Category: Education

Interview with Johann Verheem of Parsons School of Design

On January 31st, 2022 Tom joined Professor Johann Verheem and the Strategic Design for Global Leadership masters students at Parsons School of Design. This is a very unique business graduate program that believes it exemplifies Tom’s saying: “Hard is Soft. Soft is Hard.” The small cohort says they are a co-created course by diverse students with various backgrounds and different opinions.

Tom says, “My life goal—and I’m going to stay healthy so I can make a couple more steps—is to humanize professional education. And my 3 particular targets—who are my worst-of-the-worst list—are MBAs, Med schools and engineering schools.” Being able to speak with these students who are getting a less traditional, more humanized business degree brings Tom immense joy.

Watch the great discussion between Tom and this class below.

Course 4: Added-Value Strategies

We are excited to share with you that Tom’s fourth course is OUT NOW!

As Tom has said, “We don’t need a ‘defense’ against encroaching AI. We need an offense—a positive approach.” In this course Tom talks in particular about—and provides examples of—what he calls “EXTREME HUMANISM.” (And, Tom believes, pleasure AND profits will follow!)

Read on to learn more about Course 4: Value-Added Strategies and Tom’s full course series, Excellence: Now More Than Ever.

Course Series

Excellence: Now More Than Ever, The Excellence Dividend Online Experience consists of six courses and offers a total of 99 Steps to Excellence, each followed by specific actions you can take NOW. The goal of this series is simple: to offer you and your organization—a 2-person accountancy, a 14-person training department, a 23-person non-profit staff, or a division of a giant company—a helping hand in implementing the products of decades of Tom’s research.

Course 4: Value-Added Strategies

[Below is what Tom has written to introduce this course.]




Those three words are the focus of each of the three previous courses in this series. Now comes the time to apply the fruits of the first three courses to market opportunities.

Hence: Value-Added Strategies.

We start where we should start: DESIGN. Value-Added Strategies aim to differentiate our product and service offerings. And at the top of the list—way ahead of any No. 2 in my view—is design.

Design is not easy to pin down. It’s products and services that work and are easy to use (great functionality). It’s products and services that are attractive, even beautiful (aesthetics). But it’s more—much more.


Rich Karlgaard describes Nest founder Tony Fadell’s approach, first by quoting him, “‘Every business school in the world would flunk you if you came out with a business plan that said, “Oh, by the way, we’re going to design and fabricate our own screws at an exponentially higher cost than it would cost to buy them.”’” Karlgaard goes on, “But these aren’t just screws. Like the thermometer itself, they’re better screws, epic screws, screws with, dare I say it, deeper meaning.”

Yes. Epic Screws. Screws with deeper meaning.

Or this, from a New York Times review by Tony Swan of the MINI Cooper S, reported in Donald Norman’s book Emotional Design:

“It is fair to say that almost no new vehicle in recent memory has provoked more smiles.”

Design as functionality.

Design as beauty.

Design as “screws with deeper meaning.”

Design as a car provoking “more smiles.”

Design writ (VERY) large as “Differentiator No. 1.”

Altogether, there will be thirteen value-added strategies offered up, ending with two that represent the biggest market opportunities in the world. Namely, the women’s market. Mantra: WOMEN BUY . . . E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G. And the “oldies market.” Mantra: OLDIES HAVE . . . A-L-L THE MONEY.

Register for Course 4: Added-Value Strategies today.

Google Surprise

“Hard (plans, numbers, org charts) is soft. Soft (people, relationships, culture) is hard.” Those two sentences-ideas have been the core of my work for decades.

So how about this, from a 12/20/17 Washington Post article:

“Project Oxygen [data from 1998-2013] shocked everyone [at Google] by concluding that among the eight most important qualities of Google’s top employees, STEM expertise comes in dead last. The seven top characteristics of success at Google are all soft skills—being a good coach, communicating and listening well, having empathy toward and being supportive of one’s colleagues …”

The paper attached here—”Hard is Soft. Soft is Hard. Google Gets a (Big) (Soft) Surprise”—starts with the Google case and moves into other arenas to discuss “Hard is soft. Soft is hard.” It is very short and intended to be a thought starter. It’s also, frankly, an excuse to get the Google finding in front of more people: If the Google tale doesn’t make you stop in your tracks, I honestly don’t know what would!!!!!!!!!! (The excerpt included from Rich Karlgaard’s book The Soft Edge is also a “showstopper”—giving conventional wisdom a well deserved good, swift, kick in the butt.)

Over to you …

Google Surprise Plus

What Have You Learned?

Tom spends a few months in New Zealand at the start of each year. While he’s there, he often pops over to the University of Auckland Business School for a visit. It’s refreshing to look at business issues from the perspective of the other side of the world. UABS’s connectivity expert, Darl Kolb, has had Tom guest lecture in his class, and recently wrote about the experience.

Best Teacher Corps Wins!

The ideas presented here—and as a PDF (revised as of
19 March 2013), hastily and in the roughest form—were developed subsequent to a discussion during my New Zealand sojourn on building a cadre of teachers that matches the likely needs of these turbulent times. (My only previous stick-your-neck-out effort of consequence concerning education is recorded as Chapter 22 in my book Re-Imagine: Business Excellence in a Disruptive Age.)

The manifesto/polemic:

“The best educated nations win.”
Or: “The best educated and most entrepreneurial nations win.”

There is more to life than education.
There is more to life than entrepreneurship.

Yet these two variables are increasingly important in the years ahead—and those years are rushing toward us at an unprecedented pace. In technology change, yesterday’s decade is today’s two years—or less.

If these two variables are important, then it more or less follows that our teaching corps—especially for the first 8 grades—are the most important members of our society. (Singapore more or less—mainly more—believes this and acts upon it.)

Implication: The very best and the very brightest and the most energetic and enthusiastic and entrepreneurial and tech-savvy of our university graduates must—must, not should—be lured into teaching. (They need not stay for life—one would be happy with 5 years, ecstatic with 10.)

In the USA and other nations (many, if not most, if not almost all), the variables set out above and associated with excellence in teaching required to meet the challenges of 2020, let alone 2040, alas, do not describe our fresh caught teachers. One could even argue, stopping short of cynicism, that those variables are often the antithesis of the ones associated with those attracted to teaching today. This is simply unacceptable in the face of the most likely scenarios for economic excellence—or, for that matter, survival.

(FYI: To reiterate one of the initial points—we must attract instinctively entrepreneurial candidates—there are more of such candidates than one might imagine. Attracting entrepreneurial candidates, of course, requires a system that is open to change and which celebrates rather than condemns rebels. Concerning the proclivity or fitness for entrepreneurial adventures, Nobel Prize winner Muhammad Yunus put it this way: “All human beings are entrepreneurs. When we were in the caves we were all self-employed … finding our food, feeding ourselves. That’s where human history began. … As civilization came we suppressed it. We became labor because they stamped us, ‘You are labor.’ We forgot that we are entrepreneurs.” Bottom line: Super-genes are not required to foretell entrepreneurial talent—the millions upon millions converting to entrepreneurial ventures courtesy the Web are more or less proof of Yunus’ assertion.)

Finding and educating these new-criteria teachers requires a revolution in both content and the incentive structure needed to attract the best of the best—and to induce them to experiment boldly once aboard the education train.

(FYI: Re content, there is a school of thought prevalent in the USA which demands an immediate curricular shift toward “STEM”—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. To be sure, no harm done, lots to applaud. However, Rhode Island School of Design President John Maeda recommends instead “STEAM”—science, technology, engineering, the arts, and mathematics. His argument is based upon an assessment of future bases of competitive advantage as computers make vast inroads to existing jobs; the concept arguably—or, in my opinion, inarguably—makes a great deal of sense.)

This necessary revolution in teacher inducement and development, no matter the urgency assigned, will not happen overnight—or in the next five years, even if one and all, including teachers’ unions, agreed on the premises above.

In the meantime, we cannot wait …

Our universities today do turn out magnificent “products” who can meet the specs above and de facto launch the education revolution—today. We must immediately move to unmistakably and with governmental approval and towering private sector contributions bag these candidates as they march out of the graduation auditorium with their spanking new degrees.

(FYI: In my opinion, the impact of the new technologies is such that we need a very young teacher corps—one that has the demographics of the Facebook or Twitter new-hire corps. Assertion: With rare exceptions, older teachers—35+??—will have the devil’s own time identifying with the experiences of the students who walk into their classrooms, circa 2020—and, for that matter, circa 2013. And the devil’s own time embracing new “upside down” approaches to teaching. For example, as many forward thinkers have said, the teacher must in effect partner with, rather than dictate to, students who in many ways are more technically qualified than they are; and partner with students in ventures that de facto foreshadow a penchant for entrepreneurship.)

Role models needed: Teach For America is an example of an approach that appears to provide a semblance of a road map for others. It is hardly “the answer” to this “save the nation” need. But it does provide an exceptionally worthwhile and tested case—both its successes and failures, the latter of which illustrate the pushback that this entrepreneurial approach induces in, at least, the USA. Teach For America, however, is almost proof positive that, under the right circumstances, the very best and the very brightest from leading institutions can be attracted in numbers to, at least, a stint as educators; this proven attraction predates the 2007++ crash, so it cannot be written off as merely a response to a lousy job market for graduates. (Teach For America is but one example. In particular, courtesy charter schools among other efforts, a plethora of de facto experiments are in train in the USA.)

Also, in the role model set, could be the likes of the Robertson Scholars—a “full ride” university scholarship program established by philanthropist Julian Roberts and overseen by an evaluation process so rigorous that it merits comparison to the Rhodes program, though at the university entrance juncture. In one way or another, identifying these future “save the nation” teachers is a bit like developing sports champions; while one can go far too far, ID-ing talent early is an imperative strategy. Which is to say that the attraction to, in effect, nation-building-through-a-matchless-teaching-corps should mark university entrance as well as post-university work. (FYI: This latter assertion about funneling top university candidates into the system in no way suggests funneling them toward schools of education—alas, the latter are often laggards rather than leaders in developing the needed skills laid out at the beginning of this paper.)

The Future Shape of Education?

From the earliest days of the Web, it was obvious to many of us that the impact of the internet on education was going to be huge. An early inkling of the tectonic shift that was underway was the MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) Open Course Ware project. Initiated in 1999, the project provided materials for its first set of undergraduate courses free on the Web in 2002. By November 2011, there were 2,080 MIT undergraduate and graduate level courses available online. MIT’s groundbreaking initiative has been followed up by many other academic institutions, and the body of work that has been created is a valuable resource for people all over the world.

This open sharing of intellectual property has moved up to a completely different level with the advent of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses). Pioneered in 2007 by David Wiley of Utah State University, MOOCs reached a turning point in 2011 when a course on artificial intelligence enrolled a staggering 160,000 participants!


Race to Nowhere

Tom has said, “We tell our kids to ‘be still,’ then tell them to ‘read history books’—which are replete (100%!) with tales of people … who never sat still.”

This is obviously not the ideal way to cultivate a talented workforce. The education system in the United States still seems to be attempting to churn out well-behaved factory workers. With the enormous pressure placed on teachers to produce sufficient test results, the classroom becomes more about test preparation than exploration and discovery. Albert Einstein, long since deceased, had this to say:

“It is nothing short of a miracle that modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry.”

We recently heard from Matt Lintner, a teacher in Fairfax County, Virginia. He sent Tom his reflections on what children are learning, and not learning, in school in a piece he titled “Race to Nowhere.” Tom asked Matt if we could share his thoughts with you, and Matt kindly agreed. We urge you to take a moment, read what Matt has to say, and think about what you can do to help our youth learn what truly matters. Please, fan the flames of their curiosity.

Race to Nowhere

Management guru Peter Drucker famously said, “What gets measured gets managed.” But what if we’re measuring the wrong things? Consider the following: you can graduate from high school with straight A’s without ever having:

  1. Searched for answers to unknown questions.
  2. Budgeted your own time.
  3. Discovered what most interests you.
  4. Initiated a project requiring sustained commitment.
  5. Taken risks or experienced failure.
  6. Led a team in the pursuit of a worthy goal.
  7. Practiced consensus building or the messiness of compromise.
  8. Asserted yourself, even if it meant challenging authority.
  9. Built something of value.
  10. Created art that speaks to the soul.
  11. Explored the natural world.
  12. Interacted with people outside your age group.
  13. Volunteered substantively in your community.
  14. Apprenticed in fields of your choosing.
  15. Started a business.
  16. Traveled and gathered perspectives outside your comfort zone.
  17. Acquired practical skills like saving and investing, handling tools, programming, growing food…

Perhaps most tellingly, you never learned to say “No.”

America can continue down the path of national standards, high stakes testing, longer school days, expanded calendar, merit pay, and all the rest—but none of it will cure what ills us if we’re not focused on what truly matters.

Matt Lintner


Fairfax County, VA


Snow in January

The Sunday New York Times had a special section called “Education Life.” One article, “Career U.,” describes some of the changes we might expect in university education. For example, the president of the University of Michigan was surprised (to put it mildly) when she learned five years ago that 10% of incoming freshmen, some 600, had started their own businesses while in high school. She and her colleagues responded by creating about 100 entrepreneurship courses. The article tickles our imagination by describing a few of the more inventive new master’s programs:

  1. Learning to listen. (Narrative medicine.)
  2. Homeland security.
  3. Cybersecurity.
  4. Urban environment. (Sustainability.)
  5. Sustainable cultures. (Beyond environmental sustainability.)
  6. Education leadership.
  7. Cars of the Future.
  8. Construction management. (Hmmm, I got one of those from Cornell in 1966, with the diploma coming by mail to Hue, South Vietnam, where I was doing, yes, construction management for the U.S. Navy. What goes around comes around, I guess.)
  9. Specialized MBAs. (E.g., market research, energy, pharmaceutical management, wine and spirits at ESSEC B-school near Paris.)
  10. New media.

All in all, a worthwhile read.

[Above, snow, 3 January 2010—about a 2-foot accumulation.]

Some Unadulterated Good News for Americans!
Market Share That Matters!

Little is more important to America’s long-term future than its true #1 “service industry”—research universities. There are rankings and rankings and rankings, and some are confusing as hell. Among the top 50, various polls give us, roughly, between 50% and 70%. (Add in the Europeans and Canada and the number is consistently at or above 90%.) In one poll, raw # of scientific papers, American universities took the top 24 slots. Given budget woes affecting the likes of the University of California, all of whose campuses are usually in the top 100, the situation is always precarious.

TomChirp #18

MBA “Musings”

The Financial Times reported yesterday that Harvard b-school students created, and over 1,000 have signed, an oath specifying acceptable behavior. Among other things, they promise to pay equal attention to “shareholders, co-workers, customers and the society in which they operate.” On the one hand, as writer Michael Skapinker says, it’s easy to dismiss; the oath hardly represents “breakthrough thinking”—except perhaps in prestigious b-schools and on Wall Street. On the other hand, it is perhaps a small step in a useful direction, and deserves a tiny nod or at least temporarily suspended laughter. Some of this seems to follow not only the financial crisis, but the famous/infamous recent Jack Welch disclaimer. Welch, father-patron saint-cheerleader-haranguer-in-chief of the ubiquitous “shareholder value movement,” recently dissed the primacy of shareholder value as “the dumbest idea in the world.” Presumably dismissing as scurrilous the primary thing you stood for in your widely heralded career does not tarnish your reputation (Welch was just reported as starting an online B-school); to me, it makes the former GE icon a self-anointed laughingstock.

Speaking of laughingstock: My b-school alma mater, Stanford, has just appointed a new dean, Garth Saloner. I am sure he is a fine fellow, doubtless very bright—and of course I wish him well. But Stanford surely wins no out-of-the-box honors; in fact they seem to have defined “trapped in the same frigging box we’ve been in approximately forever.” The new dean is a white-male-economist. Dear God-oh-God-oh-God-oh-God, why why why why why why another economist? Solaner, the latest poster child for non-diversity, makes the third or fourth economist in a row—I’ve lost track. (Before the economist streak started, we had an accountant who starred in the Enron fiasco.) The lack of imagination is nothing short of mind-boggling. I only wish I’d been giving my b-school a lot of money, so that I’d have the unalloyed pleasure of cutting them off.

Speaking of the Stanford b-school redux: I recently mentioned an excellent Harvard Business Review article, “The Buck Starts (and Stops) at Business School,” in which author and former b-school dean Joel Podolny says at one point, “The degree of contrition at business schools seems small compared with the magnitude of the offense.” In the issue of Stanford Business I just received, the outgoing dean, Robert Joss, offers his own assessment of b-school contrition: “A better balance is needed.”

Please pass the barf bag!