Another "yes, and..." article today on the thread of education.
Last week I posted an entry titled Having a Degree Matters More than Where You Got It...Except... wherein I advocated the position that, well, it doesn't really matter where you earn your degree except to people you potentially work with that ALSO graduated from the same place. It's no coincidence that I filed that post under the category of "Networking"
The other Dave took umbrage with my post (probably because he went to UMD --- JUST KIDDING Dave!) -- based on his post and some feedback that's flowed in I thought I should clarify the my intent.
My post was written from the "outside in" perspective. I didn't say that it didn't matter at all where you get your educational experience. I just simply said that it mattered MORE that you completed the journey.
And that is what education is about: A Journey.
Now, from the "inside out" perspective, I agree that location plays a role. The institution, the physical surroundings, your peer students, the quality of the faculty, the support network of friends and family matters very much.
Getting the degree in and of itself can be as enriching or as vacuous as an experience as you make it.
To you the learner, the MOST important part of the process is "HOW"
Personally, in 1986 I started my undergraduate education, fresh out of High School, out at what was then called Mankato State University (MSU) before dropping out my Junior year to pursue fame and fortune consulting which took me all over the world. In 1991 after traveling back and forth to Japan for the better part of two years, I decided I need to finish my degree and set my sights on getting a Masters degree, so I enrolled at the U of M and took a couple of general education classes. Coming from the mid size campus that was MSU, I found the U of M to be daunting. So I applied and was accepted at the University of St. Thomas (which has one of the best Masters in Software programs in the world) where I found an incredibly warm and receptive environment that placed a high degree on personal learning and practical education for life. A year and half later, my Bachelors Arts degree in hand, I enroll in graduate school. A couple of years later, I drop out to start up the ISP part of BackPack Software. But again, I went back with a renewed energy and passion for learning and finished the MS by 1999.
Along the way of building the business, I discovered that I had a passion and natural, yet unrefined ability, to be an entrepreneur. In order to refine that I needed formal education and applied to the U of M's Carlson School of Management (CSOM) -- they'll never admit it, but I'm pretty sure that it was my experience and passionate essays that won me a seat in 2005, since my GMAT scores were only average. Again, I like to think that actually HAVING a Master's degree is more than enough evidence to suggest that you'll succeed, versus what a standardize test score can ever reveal.
How and where I earned my education matters very much to me, but not in any entitling kind of way. Could I have received a better education anywhere else? That's impossible to know, and largely nonsensical to argue. It's ridiculous to compare two individuals and say one is better suited for a role based on where they went to school. Remember, George W. Bush went to Yale where he earned a cumulative GPA of 2.35 -- see my point. It just doesn't matter.
So if I really had to answer the question, of where I went to school, I would have to enumerate all the places I've been that had classrooms. But that would be doing a HUGE disservice to all the supportive friends, family, mentors, co-workers, countless authors and other random people I've met from whom I've learned the most important lessons over the fourty-one years I've been on the planet.
This is why I don't think the where is as important as the HOW and the HAVING. To put it in perspective, a joke if you'll indulge me?
"What do you call the medical student that finishes dead last in their class? Doctor."
You can do better than that.
Today's Big Idea: "Life in general and Education in particular: The Journey is the Destination"
Here's a dirty little secret about earning your degree that most college fair reps won't tell you:
In the 80/20 scheme of things (and probably closer to the 99/1 realm) -- having your degree matters more than where you earned it -- except to people that you might work with who ALSO have their degree from the same place!
Most job requirements simply say "Bachelors Degree" - MOST of the time they don't care if its "Arts" (BA) or "Science" (BS) -- they may go on to tell you that they would prefer that it's in a particular area. They might say "Advanced Degree Preferred" -- or even "MBA/JD Preferred" -- but most of the time it is also optionally "or equivalent experience."
You MIGHT even see that an employer will list "from a top school" -- but what does that even mean? School rankings change from year to year, and even within a given year -- it depends on who is doing the ranking. Unbiased? Unlikely. Go look at how much advertising is spent by the "top" schools in those magazines. In fact at my graduation ceremony at the Carlson School they implored us to keep in mind that:
NO ONE cares (or will know) what the rank of your school was the year you graduated. What matters is how the school is doing THIS year.
It was their way of telling us that we should stay involved in maintaining the brand.
What matters most about the college experience, is that you navigated a complex social system -- successfully. It shows that you were willing, one way or the other to commit to completing a multi-year assignment, facing down lots of instructors, professors, administrative staff, and peers along the way dealing with all manner of petty injustices.
It also doesn't matter how long it takes you to run the maze -- I dropped out of college and graduate school to work in the real world. But each time I went back and finished what I started -- largely due to the fact that I had to self-fund my entire education. When I started on my MBA it was a one class a semester slow crawl. By year two I was in full stride taking two four credit classes per week for a year and summer classes in order to get done. But that's only because I was finally fully mentally engaged to the point that I ended up with 10 extra credits -- I don't believe in doing the minimum, and, well, I'd found something to be passionate about.
Oh and just like standardized test scores, your GPA is only partially connected to your "potential to succeed" -- I contend HAVING a degree, a family, a full-time job for some length of time, running a small business for 20 years COUNTS as "proof" that you have more than just potential. Likely if you get a 4.0 you are approaching sycophant status or social outcast (or even are "hygiene challenged") -- and that you are too close to the system (but that's only my personal opinion and is probably a thin justification for only ever earning a 3.4 in grad school). By and large its a binary decision -- did you graduate or not. In fact people don't like it when you brag about your GPA. Remember, recruiters are people too -- as are hiring managers.
In fact after your first job, unless you're working for a big company, its rare that you'll even have to provide access to your transcripts. Claim you graduated from Harvard? Colleges like Harvard have a large staff that works full-time to prove you didn't.
Where you graduated from provides a connection to other people that graduated from the same school. If it's really that important to you from an identity standpoint, you probably need constant validation or suffer from low self esteem.
So today's Big Idea is this: Next time it comes up in conversation (and you know I like throwing conversations for a loop) -- when someone asks you where you went to school, ask them "Does it really matter?"
Because you can learn a lot of information about someone, not only from the statements they make, but the questions they ask!
One last dirty little secret: Most job postings are detailed to an heir apparent or an heir presumptive -- in other words, most companies already have a candidate in mind for a position. The more detailed the job description, the more it's likely written for an internal candidate -- not you. If not, it is probably for a position that was recently vacated because the company had not realized the true value of the last person in it!
We're constantly bombarded by advertising. Somewhere between urban legend and apocryphal knowledge is the number "3,000 per day". There was even a blog about it with a link to a "Google Answers" page.
Some of it is of the in-your-face variety in the form of billboards and commercials, and we've evolved to just tune it out. The more subtle forms come in logos on coffee mugs and pens and calendars you get from your insurance agent (what's on your refrigerator right now?) -- or the one that really gets me is the auto dealership decal/license plate facia that might be on the back of your car -- are they paying you to advertise for them??
So pervasive is this messaging channel and its potential impact on brand recognition that last year a Duluth-based operator of hospitals and clinics purged themselves of 18,718 items by donating them to west African nation of Cameroon!
Physical products usually produced en masse require lots of promotion in order to drive consumer behavior. Retailers know this game well by putting higher-priced items at eye-level or on end-caps where you're more likely to see them. In fact, if you actually touch the product you're not only more likely to buy the item, you'll probably be willing to pay more for it! Spooky stuff.
Consultants know that the intangible is much harder to sell. In other words services are in a whole different class than physical products when it comes to marketing. It's not simply a matter of showing hip, attractive people consuming sugar-water energy drinks and enjoying themselves -- it takes a lot more to convince you to spend money on something done for you. And yet something like 80% of the US Economy alone is driven by services.
With all the time, money, and energy spent on getting us to drink the latest flavor of sugar-water or to convince us to hire an attorney, an accounting firm, a dentist or a real estate agent -- why is so little time and attention spent on our personal brand? Lets put aside "Minnesota Nice" and that goofy sense that our strong scandinavian roots teaches us not to be too prideful.
Your personal brand is a combination of a number of factors beyond the externally obvious:
how you dress
who you hang out with
where you shop
what you do for a living
Those things are important -- but unless you have some really extravagant tastes in clothing, or use (misuse) funky aphorisms -- very little of that is the stuff reputations get based on. Marketing and specifically advertising of your personal brand requires the same kind of tools and techniques that products and services need to be effective:
In branding your message needs to be consistent as well as persistent.
Think about the channels you use to promote your personal brand -- from your resume to your FaceBook account to what and how you contribute in meetings. What messages are you sending?
A friend of mine recently did something pretty bold: He "fired" a bunch of social-networking "friends" on Facebook.
And this wasn't a silently dropping people in the same way you slip out the back door of a boring party -- he announced it outright.
On top of that, he updated his status to indicate his progress -- which in and of itself was revealing to what you could call the "survivors" -- I admit that suddenly Facebook became more interesting only in the sense that I wanted to follow the unfolding drama -- would I stop getting updates? Would I have to look him up again to see the carnage, knowing that if I did, I would be one of the bodies.
And speaking of bodies, there's an old joke about friends and real friends.
Friends help you move. Real friends help you move bodies.
This morning when I checked, I had received the "made it to 50!" status update which meant I was still on the team.
This is today's Big Idea: Publicly declaring who your important friends are -- in other words, discerning among people who are merely acquaintances.
What do you think?
(Kudo's to Daniel, we now have added the Category "Networking" to the Big Idea Blog)