We are in a deep experience of liminality, of living between two fundamentally different worlds. The first is the world ushered in by the Gutenberg printing press and later, and more forcefully, by the Industrial Revolutions (yes, plural; there were two of them). It is a world of control and predictability, specialization and expertise, cause and effect; it is a world focused on Transaction, Content, Efficiency, and Resources.
The other world is the one that is emerging in the confluence of: the interconnection created by digital technologies, the democratization of access to knowledge and information, and the breakdown in a role-based, hierarchical view of work and life. This world is a one of complexity and interdependency, transparency and social capital, breakdown and breakthrough; it is a world focused on Conversation, Context, Effectiveness, and Source. Much more on these concepts in future conversations. For now, consider that:
If you are over the age of about 20, you have been prepared almost exclusively for the first of these worlds. All of your formal education, the vast majority of your work experience (including, most likely, the kind of work experience you are currently getting) is grounded in assumptions about work and life that haven’t been questioned in at least 200 years. You have engaged in a life-long process of being Trained, of internalizing all of the things that you needed to know in order to maximize the potential of your being able to produce predictable, repeatable outcomes. Whether you are an Engineer or a Pilot, a classroom Teacher or a Bartender, an Insurance Salesman or a Marketing Manager, have no doubt, your job is to create predictability and control within your sphere of influence and accountability. The point of all of your Training is to prepare you against the possibility of any type of surprise, any type of outcome that isn’t predictable, isn’t able to be planned for. In fact, the depth and breadth of your training, the level of Expertise we judge you to have, is in direct proportion to the degree to which you can eliminate surprise, eliminate the unplanned outcomes, from your results. This is useful almost beyond measure…in the Industrial Era world; and certainly, it will continue to be useful in the 21st century. However, if you plan to engage in the world of work for much more than the next 5 years or so, your Expertise – your ability to generate predictable results – will no longer be sufficient to succeed, grow and contribute.
In the world that is emerging, preparing against surprise will be a liability; said more directly, being overly Trained will be a liability. The world that’s emerging contains significantly more opportunity for those who are prepared for surprise, for those who are Educated.
Education is distinct from Training in that the end point of Training is to be able to repeat, and perhaps improve upon, what has been said before you. You are trained in Computer Science to the degree to which you can reproduce those processes, analysis, etc. that constitute the discipline. Traditionally, you were successful to the degree to which you could reproduce these things with greater and greater levels of predictability. In contrast, the end point of Education is to be able to create that which only you are capable of creating, to speak the words that only you are capable of speaking. You are educated in Computer Science to the degree to which you can bring something into existence that is an expression of you, something completely unplanned and unpredictable. But you can only do this if you are prepared to be surprised, to abandon the script that Training provides and follow what is calling, even though you have no idea about how it will turn out or even how to move forward.
This is about creating versus manufacturing, engaging in inquiries versus seeking answers, being willing to find your voice versus taking on the voice of Expertise. It is the central consideration with regard to what is currently missing in our understanding of work, education and organization…and it is the bridge that connects the world of the past 500 years to the world that is emerging.
This conversation site is devoted to inquiries and considerations on what it is to be Prepared for Surprise, to be Educated, to engage in the work of Creating in our careers, our organizations and our schools. I hope you’ll share what you see as Conversation is essential to Education.
this post was originally published on Jan 31, 2011