Secret to Success in the New Economy: Waste More Time

By Robbie Curry

“The problem with measuring productivity is that it measures only how well people can do the wrong jobs. Any job that can be measured for productivity probably should be eliminated. Peter Drucker has noted that in the industrial age, the task for each worker was to discover how to do his job better; that’s productivity. But in the Network Economy, where machines do most of the inhumane work of manufacturing, the task for each worker is not “how to do the job right” but “what is the right job to do?” In the coming era, doing the exactly right next thing is far more “productive” than doing the same thing better. But how can one easily measure this vital sense of exploration and discovery? It will be invisible to productivity benchmarks.” (excerpt from “New Rules for the New Economy”, by Kevin Kelly, Wired Magazine, Sept., 1997)

Traditional schools are obsessed with productivity. They measure how well children do at the wrong jobs. They rarely give children the chance to discover for themselves “what is the right job to do.”

Why? Because the schools assume they know what is the “right job” for students, an assumption that is applied to nearly all children across the board, as if children could be calibrated, tuned up, turned on and rolled out like products on an assembly line.

It’s a mentality bred more than a hundred years ago when this country was gearing up to become an industrial giant. America needed an educational system that could take people fresh off the farm and churn out graduates capable of filling the jobs of an economy fueled by manufacturing and the assembly line. Schools did a bang up job. The United States became the greatest industrial power in the world.

But that was yesterday. The industrial revolution is long dead and gone to China, but you’d never know it by looking at most schools. Change in our economy is occurring rapidly. Old jobs are being downsized out of existence without warning and new jobs are being created that were unforeseen even five years ago. It’s time for schools to admit they don’t have a clue what students will need today to adequately prepare them for tomorrow. About the only sure thing kids will need to know is how to be extremely flexible, continually able to adapt to changes, because of a new and profound revolution that Wired magazine editor Kelly refers to as the Network Economy.

The term Network Economy recognizes the fact that we’ve gone beyond the information age, sailed through the age of computers, and are emerging into a time when all the promising technologies are chiefly due to communication between computers. The new byword is “connections” rather than computations. According to Kelly, “this emerging new economy represents a tectonic upheaval in our commonwealth, a social shift that reorders our lives more than mere hardware or software ever can. It has its own distinct opportunities and its own new rules. Those who play by the new rules will prosper, those who ignore them will not.”

Significantly, the rules that apply to the Network Economy are often the opposite of those that applied to an industrial economy.

If the task for each worker (Student) in this new Network Economy is not “how to do this job right” but “what is the right job to do”, then Independence School is the perfect place for children to get the kind of education that will prepare them for the future. Their “work” at school is to figure out the “right job”. Such work requires lots of trial and error, lots of fiddling with a whole world of options.

And “fiddle” they do at the Independence School. Each student decides the “right” thing to be doing based on his/her own internal gauge. For one student, the exactly right next thing might be figuring our how to make and keep friends or how to carry on a conversation. For another student, it might be how to become more proficient on the computer. For still another person, learning how to cook might be the next right thing.

“Wasting time and being inefficient are the ways to discovery,” Kelly writes in the Wired article, citing the “law of inefficiencies” as one of 12 laws that rule our new economy. “The Web is being run by 20-year-olds because they can afford to waste the 50 hours it takes to become proficient in exploring the Web. While 40-year-old boomers can’t take a vacation without thinking how they’ll justify the trip as being productive in some sense, the young can follow hunches and create seemingly mindless novelties on the Web without worrying about whether they are being efficient. One of these inefficient tinkerings will come the future.”

How can one measure this vital sense of exploration and discovery? Tests and grades surely can’t. I venture that the only valid measurement is the one made in the heart of the explorer. To those who insist on using old, outdated productivity benchmarks, such exploration and discovery that goes on at schools like Independence will look like a bunch of wasted time and wasting minds. To those of us with our eyes on the Network Economy, it looks like a first-class ticket to the future. What better way to travel than on the back of an unfettered and exuberant childhood?