Knowmads are nomadic knowledge workers –creative, imaginative, and innovative people who can work with almost anybody, anytime, and anywhere. Industrial society is giving way to knowledge and innovation work. Whereas industrialization required people to settle in one place to perform a very specific role or function, the jobs associated with knowledge and information workers have become much less specific concerning task and place. Moreover, technologies allow for these new paradigm workers to work within a broader options of space, including “real,” virtual, or many blended. Knowmads can instantly reconfigure and recontextualize their work environments, and greater mobility is creating new opportunities.
The authors explore knowmad society in terms of socioeconomic evolution from industrial, information-based society to knowledge-based society, to a creative, context-driven Knowmad Society. Educational and organizational implications are explored, experiences are shared, and the book concludes with a powerful message of “what’s it going to take” for nations and cultures to succeed in Knowmad Society.
Key topics covered include: reframing learning and human development; required skills and competencies; rethinking schooling; flattening organizations; co-creating learning; and new value creation in organizations.
At the 2012 Pioneers Festival in Vienna, Austria, I met up with Philippe Greier. He is one of the minds behind Playmakers Industries, a real-life game development company with a presence in both Brazil and Europe, and is one of the principals behind Present-e. He designs scenarios and games to help individuals tap potentials that they otherwise thought that they would not have. As part of his organizations’ gaming elements, they tap into players’ social capital. When people feel that they are playing in a game, they are willing to experiment, make mistakes, and learn in new ways.
Last week, I attended the two-day Pioneers Festival in Vienna. Housed in the Hofburg imperial palace (an “impossible to book” venue), the event was a mixture between discussions, speeches and interactive workshops with topics concerning entrepreneurship, innovation, and technology. True to its name, it also embraced a “festival”-like atmosphere with free-flowing beer and Red Bull, party marathons in the evenings, and a monster-sized Halloween after party on the imperial grounds — all designed to encourage conversation, learning, and connection-building among the 2,500 participants at the event. I’d love to post a review, but it would echo just about everything The Kernel had to say about the event (although I tried Airbnb instead of Hotel Sacher, and probably had a much nicer time because of it).
Over the two days, I learned a lot. But six key ideas stand out:
“The more you give away, the more you get back” — this was the lesson shared by Matt Mullenweg. He should know. His open source project WordPress now powers 19% of global websites. The beauty of open source, he argues, is that by feeding into a broader system, they are able to enable serendipity, and generate new outputs that are bigger than any of us.
It is becoming increasingly hard to find entrepreneurs that have finished college. Walking through the halls of Hofburg, meeting new startups and VCs, it became clear (through my non-scientific observation) that not many people at the event had completed a college program. Some focused on pursuing their dreams in lieu of school, and others dropped out before finishing. A couple others were involved in startup schools, like the one at Aalto University. Of the people I talked with who had completed a college education, I was astonished that so many of them had gone on to complete a PhD. Why is there such a gap between the PhDs in the room and the non-degree-completers? And, as our societies rest our hopes and dreams on startups and startup culture, is a college education important anymore?
“Most ed-tech startups suck!”Inês Silva (participating remotely from Portugal) shared this article by Harvard’s Reynol Junco for VentureBeat, which I think is spot on. The article points out that despite the exponential grown of edutech startups in the market space, very few of them are connected with research or the realities of how we learn. Even worse, because many of these startups are being lead by people who dropped out of school (or hated it), they are focused on fixing particular elements of it. Almost nobody is working on completely reinventing the system. As a result, we are (mis)using new technologies to teach the same old crap the same old way. That sucks.
Timing is everything. This statement might seem obvious, but too often in the entrepreneurial and academic worlds we take a gung-ho approach to releasing ideas before the world is ready for them. Adam Cheyer (founder of Siri) stated early at the festival that, “the best way to predict the future is to invent it …but timing is everything.” Indeed, everybody at the festival came with great ideas. Some of us were ahead of our time, and a few others are a little bit late. Finding the sweet spot on when to release a product or idea can be tough. But, for those of us that are focused on building the future, it is important to keep nurturing it, keep developing our ideas, and work hard to make sure they are a success when it is time to release them.
Megacorporations are clueless when it comes to connecting with startups. There was nothing more painful than watching Konica Minolta‘s Ken Osuga give a presentation on how his company (one of the festival’s key sponsors) is just like the startups in the room: Founded 140 years ago. In Tokyo. (I’m not kidding, that’s what he said … several times.) Nearly as painful was watching Microsoft‘s Ruud de Jonge show the crowd how cool he was for carrying around a Surface — and criticized the rows-upon-rows of people working with iPads and MacBooks for gravitating toward things that are “fruity.” Really. He thought people in the room care about what Microsoft thinks about them. Indeed, there is a growing institutional generation gap between large corporations that want to sell their products and smaller, younger, hyper-individualized firms that wonder why they need them at all. That said, one of the elements that I loved about the Pioneers Festival was that it was focused more on building conversations among attendees and the intangibles that are created in a festival-like environment. Whereas companies like Konica Minolta and Microsoft floundered, the founders in the room created real value among themselves.
The world has no more room for “intellectual masturbation.” In his session on business design, Alexander Osterwalder declared that, “writing a business plan is intellectual masturbation!” Indeed, the old school thinking (and still taught in business schools) of careful business planning is becoming obsolete. Businesses need to be prepared to pivot and transform faster. This requires new strategic thinking for startups. Likewise, academia needs to step away from intellectual self-gratification. Lacking interconnected purpose, contextual applicability, and responsibility for creating outputs that are meaningful can make academic conferences resemble an intellectual exercise in self-love-making. In the age of connection-building and collaborations through social media, can academic societies and conferences find a purposive role and also pivot their strategies when necessary?
Anya’s most recent projects — two free ebooks Learning, freedom and the Web (Mozilla Foundation) and The Edupunks’ Guide (Gates Foundations) build on her previous work investigating issues of self-directed learning, peer-networks, and access.
Our discussion focused on the future, purposes, and meaning of formal education, as well as alternative accreditation models, Knowmad Society, and academic and institutional change.
Here is a summary of our conversation:
On the purpose of college:
“As I get deeper into the topic of higher education it strikes me all the time that there really is a blind man and the elephant quality to it. That people appear to be discussing the same thing and yet you find that their internal models of what higher education means are very, very different.”
On the mission of educational institutions in our modern economy defined by being post-industrial, highly globalized, and subject to accelerating change:
“We are living in a time of bottomless scrutiny of all of our institutions and education foremost among them and that’s because they are subject to so many structural pressures and the weakest points in their creation are really exposed by the winds of the new society and the world that we are living in…”
On the value of a college degree:
“…at its best, a college degree is a unique kind of currency that was created by human societies to show that someone has been through a process of personal development, of cultural development, that they are a ‘citizen’ in the truest sense of the word. They are able to participate in society intelligently. Ideally they are able to contribute to society…”
On compulsory high school in America:
“The whole idea of compulsory education is a little bit of a strange one in the United States. We’ve never had more, than what we have today which is a three-fourths high school graduation rate. Even though we compel people to attend, we are not that great at getting them to graduate. And for those that do graduate, in many districts, over half need some type of remedial courses to repeat when they get to college, if they get to college.”
On our projection of the demise of formal schooling by 2037:
“I’m not sure that I share the bluntness of a projection like that. It’s very easy to envision a world in which formal education is far demoted down the list in terms of choices that individuals have…”
On how alternative accreditation can benefit Knowmads:
“We are seeing all kinds of exciting developments in alternative accreditation. There are two major trends and they sort of work in complimentary directions. The first one is, this more atomized, very specific skills based orientated kind of accreditation which is best encapsulated by the badge. … On the opposite end of the spectrum, I think in a very intriguing way, you have sort of the person, the whole life, life as certification. The idea of a portfolio based assessment, things that allow you to document your learning that has taken place in various stages and aspects on your life, create a narrative around that learning, reflect on that learning, and develop metacognitive skills and document the learning you’ve done as well.”
On sociotechnical practices that are shaping the future of learning:
“The availability of social networks and peer based social networking is really enabling people to make visible the peer roles in learning that have sort been faded into the background by the last 150 years of formal education which sort of, and really in some sense the last 1000 years which considered of a person at the front of the room talking and the rest of the people are sitting down. And the assumption is that the people who are sitting down are very passive listeners and are not actively involved which each other; and, in fact, we have the phrase “classmates” but necessarily give you the idea that you have something valuable to learn from the person sitting next to you or behind you as much as you do from the person at the front of the room.”
On creating a more accessible and equitable education system:
“I think what is clearly being revealed at the moment is that the structures that we are building don’t necessarily allow for increased social equity or access over an above what we have in the brick and mortar system because merely making things available for free doesn’t necessarily lower the barriers to access and in fact we are actually we are in danger of recreating many of the same privileges that exists in the Ivory Tower world online simplify because people online tend to work through more informal networks that goes back to sort of an idea of an old boys network, it can be more meritocratic in some ways, it can be more open in some ways, but in the bottom line you need to have more onramps, ways to make these structures visible to people who wouldn’t necessarily know how to use them.”
On rising costs in higher education:
“Basic disruption theory tells us disruptive choices rarely come from the inside institutions, they have too much to lose. It’s the new institutions that are finding the ability offer things at radically lower costs. and sort of reframe and question what we mean by higher education.”
On evolution and revolution in education:
“I think that education is a peculiarly resistant to change of any institution because the whole purpose of formalized education is to preserve the past. … I guess I would vote on the side of very radical change happening but it may not take the take the form we expect.”
“Our jobs are shifting from doing what we’ve always done very well, to always being on the lookout for new opportunities to advance teaching, learning, service, and research” (p. 2).
Mathews’ white paper “Think Like a Startup” makes a compelling case that within 20 years many of the modern academic libraries’ services will be housed and run by other units across campus. Therefore, Mathews argues academic libraries need to forge new partnerships across campus, discover new ways to create value for their users, and experiment with radical new approaches to solving their most pressing needs.
Click the table above for a larger version.
Mathews, B. (2012). Think Like A Startup: a white paper to inspire library entrepreneurialism.
“Sunset 14” From the album “As Days Get Shorter” by Sharp CC BY-NC 2.5
Last week, I spoke with Vernor Vinge [Wikipedia | website], a retired San Diego State University professor of mathematics. He is better known as a five-time Hugo Award-winning science fiction author. His works include True Names, Fast Times at Fairmont High, and Rainbows End. Most importantly, his 1993 essay “The Coming Technological Singularity,” argues that accelerating technological change will bring about the end of the human era as we know it, and that the world will become so complex and foreign to human observers, it will be impossible to predict what will happen next.
Ray Kurzweil and others have since contributed to the popularization of the Singularity, but the conversation has been centered on technological determinism. In a world that is consumed by accelerating change, what are the implications for systems that are at risk of being outpaced — namely, human systems? And, what are the implications for how we will learn and work in the near future?
I got this sort of vision where the human workplace is scattered in both space and time, and for a single career, it’s not a merely a matter of changing your career every couple years, it’s a matter of actually changing your point of attention on smaller time scales.
What can science fiction tell us about our future?
According to Vinge, a lot. He helped introduce the cyberpunk genre in the early with his 1981 Novel, true Names. He says, “the technological situation we have now is very similar to what was described in True Names, which actually was implicitly targeted in the year 2014,” but much of that can be attributed to pure luck.
The future authors of the genre have envisioned, he argues, has emerged today as a mix of expected and unexpected dystopian and hopeful elements. Society of today, he believes, has not changed much since the early 1980s. Corporate dominance in government, for example, is still at the same level as it was before, and our views on technology shifted since 1984:
Before the year 1984, people generally looked at computers the way George Orwell did in his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. After 1984, people had these great visions of computers freeing the people from tyrannies, and that is still a real possibility… and it is a possibility that has come true in large parts of the world. But, I would say the jury is still out as to what the ultimate effectiveness of computers and communication automation favors tyranny or favors liberty. I’m putting my bets on liberty, but I would say it’s not an obvious win in either direction.
It’s been nearly 20 years since the Singularity was introduced at the NASA VISION-21 Symposium. What’s changed?
I’m still where I was in my 1993 essay that I gave at a NASA meeting, and that is that I define the Technological Singularity as being our developing, through technology, superhuman intelligence — or becoming, ourselves, superhuman intelligent through technology. And, I think calling that the Singularity is actually a very good term in the sense of vast and unknowable change. A qualitatively different sort of change than technological progress in the past.
He still believes four pathways could lead to the development of the Singularity by 2030:
The development of computers that are “awake” and superhumanly intelligent.
Large computer networks (and their associated users) may “wake up” as a superhumanly intelligent entity.
Computer/human interfaces may become so intimate that users may reasonably be considered superhumanly intelligent.
Biological science may find ways to improve upon the natural human intellect.
When asked which one is more likely, he hinted that he sees a digital Gaia of networks plus people emerging:
The networked sum of all the embedded microprocessors in all our devices becomes a kind of digital Gaia. That qualifies, as an ensemble, as a superhuman entity. That is probably the weirdest of all possibilities because, if anything, it looks like animism. And, sometimes I point to it when I want to make the issue that this can be very strange. I think that actually the networking of embedded microprocessors is going like gangbusters. The network that is the Internet plus humanity, that is also going with extraordinarily surprises, if you just look at the successes in the various schemes that go by names like crowdsourcing. To me, those have been astounding, and should give people real pause with how to use the intellectual resources actually that we have out there. So far, we do not have a single computer that is really of human-level intelligence, and I think that is going to happen. But, it is a kind of an amazing thing that we have an installed base of seven billion of these devices out there.
What does this mean for schools?
Vinge believes talking about post-Singularity situations in education are impractical. In theory, is impossible for us to predict or comprehend what will happen, so we should not focus our attention on worrying about post-Singularity futures. Rather, we should focus on the ramp-up toward the Singularity, our unique talents, and how we can network together to utilize them in imaginative ways:
Talking about the run-up to the Singularity makes sense for several different reasons. One is, we have to get through it. The other is that it is our opportunity, as the chief players… it’s our opportunity to make things turn out safely and happily. In the meantime, at just the level of just getting one’s job done, I think there are real changes that are going to be happening in education and more broadly in training issues. I think one thing that is going to become more-and-more evident is the fact that we have seven billion people out there who are variously good … very good … at different things. And, there are ways of enhancing and amplifying that by collaboration. And, when I say “collaboration” […] it is a very good thing. But, if you look at some of the group mind projects and crowdsourcing projects, there is very great imagination that can be exercised in making collaboration effective. One thing is to interface people who have very different skills — that can actually be helped a lot by the network.
When dealing with unknown futures, it remains unknown how to prepare people best for these futures. He states that the best pathway involves teaching children “to learn how to learn” (a key theme in Fast Times at Fairmont High), and that we need to encourage the development of positive futures by attending to diversity in our learning systems. We need to not facilitate the formation of diverse students, but we also need to abandon a monoculture approach to education and attend to a diverse ecology of options in teaching and evaluation.
Most importantly, to meet the individual needs of students, he believes, we need to focus on “shifting the emphasis from intense attention to process and having the process of the teaching right … shifting that attention to having independent rating agencies that are not so much interested in process as they are in giving reliable rating information to people who have to judge the results of the money that is being spent on the education.”
I met up with Basti Hirsch at the NEXT Berlin 2012 conference last week. He is a leader at the Education Innovation Lab at the HUMBOLDT-VIADRINA School of Governance in Berlin. His work focuses on reinventing learning in the digital age. We chatted about what it would take to drive innovation in education, and some of what he believes are the most exciting examples we can learn from.
Basti’s approach to innovation involves bringing stakeholders to the table, integrating technology that didn’t exist before, and focusing on making it happen. He cautions that while technologies can be enablers, but we need to be purposive on how we use them. Moreover, Basti refers to Charles Leadbeater’s matrix of disruptive innovation (see Leadbeater’s TED talk), which illustrates new modes for user-created innovations by using tools smartly.
Charles Leadbeater’s matrix of disruptive innovation
Who’s leading the way? He is inspired by the work of i.c.stars in Chicago, which uses project-based learning approaches to develop young leaders in communities that are otherwise underserved by mainstream education. He also suggests looking at the Stanford d.school. They’re reinventing classrooms, he observed, and helping educators to think beyond static conceptualizations of “education.”
[…] help and foster new ventures that are going to be game-changers, capable of breaking the rules set in their markets. This way, we are creating an inspiring and informal environment, together with a great curricular plan and fantastic experts on the subjects. We expect to open minds and to provide the tools to come up with, and to develop some awesome ideas.
Watch my interview with Inês, where I ask her to describe what Startup Pirates works to achieve, and what the implications are for formal education:
For those of us in the Minneapolis area, I’m pleased to share news that the KaosPilots and Knowmads will visit with the University of Minnesota for a free event on redesigning university education.
Here’s the official announcement:
Following on the activities of the College of Design’s Design Intersections symposium (http://intersections.design.umn.edu/), the University of Minnesota community is invited to join in a FREE follow-up workshop, co-sponsored by the Department of Organizational Leadership, Policy, and Development and the Jandris Center for Innovation in Higher Education:
Rethinking Teaching and Learning at the University of Minnesota: A Conversation and Workshop with The KaosPilots and Knowmads.
Join us for a FREE co-creation event at the University of Minnesota featuring global creatives from the KaosPilots (Aarhus, Denmark) and Knowmads (Amsterdam, The Netherlands) —innovative schools focused on applied creative and design thinking, business, and social entrepreneurship.
We will discuss the future of education and what it means for the University.
How can we rethink how we learn, share, and apply what we know in this time of accelerating technological and social change?
How we can apply design thinking principles to transform how we teach, learn, live and work in Minnesota?
How can students and faculty at the University of Minnesota be engaged in democratic, participatory ways in co-creating new approaches to teaching and learning?
We welcome the University community and others interested in education for building a creative and innovative Minnesota.
Event co-sponsors: College of Design; Department of Organizational Leadership, Policy, and Development; Jandris Center for Innovative Higher Education; Humphrey School of Public Affairs; Carlson School of Management; and the Weisman Art Museum