Of Course You Can Figure It Out!

You don’t need to go to college to become successful.

What Americans call education is usually just the passing along of traditional wisdom, which, when you think about it, is essentially a deepening of the status quo: conformity, indoctrination, groupthink.

When students can imitate their teachers perfectly, we claim they have achieved excellence. But aren’t they just imitating the norm, the average, the standard?

If this is excellence, where will we find progress?

I’m not the only one who feels this way.

Laszlo Bock is the head of people operations at Google.

In a conversation with Tom Friedman of The New York Times reported by Max Nisen at Quartz, Bock made a startling series of statements about what Google has learned from studying its own employees:

  1. Graduates of top schools often lack “intellectual humility”

“They commit the fundamental attribution error, which is if something good happens, it’s because I’m a genius. If something bad happens, it’s because someone’s an idiot or I didn’t get the resources or the market moved.”

  1. People that make it without college are often the most exceptional.

“When you look at people who don’t go to school and yet make their way in the world, those are exceptional human beings. And we should do everything we can to find those people…. What we’ve seen [at Google] is that the people who are the most successful here, who we want to hire, will have a fierce position. They’ll argue like hell. They’ll be zealots about their point of view. But then you say, ‘here’s a new fact,’ and they’ll go, ‘Oh, well, that changes things; you’re right.’”

  1. Learning ability is more important than IQ

Succeeding in academia isn’t always a sign of being able to do a job. Bock says that college can be an “artificial environment” that conditions students for one type of thinking.

Want to hear something silly?

Professors in American business schools usually have no experience in running a successful business. They’re just repeating what they were told by someone else who was taught it by someone else who learned it from an endless string of bloodless people holding chalk in front of blackboards in drab little rooms.

Why do we revere the graduates of these places? It would seem to me that the very definition of mediocrity would be, “a highly developed ability to repeat what you were told.”

But you don’t just repeat what you were told. You think for yourself.
Mistakes don’t frighten you. You learn from them.
The smell of mediocrity does not follow you.
You are not average.

You have imagination and courage and humility and a marvelous sense of humor.

You, my special friend, are a wonderful and valuable brand of crazy.

Merry Christmas.