Advice to 2017(±) High School Graduates

Our education system is broken for the world as it is today and unfortunately you are a product of that broken system. The good news is you made it through, the bad news is most important things you need to know were never found in the classroom and are most likely not in your academic years ahead.

Learning needs to be less like memorization, and more like… Angry Birds. Half of school dropouts name boredom as the №1 reason they left. How do we get our kids to want to learn? In the traditional education system, you start at an “A.” And every time you get something wrong, your score gets lower and lower. In the gaming world, it’s just the opposite. — Peter Diamandis

Though it is too late for you, keep this in mind going forward — especially if you are thinking of entering education as a “career” or if you someday have children of your own. Cracks are starting to form and education will become yet another example of the taxi cabs most people thought would be the way of the world forever.

Take the following five points not as a complete list but rather as a starting point. As obvious some may seem, mastery is for the few that use this knowledge to navigate a future that others will simply miss.

#1 Moore’s Law may be known for the Transistor but Exponential Growth is everywhere around us

Ray Kurzweil is great at predicting. So great he has hit a number of major advances in the world to not only the year that they would happen but down to the month in the year that they would happen. How does he do this? For the most part he understands one thing better than most. That the human intuition of “local and linear” no longer approximates reality. We are living in an exponential world.

Here’s another way to think about it: imagine you are going to walk down a road taking steps a meter in length. You take 6 steps, and you’ve progressed six meters (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6). After 24 more steps, you’re 30 meters from where you began. It’s easy to predict where 30 more steps will get you — that’s the simplicity of linear growth.

However, setting anatomy aside, imagine you could double the length of your stride. Now when you take six steps, you’ve actually progressed 32 meters (1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32), which is significantly more than the 6 meters you’d move with equal steps. Amazingly, by step number 30, doubling your stride will put you a billion meters from where you started, a distance equal to twenty-six trips around the world.

In other words, do not be fooled by looking at the linear approximation to the short term past and assume the future will continue that rate of change. Few seem to believe self driving cars will be here any time soon. Look back think of the things that have been added — maybe some over your memories of a life time — tire pressure monitoring, on-board diagnostics II, the smart key, backup cameras, electric cars, bluetooth, GPS, and more. A linear future will just see more things being added over the years to come. An exponential future, however, will bring things into question that linear thinking cannot. Imagine a world where car ownership is no longer needed. (If you have access to a self driving vehicle why would you own one?) What are people going to do with the garage space at their homes? How about parking garages? Parking lots? The extra space on streets with no need for street parking? How is real estate going to change? What about productivity in a world where you no longer need to pay attention to the road? All of this with less accidents, less traffic, less pollution, and amazingly less cost.


As a recent graduate moving into further education or directly entering the job market the question you need to ask yourself is how will exponential change effect my assumption of where my interests will intersect with future realities?

#2 Asymmetric Risk (and probability in general)

When you see a headline like this, “You’re more likely to be fatally crushed by furniture than killed by a terrorist,” you should immediately understand that it is written by someone who has no mathematical skills whatsoever.

You need to think of risk in terms of optionality. In other words, you do not want to be in place where you need to be 100% correct to have a huge payoff. You instead need to be in places where taking small risks might lead to a huge payoff. Think of the possible combinations of a penny or a gold bar on one side, and a train or tricycle on the other. Trying to pickup a gold bar in front of a train might get you killed, whereas picking up a penny in front of a train is just plain dumb. Picking up a penny in front of a tricycle will probably make you at least a little more rich, however, getting the gold bar from in front of the tricycle is where you really want to be. Though it might be okay to not know ahead of time if it is a penny or a gold bar in front of the tricycle you never want to be picking up an unknown in front of a train. Optionality gives you a chance to invest as if it is a penny and then figure out if it is gold and further if it is worth the risk to pursue. For example, spend as little as possible to test a new business idea in a specific market. If the response and margins are huge then go all in building the business out rather than the other way around as so many others do only to lose everything. (Oh, just in case you were thinking that market data, demographic studies, and competition research equate to actual testing — the answer is no!)

Going back to where this story started think about the problem of higher education at the moment. You have a huge investment in both time and, most likely, money in the form of student loans. At the other end, in an exponential world, you do not really know if there is a train or tricycle that is coming between you and your dreams. What if there was an alternate option where you could get a focused degree over the course of a year and only have to pay for it if you succeed in a career? MissionU is one such example of possible massive change coming to a broken and misaligned system of education. As a recent high school graduate you are not going to be able to take advantage of the change starting to break through in education at the moment but you will be able to approach the world with more open eyes to see ways to take advantage of the change rather than being a victim of it.

#3 The drive towards democratization and demonetization

There are two counter intuitive forces pushing forward very rapidly, however, both seem to get little attention if you listen to mainstream news.

Prices always go up — right? That is called inflation and people say that is why you need to make a certain return on the money you save just so you can not lose the value the money is able to buy over time. There may be times of deflation in between but for the most part those are just small bumps on the road ever increasing upward.

That is until exponential technologies (especially AI and robotics) started to significantly change this equation. The cost of living itself is now being demonetized and it has only just started.

Democratization is coming rapidly too, however, in ways that might not be completely obvious if your mind only thinks about politics when hearing this phrase. The idea of what an “expert” is, and what expertise they delivered to the people, will largely go away and that power will be given back into to the hands of the people.

One of the most obvious areas of massive change will be the elimination of the general practitioner in the medical sector. Diagnosis and, in many cases, treatment will go into the home and on the body as sensor technology continues to evolve and links are found to what is within our own abilities to change in order to achieve continued wellness.

From medicine, to clothes, to education, and beyond — customization and control will return to the people and the result will be better, faster, cheaper, and more robust than centralized expertise and production.

#4 Happiness

You need to become unfuckwithable.

Unfuckwithable — (adj.) When you are truly at peace and in touch with yourself, and nothing anyone says or does bothers you, and no negativity or drama can touch you.

The single most troubling side effect of social media is the increased need to compare oneself to others. Life is a single player game and though that might sound depressing it is not:

I’ve noticed that the happiest people I know have opted out of many of the multi-player games. They use internal metrics. There is no competition with anyone to be happy. They don’t compare themselves to others or experience jealousy. They treat success as a byproduct of happiness, not as an addictive drug like most of us do. Happy people think single player. — TheHappyPhilosopher

The secret to world peace is a happy childhood. The good news is that it is never too late to have a happy childhood and it is even easier to do so in a single player game. (If you can change your perception of the past then you can change the past as it relates to you) This is not to say that it is generally easy. The world can be a hard place and unfortunately, probably more often than not, parents are a source of the problems rather than the solution to overcome them. This truth leads me to my last point…

#5 The best investment you can ever make

If you are thinking money here, think again. The single best investment you can make is in yourself. Read, listen, watch, attend. Formal education is a part of this journey and in the end it is going to be a very small foundation of your life ahead at the very best. The rest is 100% up to you.

Like compounding interest for money, knowledge is compounding interest for your mind. The idea is to not make a massive change over a short period of time but rather small changes over long periods of time to reach destinations that are simply unimaginable from who you are today. When I read a book, listen to a podcast, attend a seminar, spend time in a mastermind group, I look for one or two things I can bring back to my life today and implement well. Don’t worry about all of the things you are not doing right, or all of the things you could change for the better — instead just focus on tomorrow being one step better than today and let the compounding work its own magic.

(Originally posted on Medium)