In a recent NYT article, Thomas Friedman argues that globalization and the internet have changed the ingredients of successful living. Whereas in the past you were able to achieve success simply by working hard and abiding by the rules, argues Friedman, nowadays that’s just not enough. In today’s hi-tech world, success requires constantly reinventing yourself. You have to learn and re-learn, innovate, adapt, acquire new skills. It’s no longer enough just to work harder than others.
Friedman’s right that these are the skills needed in the modern world. But was anything less ever enough? Is it really the case that “working hard and sticking to the rules” were once a winning prescription?
Not if by working hard, Friedman means putting in lots of mindless time and energy. Success has never been about merely the number of hours one puts in. It’s the application of productive thought that is the winning prescription, not merely putting in the hours and following set rules.
That’s true not just for globally mobile high-tech jobs, but for all ambitious work—even in professions consisting mostly of manual labor.
A great handyman is not merely putting in time and following rules: he’s constantly observing the homes he works in, noticing and anticipating things like doors that don’t close well, or dripping faucets. He follows his industry, and is aware of new developments (wireless alarm systems; LED lights; sales on that safe that the homeowner has been considering.) He integrates all these facts, and suggests improvements to his clients. Then he has the knowledge and practical skills to implement his suggestions in an efficient, high quality manner. And if he doesn’t, his career atrophies, his life stalls, and he does not achieve major success.
What are the ingredients of success? What is it that makes a great handyman, or hi-tech journalist?
- A successful individual is a conceptual thinker. He understands the facts and principles of his chosen field, and is able to apply his knowledge in the real world, to improve his customers’ lives.
- A successful individual is an action-oriented doer. Instead of just thinking about things (or excelling at taking standardized tests about them), he’s able to do something with his knowledge, in this world. He’s got the practical skills to excel at his work, including organization, time management, customer service follow up, work ethic and professionalism.
- A successful individual finds his niche, his passion in life. If you only go through the motions, you’ll never be great at anything. The best handymen, just like the best theoretical physicists, LOVE what they do. That’s how you get to be great and successful, and enjoy every minute of getting there.
Friedman is right that today’s schools fail miserable at equipping students with all three to develop these attributes for success. But he’s wrong to think this is because times have changed. Schools are failing children not because there’s something new in the air, but because they don’t respect the timeless value of knowledge properly taught. (And the value applies equally whether their students have the IQ to be theoretical physicists, or the practical aptitudes to be great mechanics.)
Our motto at LePort Schools, Knowledge for Life, integrates these three key attributes needed for success in any career and in life. We are convinced that if children are able to think conceptually, apply their thoughts in action, and pursue goals they are personally excited about, the sky’s their limit, and the American Dream of a fulfilling life is just as open to them today, as it was to their parents decades ago.