This article about Udacity and its founder Sebastian Thrun was a fascinating read. It is impressive to read about a business leader that is not blinded by the indicators of success but looks for a deeper truth and tried to address it. However unlike the person who brought it to my attention I do not view this change as a positive “pivot” but rather as succumbing. This is the part of the text where disappointment set in:
“At the end of the day, the true value proposition of education is employment”
This is an old truth that has been recognized and challenged for some years now. Udacity was born into a reality where this truth no longer holds true (or at least not as obviously as Thrun presents it, and surely not as a “revelation”). Ironically Thrun already knows better, a truth that surfaces when he speaks of his own 5 year old son:
“In my son’s kindergarten, they’re telling us how to get him into Stanford,” he says. “By their advice, I’m doing everything wrong, because I’m trying to make him happy rather than putting him through as many piano lessons as possible.”
So which is it happiness or employment? (If you want to argue that the two are synonymous then please don’t waste my time and do so somewhere else)
What if many of the people who do not complete the courses or pass the tests are there out of … oh … curiosity? a passion to learn? what it they are not doing it for a job?
What would happen if Udacity would continue to be available to people as they seek out education in their lives?
What if instead of suddenly large streams Udacity would become another channel of education, one that challenges the foundations of the crumbling paradigms of modern day societies?
What if Udacity was able to remain present those who wish to learn for the sake of learning and do for the sake of doing?
But more importantly what is causing Udacity to succumb to dominant paradigms? I would suggest that one substantial compromise in its foundations causes this … the venture capital that went into it. Udacity can no longer do for the sake of doing, that has been undermined with a need to do for the sake of making a profit. It is also I believe a key difference between it and the not-for-profit KhanAcademy (which apparently inspired Thrun to create Udacity in the first place) who have stayed true to their path with a simply stated, clear and humble purpose of free education for all.
The irony of it all is that Udacity doesn’t need to pivot. Maybe Udacity needs to re-evaluate its attitude towards and understanding of its “failing” majority?
I am back (already a week) from a 10 day journey to Matera in Italy where partook in the LOTE3 EdgeRyders gathering. I have been hesitant about putting my thoughts into writing but decided to do so for my own personal journal. What, if anything, this may contribute to EdgeRyders is not on my mind as I write these words.
It was a demanding and inefficient journey which had many parts which did not come together nicely. Europeans seem to be used to traveling and traveling is fairly inviting if you live in Europe – a 2 hour flight can land you in a new world. This is new to me. I haven’t traveled much in my life and most of that was from Israel so flights were longer and more of a grandiose event.
Yet, I am quite happy with my “performance”. Half a year ago I would come back from a day in the city with a headache. No headaches this time … and this was much more demanding than a day in the city. It did take me a week to arrive completely (to be able to get on and stay present on the mat for an entire practice sequence).
We flew to and from Rome and made the journey from and to Rome by bus (6.5 hours). The journey to Matera was in the night so there was nothing to see. The journey from Matera was in the morning so I could see the part of Italy that we drove through … and there was still nothing to see. Roads, concrete and plowed fields … a look that seems to be taking over the world … making it all look the same … left with me with a sense of emptiness and disinterest.
I was amazed by the diversity of people in this gathering (I was also pretty amazed that I was part of it). The group is filled with gifted people. The dominant vibe of the event was not one that appealed to me but that just made the gifts even more precious. In every session I was present in, no matter how I felt about it, there was a constant presence of precious moments where light would come to the surface and fill the space … someone would say or do something that was deeply refreshing.
I don’t think I’ve ever been in the presence of a more diverse and rich group of people. That is the crown jewel of this event for me. It is a precious and demanding social achievement.
Intellect and Spirit
There is a dominant voice in the community that I would describe as intellectual. I experience it as limiting and aggressive. It seems to radiate strongest from the group at the core of the community. It had a defensive flavour.
However I also sensed that there were other voices … voices from the heart (and other parts of the body). I was not present at the previous two LOTE events … but I wondered if this wasn’t a growing voice.
I had this image in my mind of a maturing energy. An energy that started as an intellectual pursuit but has (inadvertently?) drawn to it a spiritual pursuit. And these two voices have not yet found a harmonious existence.
I believe that intellect needs direction from the heart otherwise it is likely to get lost (and still seem very smart).
“The intellect’s evolutionary purpose has never been to discover an ultimate meaning of the universe. That is a relatively recent fad. It’s historical purpose has been to help a society find food,detect danger, and defeat enemies. It can do this well or poorly, depending on the concepts it invents for this purpose … Knowledge has grown away from this historic purpose and become an end in itself, just as society has grown away from it’s original purpose of preserving physical human beings … and this growing away … towards greater Quality is a moral growth. But those original purposes are still there. And when things get lost … it is useful to remember that point of departure.”
When practicing a long sequence of yoga postures breathing can be a challenge. My teacher taught me to observe the breath before continuing from one pracice to the next … he spoke of “waiting for the breath to cease to be demanding and to become at your service”.
I believe the purpose of community is to be in service of its individuals. The EdgeRyders experience was, for me, more demanding than nourishing … but that may be due to my own capacities and limitations.
There was a phase in my career where I had days and weeks of back to back meetings. I was impressed myself at the time for being involved and contributing to so many things.
Then I met Shahar and through him encountered a discipline of arriving. Dancers would take at least 30 minutes, sometimes an hour of lying on the floor allowing themselves time to arrive … allowing their emotions, thoughts and energy to join the physical body in the space. Having learned this skill I looked back at my “efficient” career and realized that I didn’t really attend most meeting. I was there in body but my mind was filled with contents from previous and upcoming meetings.
In LOTE3 I found myself in a reality I had heard of but never witnessed first hand. A room where people are sitting together but many participants are actively using laptops or smartphones. In LOTE3 this activity had a worthy purpose – to document what was happening for the sake of others who were not present with us. But to me what this meant was that we weren’t really together in the first place. Granted there were some people who seemed to be really good at this … the skill to send out live twitter updates is impressive … one I do not have (nor one I care to develop). I can at best take a few notes … and that too I do knowing it will, even if shortly, detach me from the space.
I came to LOTE3 to contribute to the Burning Edge theme by offering Yoga in the mornings. I shared this wish with the community and the community replied with keen interest … so I decided to go. Very few people showed up. From what I can tell, this was mostly due to the early hour (7:30am) coupled with the fact that many people stayed out to socialize (and drink) late into the night.
That made my investment in the community inefficient … almost wasteful.
To bring a further sense of irony to this story … there was the session itself about the burning edge. I was silent because I had too much to say and could not find something clear enough to contribute to the space. But my main train of thought was – for starters how about eating and sleeping better? … oh yeah … and trying out this Yoga thing in the mornings …
This example is a very subjective one … but I had the impression that the community is lacking in its ability to back intentions and words with actions … coherently, clearly and efficiently.
The design session was shot down. It was a painful experience.
I am trying to harness the intensity of the experience into a constructive effort on the platform.
From where I am right now I do not intend to participate in another LOTE.
I am happy that EdgeRyders has lost its sheen of importance … that was quick … a sign of progress for me personally.
I am still curious about its potential and my ability to contribute to it.
It is very difficult to participate in such an event and maintain a bubble of visual privacy … it took lots of conscious effort for me to mostly stay out of the way of all the cameras that were active.
I did have an opportunity to make a few personal connections for which I am grateful.
I may have planted some seeds that may flower in the future … thought their maturity is out of my hands.
There were surprises which made the entire excursion a precious experience for me.
I’m happy that I went. I am happier to be back in my retreat.
On with life
Also from DemocracyNow:
via David Korten
Watching this brought even further into the light that the most substantial contribution that I can make to this world is a shift in my own consciousness. No amount of composting, rainwater harvesting, naturally grown foods … none of this can prevent the melting of the polar caps and the release of transformative amounts of methane into the atmosphere. None of this can stop financial predators.
Submitting my consciousness to this information opens up two paths before me. One is a path of succumbing – a depressing futility that renders actions useless – nurturing inaction. The other a path of activism – an urgent and agressive need to act … which to me feels as futile as inaction. Neither path appeals to me.
Which brings me back to consciousness. The only thing that feels substantial to me is creating life circumstances that support an evolution of my consciousness. It can seem (it has to others and to me) that the current expression of my life is that of retreat I am also starting to discern a movement into immersion. There is a retreat from the material and social world. There is also an immersion in an honest and raw experience of consciousness – a clear and unyielding reflection of my own perception – how I perceive the world rather than what the world is … and that feels like a substantial and inviting avenue of doing and exploration … and it seems that it has already spread beyond me, through my actions, into the lives of others … so who knows where this is all heading