuring its legacy and prosperity.

Old building

The concept of ‘Resource Maximization’ should not start once the walls of your ‘Kernel’ have been constructed. It must start at the very beginning. Assume traditional methods of financing won’t be available. Assume bids will be irrelevant, let alone the lowest one. Your ‘Kernel’ is about community and the resources it has available. Create your ‘Kernel’ with materials that are indigenous to your community’s locale using what’s at its disposal. And most of all … assume money is not first priority, but only the last resort when all other acquisition options have been tried and exhausted.

Your ‘Kernel’ should be a co-op venture between property owner and tenant. Rather than relying on old the “fallback” of the two-year lease with set rental rates, landowners should participate in the success of the ‘Kernel.’ This success can be defined in returns on joint ventures created in the facility, or it could be participation on monthly users fees by members of the ‘Kernel’those not on scholarship because of age (young or old) or waivers due to income restrictions.

Schools and existing community buildings could co-oped. In return the landlords would get use of the facility for projects they would otherwise be able to do. Your ‘Kernel’ could even act a recruiting firm for local businesses in need of talent. A business could pay a retainer for access to contract expertise and mentoring generated by your ‘Kernel’ or a contingency is a member referred to them is hired full-time.

“Start your own personal industrial revolution” ~ Mark Hatch, CEO TechShop

Your ‘Kernel’ is an ‘opportunity ecosystem.’ It is the physical manifestation of my community employment platform, Community 3.0. It provides a ‘prototype’ cross-generational, cross-collar, entrepreneurial learning Hub for smaller communities and neighborhoods in larger communities.

Your community’s empowerment starts with a seed … it starts with a ‘Kernel.

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You can follow me on Twitter at @clayforsberg and on Google+

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A Pothole in the ‘Road to My Perfect World’

“Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.” – Charles R. Swindoll

Twenty years ago I coined the phrase ‘On the Road to Your Perfect World’ (which is the name of this blog). I was recruiting at the time and wanted a way to describe the journey my candidates would go on during their professional and personal lives. Rather than always looking at the ‘end game’ or the destination, I wanted them to look at their careers as a journey and each step an experience that should be appreciated on its own right. Experiences are to be savored, not just looked at as another vehicle to more money or the next possession.

During my time on this earth I’d like to believe I’ve had my share of memorable experiences. I had the opportunity to raise a great daughter, one who has turned out to be a very interesting and unique young woman. Alex is first and foremost my number one source of wonderful memories.

Also I’ve done a lot of cool things professionally. I promoted rock bands to get me through college. I learned how to program by delving into alternative energy in the early ’80s (which I still use today). I published commercial art and printing directories while thoroughly immersing myself into an industry I never thought I’d even dabble in. This immersion would end up occupying a major part of my life as I transitioned into representing the industry’s talent, guiding them in their careers as a headhunter. These fifteen years as a recruiter gifted me an enormous amount of insight into people and their relations, professional and personal.

I’ve lived in some great places, even including a tent for three years. While being homeless might not be considered great by most – for me it exposed me to wide breadth of people who have made me a much more empathetic and whole person. These experiences I wouldn’t trade for anything.

And now I’m on the final stages of putting together my most significant professional venture to date. Community 3.0 is a community empowerment platform that I hope will change the way we civically interact with each – as well as provide ‘Main Street’ with the tools it needs to survive against the onslaught of Wall Street and our governments compliant in their actions.

While by no means has the ride been smooth, but nor should it be. What do they say, scars create character. Or as I mentioned in my bio, “it’s like a ‘box of chocolates, sometimes it’s good and … well sometimes, it’s like those awful ones with the cherries in them.” (Kind of a variation on the Forrest Gump thing.)

pothole

Well last week I hit a pothole on the Road to my Perfect World.’ Not one of those that pisses you off, but rather one where you bottom out and then you pull over to see if your car is still together.

Last Tuesday I was diagnosed with cancer, specifically Lymphoma. My body is producing about twenty times the white blood cells it should … for no reason (except that I have cancer). I don’t need to go into detail on the specifics other than that. Today I begin chemotherapy, a process that initially will take about five months.

I had cancer once before, soft tissue type in my leg twenty years ago. Specifically, I was operated on the day of the Rodney King Riots in Los Angeles, where I happened to live at the time. (That’s a whole another story.) But this one is different. It won’t be eradicated by one three-hour surgery and then three hours after that I’m home. This time the specter could be hanging around for a while.

What are you supposed to do when you’re told you have cancer? Call your family and friends I suppose. I talked to my daughter, which was extremely hard. Alex and I are close and I worry (maybe unnecessarily so) about how she’ll feel if something happens to me. I’m helping out my parents here in Montana so they found out right away – since it directly affects them. And then after my treatment was set up I talked to my sister, Christy, in Nebraska.

IMG_452621624

Billings Clinic – my new home away from home

But more so, how are you supposed to feel? What’s the proper reaction? I suppose it’s different for each person and each prognosis (That’s such an ominous word. I get images of the grim reaper in a black robe just waiting to call my name.) Fortunately my prognosis is good.

For a while I sat back and took inventory on my life and tried to figure out whether I did this to myself and what I could have done differently. There’s no point in beating myself up now though. Obsessing on it is counterproductive. At present my health is good (aside from the obvious). I eat well, work out, don’t have any bad habits (anymore) – and have a copious amount energy. I just happen to have ticking time bomb inside me.

I’m not sad or depressed. I’m not mad (well at least not much). And I’m sure not going to get all religious. I’m well aware what’s going on and there’s really not a lot I can do about it. When I got the diagnosis they gave me a folder of stuff to read and places I can call for support. I really don’t want to call anyone else though. I’m not looking to commiserate or don’t want any ‘I’m sorry this is happening to you’ condolences. I know this works for some people … but not for me. If anything – I’m motivated.

Alex told me about a couple of books I should read while getting my chemo treatments. She said I shouldn’t worry about anything but getting well. And I shouldn’t try to multi-task since it doesn’t work anyway (which is true).

Regardless of whether I should or shouldn’t be doing anything else … I probably will. To me everything is a project. And just because a new project lands on the plate doesn’t mean all the other ones need to be pushed aside. Resources just need to be reallocated and timetables need to be adjusted. I have things to do.

Once my diagnosis came in and my insurance company approved my treatment … it was on to the planning stage. My normal physical routine will probably need to be adjusted after the chemo starts, so it’s been full-on for the last few days. Any of my normal tasks that can be done, either for myself or my parents (being a pseudo-caregiver) need be done now before my energy level wains. The last couple days have been filled with yard work and cleaning as well as planting my garden (my kale and herbs can’t suffer just because of me getting cancer).

Hopefully chemo doesn’t affect my mental acuity. Maybe my brain won’t be focused as normal, but it is what it is. I would guess that distraction is a pretty normal side effect. But it can’t be any worse than the last couple weeks waiting to find out what ails me and whether or not it’ll put me in financial ruin (which I found it won’t). I was going to post a follow-up to my last blog piece, ‘Bridging the Gap’, this week (Part Five of the series). Hopefully it’ll come out next week.

Alice in Wonderland

But all that is just logistics. How my life agenda (personal and professional) is affected is really just resources allocation. This whole cancer thing is just another experience (a big one nonetheless). And our experiences shape who we are. I’m very curious to see what cerebral rabbit hole this one will take me down. I have no idea what synaptic connections will be forged – manifesting from the depths of places I have no idea even existed. I’m sure my perspective on things; past, present and future will be altered. At least I hope it will be. I’d hate to think I’m so emotionally detached that something like this won’t have an effect on me.

It should be an interesting ride.

“I may not be well … but I’m doing well.”

“Bridging the Gap”

“Torii Hunter was drafted by the Minnesota Twins back in 1993, and his first two spring trainings happened to coincide with Kirby Puckett’s final two years in the majors in 1994 and 1995. As a high school kid out of Arkansas, Hunter soaked up as much knowledge as he could from the future Hall of Famer. Whether it was about baseball or life, Puckett was quick to offer advice to the young Hunter.

“He was my guy, seriously. He was the guy that in spring training he always took me out,” Hunter recalls. “I called him constantly to try to figure out different things. He was there for me. He didn’t have to pick up the phone. He did pick up the phone. I’d call him and tell him what my problem is, whether it’s finances, family or baseball. He was there for me.”

Now Hunter finds himself on the other side of the teacher-pupil relationship as he returns to Minnesota. The Twins signed the 39-year-old veteran this winter after he spent the last seven years with the Angels and Tigers. Minnesota believes he can still be a productive member of the lineup and someone who will get a decent amount of playing time in right field, but his ability to mentor the team’s younger players was also appealing.”

Hunter makes a leaping catch

Being a huge Minnesota Twins fan, the re-addition of Torii Hunter to the club was wonderful news. I lived in downtown Minneapolis in the late ’80s and attended thirty games during the Twins 1987 World Series championship run. I took advantage of the being able to walk to the Metrodome. And having Torii Hunter, one of the really good guys in baseball come back to mentor one of the youngest teams in the big leagues is a godsend for the Twins and their fans.

Unfortunately we don’t see enough of this anymore. In past societies, especial indigenous ones, mentoring and the ‘passing of the torch’ was not only commonplace … it was mandatory behavior for the senior generations. Communities looked towards the preservation of the “tribe” and that meant educating the younger generation to continue the tribal social lineage.

While Torii Hunter is only a generations removed from his younger teammates, mentoring and tutelage can be spread across a divide of two generations or more. There seems to be a natural connection between grandparents and grandkids. I don’t know why this, but often the bond is stronger than between the grandparent and their adult children. Unfortunately though, this ‘natural connection’ this doesn’t often seem to transfer over other people’s grandkids. In fact, much of the time, it’s just the opposite.

‘Young people’ and ‘old people’ don’t have much in common anymore

Racial and religious differences get most of the attention in the media and in social discussions, but the age divide is probably a deeper and more pronounced obstacle. The rapid-fire pace of societal and technological change is seemingly making much of the past obsolete. The value of passing information from generation to generation does not appear as relevant today as it used to be. ‘Young people’ and ‘old people’ don’t have much in common anymore.

Even a couple of decades ago, we saw young people step into their parents or grandparents roles at companies. Older relatives helped younger ones get on with a company, especially in manufacturing. Nepotism on the factory floor was not only allowed, it was condoned and expected.

The work world has changed though. Jobs are not life-long as they once were. There is no guarantee your employer will even be around – let alone your job. The preoccupation with efficiency and automation has rendered job security a relic of the past. With retirement savings shrinking, older workers are more concerned with keeping the jobs they have rather than grooming the next generation to take over for them. Younger workers are often viewed as a threat, and the secrets of the trade are looked at as an asset to be protected, rather than wisdom to be shared. Ivy league schools have even created new degree programs for executive retirees enabling them to transition into new careers. These are exactly the people at the exact time of their life that should be mentoring their successors … not clogging up the professional pipeline.

And this lack of connection (and often animosity) in the workplace has spilled over into our streets and in our communities. Generations don’t mingle. Differences in political views, social norms and technological aptitude have created a generational gap of epic proportions.

And if the economics and technical change isn’t enough, we have unprecedented divide and animus between political parties. And as one would expect, allegiances often fall along generational lines – with the Republican party representing the elderly, the status quo or worse yet the return to “past times behind;” and the Democratic party representing the young, change and the future (generally speaking). The recent fervor over a potentially discriminatory bill against the LGBT community passed in the Arkansas legislature highlighted this. During a press conference Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson proclaimed the issue of gay rights to be one of difference in generational opinions. He also mentioned his son signed a petition urging him not to sign the bill – of which fortunately he didn’t.  Add cable news networks and their political agendas, primarily Fox News, led by Williams Ayers, Ronald Reagan’s former communication strategist – and the waters of the chasm become unnavigable.

Cross-generational cooperation is not an option … it is a necessity

This ‘gap’ has created a lack understanding of each other’s generation. I don’t believe this is the goal of either though. This happens mainly because of lack of exposure and the misinformation it generates. There are few points of interaction between different generations, physical or online. There are no ‘spaces’ where serendipitous social exchange can happen. Even actual polling places in some states are going the way of the dinosaurs. I went into great detail in an earlier piece on the deterioration of the ‘Middle Ring’ and phenomenon of neighborhood connection. Neighborhoods have lost their function as the ‘Front Porch’ of civic discourse – one that neighbors of different ages can exchange stories and ideas – and help each other out. 

The fastest going city in the country is a retirement community outside of Orlando, Florida. And they don’t allow kids. It’s kind of hard to get any cross-generational interaction when you literally don’t even have to see anyone from the generation you’re supposed to be interacting with.

I don’t mean to putting blame on the older generations though. There’s plenty of it to go around. I used to mow lawns in the summer when I was a teenager. That doesn’t happen here where I live. Older people either do it themselves, or when they can’t anymore they move to a place where there isn’t any lawn to mow. I find this odd considering the huge untapped market with the proportionately high elderly population and kids always needing money. I maybe the ‘youngsters’ can’t be bothered. Or maybe it’s the ‘oldsters’ being too proud to ask. I don’t know. I haven’t tried to find out. Apparently I’m part of the problem too, or at least not the solution … yet!

Aside from nurturing the underlying tensions, we are missing out on the ‘carrying on’ of traditions and skills. Look at the lost potential we leave on the table because of all this disconnect and distrust. Once these connections are broken, often they can never be repaired – and these traditions and skills are lost forever. Do we really want this?

Back a hundred years a community had to look after itself, the young and the old. They had no choice. Their survival was at stake. They didn’t have the sophisticated market system of exchange spanning unseen geographies nor live in the relative luxury we do now. They just had themselves. And with age expectancy increasing and the Millennial generation being smaller than the retiring Boomer generation was at this time in their lives, we have a ticking time bomb. Cross-generational cooperation will not be an option … it’ll be a necessity.

“The greatest good you can do for another is not just share your riches, but to reveal to him his own.” ~ Benjamin Disraeli

Neither generation sees the need or value in the other. What a loss. But fortunately there are signs of hope. The recent Lady Gaga, Tony Bennett collaboration being a visible one. But there are few. And just the fact that it garnered so much attention is sad in itself.

What made this collaboration work is that they had a “shared experience.” They shared what I call an “experience world,” making music from the ’50s. Lady Gaga stepped into the musical world of Tony Bennett. The significance of Gaga’s effort cannot be understated. But that had to happen to make their collaboration. With her more adaptable mind, she was the natural candidate to initiate it.

I had a similar experience while I was attending college in North Dakota. It was 1980 and my father was involved with a company that marketed and installed solar and wind energy systems. This was during the first alternative energy boom with oil price being at all-time highs. My dad relentlessly pushed me join him in his ‘solar world.’ After a year and a half … I finally relented.

I sold systems with him, wrote an economic feasibility program that ran on the university’s mainframe computer, and even wrote and sponsored a Net Billing energy bill in the North Dakota legislature. But even with this involvement … I was still in my dad’s world.

At the time I was young and my mind was malleable, like Lady Gaga’s. The result was a connection that is still strongly intact after thirty years. And now with the resurgence of solar and wind energy – this “experience world” we shared is once again relevant … to both of us.

Imagine communities where “shared generational experiences” were a priority

We can’t just ignore the fact that our generations aren’t connecting. It’s hurting our ourselves and our communities. However disconnected we are today, it will probably be even more so in the future. Change isn’t slowing down. And we can’t just wish or legislate away this divide. We have to make a concerted effort to connect the ages – for everyone’s benefit. We have to create environments and situations that accommodate and nurture these connections.

Imagine if we lived in communities where “shared generational experiences”were a priority. These communities would have abundance of opportunities for“shared experiences:” serendipitous opportunities for the young and old to enter each other’s “experience worlds” – worlds where the mentee could also do the mentoring. We can do it. And we don’t have to have a Lady Gaga on every corner. We just have to give serendipity a space to happen.

Our communities need to create opportunities for the diverse to connect around a common activity, purpose or goal. And this has to be an initiative much like any other social program. I call this initiative “Bridging the Gap.”  This synergistic approach to the ‘generational resource maximization’ of a community is an integral part of my vision of ‘community based’ societal evolution.

In the next post I’ll let you in on one component of the “Bridging the Gap”initiative … ‘The Kernel.”

But in meantime, your assignment is to figure out your own way to “Bridging the Gap.”

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You can follow me on Twitter at @clayforsberg and on Google+

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‘Cross-pollination’ and Creating Your Own Personal Renaissance

A few years ago, when I still lived down in Los Angeles, I was on my morning walk through West L.A. when I ran across a homeless man collecting cans and bottles from a dumpster. I stopped and we talked for about for fifteen minutes.

We talked about a lot things; the weather, the BP oil spill and eventually the economy. His take on the economy was that he thought things were getting worse, rather than better – as what we’d been hearing from the news media. “How did you come up with that?”  I asked him.

“Well I see more cheap brand cans in the garbage than I used to. Even last year when things were supposedly worse, people still drank Coke and Budweiser. But now it’s changed.”  It’s Shasta and Natural Light.

His astute observation was definitely not a perspective I wouldn’t have gotten through my normal channels. But it made sense – and for this locale it was probably more accurate than any economics professor would have come up with a few blocks down the street at UCLA.

Dumpster

The Medici Effect … circa 2015

At the end of the Dark Ages, during the 13th century, poets, artists, painters, sculptors and the like came to Florence, Italy to study and collaborate thanks to patronization of the wealthy Medici family.  Those sponsored by the Medicis included  Ficino, Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, Galileo, Boticelli and Michelangelo. Many scholars believe this melding of different backgrounds and disciplines ushered in a significant portion of the Renaissance.

Imagine if we used this same cross-pollination strategy of  backgrounds and experiences to create environments like this today. Maybe we won’t see Renaissance figures on the scale Galileo and Michelangelo, but for our communities it could significantly change the welfare and wellbeing of us and our fellow inhabitants.

“We need a marriage ceremony between the humanities and social and behavioral studies. Only then will we be able to start solving real-life problems in these disciplines.” ~ Thomas Scheff (UC Santa Barbara)

Every fall Mayo Clinic, one of the most acclaimed medical facilities in the world, conducts an innovation conference to explore how ‘people power health’ can redefine the dynamics of health and health care. This conference isn’t just for medical professionals, rather it’s cross-discipline. Not only are people from other industries and interests allowed to attend … they are encouraged. Mayo routinely collaborates on processes and strategies with other Minnesota corporate giants such as Target, Medtronic and Best Buy to achieve higher levels of customer service and hopefully satisfaction. Mayo Clinic treasures the value of cross-pollination. 

“People bring different cultures, backgrounds, and personalities to the table — and those differences shape how they think. Some people are analytical thinkers, while others thrive in creative zones. Some are meticulous planners, and others love spontaneity. By mixing up the types of thinkers in the workplace, companies can stimulate creativity, spur insight, and increase efficiency.” ~ Deloitte (Business Insider)

The benefits of cross-pollination extends past the corporate world also. In the excellent Vanity Fair piece, “An Oral History of the Laurel Canyon,” Linda Ronstadt articulated the societal benefits, “The good thing about musicians in terms of making advances in racial discrimination or sexual-gender identification is that musicians don’t give a shit as long as you can play. If you could play, hallelujah.”

But to cross-pollinate ourselves we have to expose ourselves and create relationships with people we wouldn’t otherwise. Humans are creatures of habit. We tend to do the same things, associate with same type of people and be influenced by the same sources as we always have. Strength comes in diversity and the synthesis of this diversity. On the contrary, if we limit our exposure; social, professional and politically to only those like us … we only further entrench our beliefs and ideologies.

Adherence to the status quo is a habit. Some aspects of the status quo are fine, and change for the sake of change can often be problematic. But even more than ever, the ability to not only accept change, but embrace it is a mandatory life skill.

Resistance to change is a very broad ‘habit’ to try to break. It’s composed of a multitude of components. And that’s how it needs to be addressed, one component at a time. You can’t change everything at the same time.

Gradually, block by block, this ‘doing the same thing, the same way, at the same time’ can be chipped away at. Even changing the time you get up in the morning or go to bed at night is a step. Change what you eat for breakfast, the route you take to work and even the method you get to work. Just taking public transportation when you normally drive can be a huge change. Eventually, this phobia of ‘the different’ will become less debilitating. And maybe even change will become exciting, something to look forward to … not fear.

Now is the time to get out of your comfort zone

If you are a doctor, hang with a plumber. If you’re white, talk to a black person. Take the bus sometimes (no – people on buses don’t bite). If you live on the west side, have dinner on the east side. And most of all if you’re old (yes Boomers you are old) … get some insight from someone young – someone that’s not your own kid.

Our brains are nothing more than synaptic connections which are built and strengthened through habitual activity and thought. Build some new ones. God only knows we could use more.

“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people.” ~ Steve Jobs

The two sides of a mind

Sociology of the American neighborhoods and ‘Extreme Empathy’

The French political philosopher Alex de Tocqueville theorized that the concept of American township and its extension, the neighborhood, was the reason for the envied American exceptionalism of the 1800 and 1900s. In Europe people resided around common characteristics such as language or ethnicity.

“But beneath it all, our history of broad inclusion is not rooted in some blithe paean to the American generosity of the American spirit. Rather, like the foundation for America’s economic ingenuity and political accommodation, our commitment to melding new and different people together was forged in the rhythms of everyday life.

Townshipped community was unparalleled in assimilation because neighbors weren’t able to avoid one another; quite the opposite, they were frequently compelled to become codependent. The very essence of American exceptionalism was born from the architecture of American community.

It’s impossible to overstate how important our unique sociology has been to the nation’s dynamism. In the United States, our “little platoons,’ Edmund Burke’s term for the contacts who comprised the core of any individual’s social universe (that is middle rings) – were organized around the diversity of people who lived nearby – the people who comprised the local townships.

In Europe, by contrast, the network of people who shared the same class or language or profession were more likely to define any individual’s contacts. And so America’s exceptional capacity to metabolize the infusion of new ideas, new cultures, and new populations wasn’t derived by some commitment to inclusion. America has been unique in its social fluidity. Even with all the blatant counter examples, through most of the 20th Century, American were relatively unencumbered by division. Life in the United States provided citizens with an unusual degree of access and exposure.” ~ Marc Dunkleman, “The Vanishing Neighbor”

To forget this phenomenon and not take advantage of it is a great disservice. Of course we look at this as an advantage for the community. But first we open our mind individually and let these different views and experiences in.

A community is the product of its people. Diversity is an advantage if not a necessity. A community is a living thing, a microcosm, and a lack of diversity makes itself open to disease (metaphorically speaking). Social inbreeding creates a weak species, vulnerable to adversaries, internally and externally. And a community that only relies on past thinking will not be able to combat the problems of the future.

Every member of your community is unique and adds to its fabric. Everyone has something to offer and everyone should be heard – no matter their age or social standing. It’s up to us to find it and help them see it. To view our neighbors and fellow community dwellers like this I call, “Extreme Empathy.” “Extreme Empathy” is the basis of my vision for the new evolution of the physical living space, Community 3.0.

Now is time focus on inclusion, not retreat into ‘personal protectionism.’ Resist the temptation of “sameness.” Step outside your comfort zone. You’ll never know what lies on the other side.

And who knows … maybe your next source of inspiration may come next to a dumpster.

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You can follow me on Twitter at @clayforsberg and on Google+

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Empathy and ‘Shared Experiences’

“I do not ask the wounded person how he feels, I myself become the wounded person.” ~ Walt Whitman

Society has a problem with silos. I don’t mean the ones that farmers put grain or corn in. I mean metaphorical silos. Whether it’s a neighborhood, town or city; we seem to look at them as being a separate entity – much like an enclosed silo. We consider a nation being enclosed by its borders. We assume they ebb and flow, making decisions on their own volition. But really aren’t they just a collection of relationships … relationships dictated by individual people interacting with each other? And a single interaction between the right (or wrong) two people can alter the entire dynamics of what is enclosed within their ‘silo.’

In more extreme cases one of these interactions can change the direction of decision-making (or policy) for an entire nation. We saw this in the Middle East and world’s conflict with ISIL. The murder of one young American girl tipped the scales so much that a intractably divided United States Congress united in near unanimous agreement to allow the President to send ground new troops to Iraq and Syria. And how can we forget how World War I started. The assassination of a seemingly nondescript duke in Austria set off a cascade of unprecedented military action by intertwined alliances.

With the wellbeing of our communities being dependent on individual relationships and the events that stem from them, isn’t it tantamount that we discuss ways to establish positive and productive dynamics in the neighborhoods that make up our communities? Shouldn’t we care about how the people of our communities interact and communicate. Even the most seemingly benign remark and response could set off a ‘butterfly effect’ of unintended consequences no one can foresee. While we can’t mediate everything that happens in our community, we need not to. We need only to provide a platform or ‘space’ that encourages interactions that are as fruitful and as synergic as possible. Then maybe we can maximize our resources and realize our potential rather than constantly mitigating the damages from antagonistic interactions … or worse yet ignoring them and let them metastasize.

Empathy

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view – until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” Atticus Finch ‘To Kill a Mockingbird”

At the heart of any relationship is communication, and at the heart of any communication is an understanding of the other person, or empathy. Empathy is being able to remove yourself from your own perspective and ‘walk in their shoes’ or ‘see the world through their eyes’ (the metaphors are endless). This isn’t easy though. It’s easier just to step up on your soapbox and preach, letting ideology take over – however well intended.

Empathy isn’t sympathy though. I view the road to empathy as sharing another’s experience. It’s not enough to look at the world on ‘the other side of the tracks,’ you actually have to take that risk, step across and look at the world from that other side.

The phenomenon of ‘Shared Experiences’

Congressman Patrick Murphy of Massachusetts made headlines a couple of years ago when he slept on the streets of Boston one night to see what it was like be homeless firsthand. This is what I call a ‘shared experience.’ He was living homeless, if it was for just a day. And I’m sure it’s an experience that will never leave him and hopefully will alter his public policy views and actions accordingly.

However noble Murphy’s effort was, he still wasn’t homeless though. He knew he had a place to go after that night in the cold. He knew the hunger he felt would pass as soon as he wanted it to. The effort he had to make to be sure he found a safe place to close his eyes (relatively speaking), didn’t have to be repeated the next night.

“The greatest good you can do for another is not just share your riches, but to reveal to him his own.” ~ Benjamin Disraeli

Every member of our communities is unique and adds to the fabric of the community. Everyone has something to offer and everyone should be heard – no matter their age or social standing. It’s up to us as individuals, as a community and as a society to find that something and help them see it. Because not only does it benefit them … it benefits all of us.

Empathy can be taken to the next level when one multiplies these ‘shared experiences’ and joins someone in their world for a longer period of time. An ‘experience world’  is not spending a night with a homeless person, it’s being homeless. It’s sharing their world to the point that it’s not their world … but your world also.

Cottonwood

Cottonwood

Ten years ago I went on what I call my Nomad journey. In reality, I was homeless for three years – two of which was with my daughter, Alex, as she finished high school in Southern California. Some of the time we spent in motels, and some of it was in a tent – a good tent, but a tent nonetheless. My recruiting company collapsed, a combination of the economy, changes in my niche (printing), and probably as much as much anything – just being burned out after fifteen years of wrangling with my product – people.

Without going into copious detail about the peaks and valleys of a life unsettled and uncertain, I do want to share my experience at Cottonwood. After Alex finished school and moved to Washington (to work for Apple), I camped exclusively. The last campground I lived at was Cottonwood, about two hours north of Los Angeles. My car had broken down, so I hitched along with a couple who was also on a Nomad journey. After landing in Cottonwood, they left after about a week to venture to New Orleans. I stayed, carless (not careless) about ten miles from civilization except for my fellow Nomads scattered throughout the campground.

Ironically, Cottonwood turned out to be a community as close-knit as any I had ever lived in. J.W., a grizzled old cowboy who had done a stint in San Quentin, became my site mate and eventually my tent mate (after Jake his Border Collie had a run-in with a skunk he decided to share with J.W. – in his tent).

But J.W. was just one member of my community. There was Kenny, a thirty year-old just out of rehab. And there were others of all sorts. They were all my neighbors and my friends. We trusted each other and looked out for each other. We shared stories each night dinner. And most of all we shared dreams. None of us believed we be living the Nomad lifestyle forever.

After a month and half, Kenny, J.W. and myself ended up leaving Cottonwood to set up and manage a new KOA Campground an hour down the road. A couple of years later I found out a couple of our compadres from Cottonwood had passed away. We reflected on the times we all shared. Cottonwood was no different from in any other community. You always lose a few people who we have shared worlds with.

No one at Cottonwood was remotely like me or had previous experiences like I had; living in Newport Beach, on the water in the Bay Area or a in downtown high-rise in Minneapolis. Nor had I had experiences like them. But that didn’t matter. In fact it made it better, and my life was enriched from my time there and with them. Every member of our community was unique and added to the fabric of our Cottonwood world.

Rebuilding the ‘Middle Ring’ using ‘Shared Experiences’

This concept of sharing ‘experience worlds’ only seems logical if we want re-build the ‘Middle Ring’ relationships we need as the foundation of our neighborhoods and communities. We need to use ‘shared experiences’ to rebuild our communities for the benefit of not only of us today, but also for the others who will join us later. Even if these ‘shared experiences’ are as brief as the neighborhood picnics I grew up with in Green Valley in Minot, North Dakota – or as long as the one I had at Cottonwood, they provide us that valuable opportunity for connection with those we’d not likely to connect with otherwise.

Left to their own volition many people will associate only with others like them (including age), not taking that chance to step outside their comfort zone. But if we won’t make this step on our own, how can we truly acquire the empathy and the trust needed to have constructive conversations, the conversations required to build the relationships necessary to create the consensus and collaborations needed for the neighborhoods and communities that serve all its residents?

So how can we create the opportunities for our community members that will result in ‘shared experiences’ and even delving into others ‘worlds?’ If we truly want to create sustainable inclusive communities, that should be what we ask ourselves.

And it shouldn’t have be as drastic as spending six weeks together in the dirt in a tent.

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You can follow me on Twitter at @clayforsberg and on Google+

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The “Pop-Up Community” and the Evolution of the Commercial Space

More than any other human artifacts, buildings improve with time … but only if they’re allowed to. ~ Stuart Brand

Several years ago I read book called “How Buildings Learn” by Stuart Brand, founder of the Whole Earth Catalogue. The premise of the book was that a building whether it’s a house, a factory, or an office building, should be designed to adapt with its inhabitants. As a family goes through the different stages of its life, so should its home. If it can’t then the family will have to pack up, move and find a new home more suitable to its current needs. Such is the same for businesses.

Unfortunately this is not always the case. In fact, normally it’s not the case. Brand vilified vaunted architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright because his buildings, especially his houses, were built for one specific family at one specific time of their life. If anything in this family’s life changes … their residence wasn’t appropriate for their needs since it couldn’t adapt.

We can take this same principle and apply it to communities. Inevitably communities and cities change over time. Detroit is a dramatic example of this. The auto industry moved out from the city’s core leaving vacant blight in it’s wake with no evolutionary strategy. And unfortunately, unlike a family, a community can’t pack up and move down the street or to the next town. Its stuck where it’s at, abandon buildings and all.

But it doesn’t need to be like this. There are three main impediments to a community’s adaptability; individual design of its buildings, zoning laws and mindset. I believe the first two can be overcome with a little effort. A building, with imagination – can be converted into something more appropriate for the community’s needs at the current time. Zoning laws can be changed, maybe not without a lot of kicking and screaming … but they can be changed.

The third impediment, mindset – is not so easy though. Adaptation and evolution can either be embraced and helped along, or it will come on its own terms. And in the latter, it’s often not pretty. Again we look at the example of Detroit. Once the decline of the Big Thee American auto industry started in the eighties, the city (and especially the auto unions) turned a blind eye to it. “This can’t be real. Nobody’s going buy those foreign cars. We’ll be back bigger and better than ever.” Detroit did not embrace the enviable. Now we see what happens when evolution comes on its own terms. It’s pretty much like a real life version of the four headless horsemen in the “Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” (On a positive note, Detroit is finally making some headway on revitalizing itself by recognizing the the past isn’t coming back).

“Nothing pains some people more than having to think.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

It’s easy to do the same old thing the same old way, day and day out – and just expect the world to take a break from change. But it doesn’t work that way anymore than expecting the world to stop spinning. This reluctance to change and except new ideas is the core reason for any generational gaps we’ve had in past, have now or will have in the future. The older generations want things like they were, and the younger generations want things like they’ll be. Well, let me tell you – there ain’t time machines, so we’re not going backwards, at least in time (attitude maybe). For a community to prosper, or even survive – it needs to embrace adaptability. It can hold on to its heritage and history, and it definitely should. But it has to take that heritage and bring into the future and make it relevant to not just generations of the past.

This embrace has to take place with the local presence, the locally owned businesses and commercial property owners. It has to happen with the city policy makers and planners. Adaptability requires being on the pulse of the community, recognizing where its resources are and maximizing them. That’s the advantage local businesses have over the box stores and the national chains. Locally owned businesses can adapt immediately, while the latter change course like the Titanic. In fact that’s the prime advantage a local business has over an “out-of-town conglomerate.” They can’t compete on price. But they can compete on relevance.

But there’s more to adaptability that just changing product mix or revising hours or even sponsoring local events and sports teams. It’s about changing one’s mindset from the old fixed location “brick and mortar” two-year lease – to none of the above. Imagine if you had never known a world where a business was committed to a fixed location for a fixed time period.

What if a business could adapt: come and go, and move around according the to needs of its clientele. This stretch of the imagination is the foundation of the “Pop-Up Community.”

You ever walk around an old downtown area and see all the buildings with nothing in them. It’s not like the downtown is dead or doesn’t have potential, a new potential – it’s just not be utilized or maximized. What if a business could go into one of those buildings for two months and then pack up and leave. And then another business, of a different type would come in a couple of months later for stay three months and leave. It may not be a two-year lease for the building owner. But then again the building owner isn’t getting the two-year lease anyway. Plus having the building occupied, generates traffic and revenue for neighboring businesses.

This is “Resource Maximization.” And this is what communities will need to do to prosper in our “warp speed evolving future.” And the people navigating this “warp speed.” are the younger generations. These “kids” want flexibility to grow with “trial and error.” And a two-year lease in a fixed location just doesn’t cut it. This is the main reason for the boom in “office hubs” or shared office space in recent years. I belong to one in Los Angeles. It works perfect for me since I’m only in L.A. a couple of times a year, but for a month at a time. When I’m there, I pop into The Hub LA, and do my thing, network, attend events or just socialize.

That means, above all, that they are able to live in a community that is a collective expression of their social being and their social ideals, rather than being an obstacle to them.

If a community truly wants to move ahead then it will have to position itself to attract these young entrepreneurs and their crazy ideas, whatever they are. On that note, I’d like present my idea of the next evolution of community, or I call Community 3.0, and the “Pop-Up Community” is a big part of it.

Pop-up store

How to Create Your Own “Pop-Up Community”

  • Customer focused: Be where are the customers are and when are they going to be there.
  • Permissive zoning laws: Flexibility will create more business for everyone including neighboring businesses, thereby raising property values.
  • Special permitting processes for pop-up and temporary businesses: Make it easy for small low capital businesses to operate legally by cutting the red tape.
  • Walkability: Pop-up businesses encourage geographic consolidation therefore access via foot rather than automobile. The less time in a car … the more time in a store.
  • Specific pop-up business network loyalty programs: Having a common loyalty marketing program operating under consistent rules will bind this nomad community together and make it more stable and more likely to be less transient. These programs can also take the form of cooperative promotions.
  • Co-op ventures between property owners and tenants: Rather than relying on old the “fallback” of the two-year lease with set rental rates, property owners should participate in the success of their tenants’ businesses.
  • Street activity: Create a fun, festive environment including visual art, performance art, food carts, etc. which will draw people to an area. This increased traffic (by foot) can only help all neighboring businesses.
  • Pop-up educational opportunities: Make everything, everywhere a learning experience. “Label your community.” Every building, bridge and park has a story just waiting to be told and passed on to the next generation.
  • Encourage community entrepreneurialism: Rather than just focus on attracting big business – a community should grow its own through their own start-ups. The nurturing process should happen on all levels including the chamber, colleges, tech schools as well as co-op ventures with existing community businesses.
  • Office hubs: Pop-up and temporary ventures need not be limited to retail. A community should have multiple micro co-op office space hubs with shared facilities, such as meeting rooms, kitchen facilities and technology areas to make it easier for fledging entrepreneurs to succeed.

I’m all for nostalgia, and I’m definitely for keep the flavor of community’s Main Street. But ’70s suburbia and all it’s physical constraints … not so much. I believe a community’s value lies in its past, its present and its future. The art is to balance and synthesize the requirements of the three. That takes flexibility. And a “Pop-Up Community” provides the flexibility to do that.

Steve [Jobs] felt that most people live in a small box. They think they can’t influence or change things a lot. I think he would probably call that a limited life. And more than anybody I’ve ever met, Steve never accepted that. He got each of us [his top executives] to reject that philosophy. If you can do that, then you can change things. If you embrace that the things that you can do are limitless, you can put your ding in the universe. You can change the world. ~ Tim Cook

Maybe it’s time to let our cities and neighborhoods climb out of that small box.’ It may not change the world … but it may very well change our communities.

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I can be found on Twitter at @clayforsberg and on Google+

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The Real Problem With Higher Education

This week President Obama unveiled his Higher Education student loan relief program. The program has nice sound bites. Lower interest rates, an extension here and there and so on. I’m not going to get into it here. I’m sure you can find more than enough on the details elsewhere.

In my humble opinion, it’s like bringing a box of band aids to the Texas Chain Saw Massacre. The problem is fundamental and rooted in behavior – no band-aid is going to stop the bleeding. And the problem and solution lie well beyond the pearly gates of our esteemed institutions of higher learning.

The problem lies at home … with us.

A big part of the traditional “American Dream” is going to college – and even more so having your children go to college, especially if you didn’t. Every parent envisions standing in the audience, watching their child walk across that stage receiving their college diploma in full cap and gown. After all, what parent wouldn’t want that experience. And plus it gives them standing with their friends. “The better the college my kid went to (i.e. most expensive), the better the parent I must be.”

That’s the problem. It’s the parents dream as much, if not more than their offspring’s. It’s a dream that is rooted in tradition. How could someone not want a college degree. Unfortunately, that revered degree comes with a price … and that price can be more of a liability than the asset generated by the degree itself.

The cost of a college has become exorbitant at best, and some cases outright crippling. Stories of graduates coming out of school $100,000 in debt are not uncommon. And with this debt – there is no guarantee of a job to pay it off. And on top of it, guaranteed school debt is one thing that cannot be dismissed in a bankruptcy. In other words, there is no key to unlock that ball and chain your child will carry around for years … and years.

Imagine yourself as your child, an eighteen year old about ready to graduate from high school. Let’s assume there are no parents in the picture, no grandparents either. And even better yet, no societal expectations pressuring you about what you should, and what you shouldn’t do. The only thing that matters is you – your wellbeing, and your future.

Let’s break convention, and consider alternatives to four-year college bound route to the traditional American Dream.

  • Don’t go to college. Or if you do, wait a few years until you have some experience in the real world. Not all careers require a college degree. And contrary to popular belief, a lot of the opportunities in the fast growing tech sector are among them. These companies need a lot more than engineers and degreed computer scientists. This is the route my daughter took. Well able to get into, and do well in college, she chose to take a job with Apple out of high school and became an Apple Genius. Now at twenty-five, she’s part of Saucey, a tech start-up in Los Angeles, handling logistics. Being a voracious learner, she is alway in a ‘school’ of her own direction. This ‘life-long learner’ attitude and the experience she received at Apple has been an invaluable way for her to spend her formative years. And the financial obligations of traditional college … she has none.
  • Go to school, but wait a year. Get your feet wet. Find the path you want to take. College is not the real world. Only the real world is, well … the real world. Too often we enter college with no idea why we’re there in the first place. Maybe we listened to some, average at best, high school guidance counselor  – but that’s about it. The first year or two in college is for many just an extension of high school, a postponement of reality (and an expensive one at that).
  • If you’re hell-bent on going to school, go to a community college for the first two years. The first two years of college, especially in a major university, consists of taking entry-level classes with three hundred of your not so closest friends taught by a teacher’s assistant not much older than you are. With a community college you get smaller classes taught by a real professor, probably one with real world experience. With any other purchase, getting more and paying significantly less – pulling the trigger would be a no brainer. But with higher education … ironically we lose our minds.

But with the ball and chain … you go nowhere, literally and figuratively.

None of these options will saddle you with tens of thousands in debt, at least not before you can actually start paying it off. Obama’s trying to help you, but his efforts are misguided. Debt, restructured or not, limits your options. It limits your mobility – mobility that very well take you to the opportunity, that great opportunity that you went to college for in the first place.

But debt is only one part of the equation. The age a student spends in college is between eighteen and twenty-two (if you can get out in four years). This is the prime time for learning. Kids (and I use that term with endearment) are sponges. How they spend this time and what they are exposed to will make a major impact on their lives for years to come. To waste it away in classes that may or may be relevant to their future is unfortunate, if not tragic. If a student is hard and fast on what they want to commit their professional life doing, then allocating these formative years is fine. If not … then it’s not. 

Now there’s certain professions where you must have a degree, and for several, an advanced one is mandatory. In these cases, medicine, law, engineering, etc., you’re just going to hunker down, take initial financial hit and hope it comes around in the long-term. Hope is the operative word here, especially with the unfortunate de-evolution of several of these vaunted professions. If you want to go into business or become entrepreneur … it’s a questionable decision to go down the traditional four year college route.

The world of the Millennial generation is not the one of their parents. These young people don’t have the professional security awarded their parents. Unions are in shamble. Careers based on working with one company, or even in one industry are gone. Professions, traditionally bastions of prosperity and prestige such as law – are anything but that now. To impose the rules and norms of ‘work’ relevant decades ago is doing a great disservice to those we entrust the future of our country with. And we will all suffer because of it.

Several months I wrote about the ‘Nomad Movement’ taking hold amongst Millennials. By being nomads, these young people (and others) are forging their own version of the ‘American Dream.’ They do contract work with Uber, Lyft and others on their way to carving out their own niche in the world. Often this is done through creative and entrepreneurial means. Such behavior twenty-years ago would have been looked at with disdain and shame by parents. Now it really doesn’t matter. It’s survival.

Everyone has their own “Perfect World” and their path will be different from the person sitting next to them. But the education taken should be the education appropriate for that path. Understand there are options … and the four-year university degree is not the only avenue to success. In fact it very well could be the barrier to success.

The “American Dream” of a college degree and a white picket fence may have been right for your parents … but is it right for you?

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I can be found on Twitter at @clayforsberg and on Google+

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