Will Innovative New School 42 Create The Next Gold Alumni Network?
For many of us in the Silicon Valley, we know well the shortage of programmers and coders. We also know that the shortage isn’t just about coding, but about innovative thinking among those who know how to code.
I was thinking about this as I drove to an event recently. After a beautiful drive over the Dumbarton Bridge from the Peninsula, I arrived in Fremont, at a large building—and I entered the brand new US-based school known simply as 42.
For those of you not familiar with Ecole, it is a new university model aimed at disrupting education by providing a FREE coding school, that is project-based and peer reviewed. You read it right: No teachers, no lectures, no tuition.
The university model has operated in Paris for a while. It is fully funded with a $100M philanthropic effort of a well known businessman, Xavier Niel, who already disrupted the telecom industry with mobile operator Iliad’s Free brand.
I have previously written about how investment in education has increased over the last several years. This is driven not only by the student loan crisis and the increasing focus on the ROI of educational institutions, but also by the new ways to monetize and deliver education enabled by the Internet.
Digitalization has impacted educational products, services and delivery. It has also expanded the set of players coming to the market. For example, LinkedIn acquired Lynda, creating new vertical strategy for technology market learning. In the digital world, learning on its own is not sufficient. These digital services exponentially increase the value for learners. Lynda’s, for instance, links to finding a job as an outcome, with its integration into recruitment services.
Yesterday, I had the opportunity to moderate a launch roundtable for the ‘piscine’ at 42. The “piscine,” or “pool” is an intensive entrance process that gives students a month at the school to understand learner motivation and skill. I was impressed by the scale, the speed and the team driving this project.
There are many factors that make 42 unique and successful. Here are few of my thoughts about their approach:
A team with an incredible passion and ability to execute
Each person proudly wears their Ecole 42 staff tee-shirt. The style of communication is open and collaborative. Every staff member is either an alumni, shares a strong sense of purpose with the school, or is an avid defender of the model. They want to show how to provide access to critical skills for people who might not otherwise have access.
Just two months ago they announced they would come to the US and launch in the summer. And here they are, with new buildings, the first set of students, all while finalizing the campus.
The magic sauce: An end-to-end model with the student at the center
Not only is there a shared pedagogy, but the whole structure is centered on the individual.
The school does not include the idea of a standard “term,” recognizing that every individual progresses his or her own pace. Some may finish the school and get to level 21 in 2 years, while other learners may take as long as 5 years.
Brittany Bir, the COO of 42, explained that accounts will never close. This leaves the opportunity for students to come back if it becomes relevant to them.
While tuition is free, Kwame Yamgnane, the managing director of 42, asserts that free tuition is not sufficient. The ability to come back means tuition remains free for life.
42 also offers lodging. Onsite dorms provide learners with a place to stay while they learn.
I had the opportunity to talk with two students, Antoine Bungert and Henri Dumas. Antoine is currently a Level 10 student in Paris. He has participated in the annual 42/HEC partnership program. Henri, a Level 11, recently completed a partnership and an internship with thanks to his studies at 42.
Both students recognized an immediate connection of their studies to potential jobs. The moment the students shared their studies at 42 via LinkedIn companies started reaching out with job offers.
42 students help reach underserved populations. Eighteen-percent of the students are women, five times that of institutional averages.
Not only does 42 attract job offers and teach great coding, but they help their students master 21st Century skills like collaboration, communication and team work, skills often not taught by other schools.
I bet the alumni network of this school will be strong. I look forward to seeing how their graduates flourish as entrepreneurs and innovators that start their own businesses and contribute within larger organizations!
Change is inevitable, and it arrives from many sources. Last week, those in the United Kingdom, the European countries, and most places across the world felt a wave of uncertainty as the Brexit measure passed in the UK. This left governments, businesses and individuals with many uncertainties about jobs, trade, regulations and many other areas. This one event is precipitating uncertainty across the globe.
Closer to home, uncertainty is a huge issue in technology-heavy places like Silicon Valley, where many have worked for a company that has been acquired, re-organized, or perhaps just ceased operations.
We all face what I call the dysfunction of transition, the chaotic time of moving from one reality to the next. Individuals make a choice of letting the future happen to them, or participating in the co-creation of the future. Those who worry about protecting the past will likely find themselves on the wrong side of history. Those who help co-create the future also help find their place in the future.
As leaders we can help our team when facing uncertainty. Here are 4 practices that I redouble in times of uncertainty and ask of the leaders and managers in my organization:
- Keep moving – Manage deadlines and priorities. Uncertainty does not mean that things stop. Leaders must manage to deadlines with great vigilance in times of uncertainty because even the best employees start second guessing what is important. In less stressful times, it might only be necessary to reach an agreement, and the staff will go off and do what they have committed to. In times of stress, people get distracted and miss deadlines and let other responsibilities, like maintaining good customer or partner relationships, suffer. Unless a company is closing its doors, those partners and customers are part of the new future, and it is important to remind people that the best future is one that arrives from a strong present.
- Increase communication among the management team. It is very important that the management team be on the same page and deliver consistent messages. In times of uncertainty, knowing the right thing to say can be difficult, and just making a statement from experience may not result in the best statement to share with a team or individual. The management team needs to discuss any questions that aren’t clear and come to a consensus about how to answer those questions consistently. Managers need to look to each other to keep their own issues with uncertainty in check, and to shore up their personal safe guards in order to avoid making the already difficult situation of change into something negative.
- Create as many learning opportunities as you can. One of the drivers of fear in the face of uncertainty comes from being too routine, or too personally connected to a particular skill or discipline. Most businesses give people opportunities to stretch their experiences, learn new areas and challenge themselves. I find that those who do this are much less fearful of uncertainty because they know they can align with whatever happens. Instead of wasting time worrying about what might happen, take that worry time and focus it on learning.
- Listen, console and coach. Not everyone has been through major changes in their lives or careers—and some don’t deal with change well, even if they have been through this before. Managers need to recognize this and make maintaining a cohesive, engaged and productive organization their priority. That means listening to people, coaching them through transitions and reminding them of priorities. Sometimes it may mean consoling them because something they believe is important is going away, be it a technology or a process, or perhaps a colleague. Good managers are at their best when they help the people who rightly or wrongly perceive themselves as facing the most risk, work their way through the transition.
It is important that we see change as a learning opportunity.
It is important that we see change as a learning opportunity. I learn something new about myself, my organization, about the world, every time change occurs. It is important for me to pass along this love for learning to my management team and to the entire organization, as I believe that only by actively learning from change do we find a way to face it without fear.
My Wellness Routine
I received some immediate responses to my wellness post. Most of the questions were about my wellness routine, so I drafted a brief overview of my daily process of preparing my body to support my mind.
I leverage a Priming My Mind exercise I borrowed from Anthony Robbins. This exercise activates my mind, helps me embrace gratitude, and focuses me on my goals. This exercise proves very powerful for me every day.
I also exercise regularly before starting my work day (or alternatively late in the evening) at least three times a week. I go for a short run. I just put on my running shoes whether at home, or in a hotel when traveling, and I run. On Saturday mornings, I share my social ritual with my husband and our running group for longer runs up to 12 miles. These Saturday rituals are as much about exercise as they are about catching up and bonding, killing two birds with one stone. Once a week, on Fridays, when training for a triathlon, my husband and I go for a long bike ride in the mountains close to home. The ozone I breathe brings so much to my body—and again this is a great bonding time with my partner which is much needed in our busy lives.
Days off are not really off. On days without a run or bike ride, I start with a fifteen-minute Yoga routine to awaken my body for the day and get my energy rolling.
What I eat
Of course, what you eat is also very important. 80% of what I eat comes from high water content foods, like fruits and vegetables. 50% of my food is raw, the source of most of my vitamins.
I know that not everybody has the time or the inclination to create a wellness routine like mine, but I encourage everybody I know to create a routine that works for them. Wellness drives my continuous learning as much as anything else in my life.
Wellness at Work
I have always been an active person, but until a few years ago, much of that activity was directed toward work.
When I moved to the US, the culture of working both on one’s mind and body enabled me to commit for my first half marathon. Now six half marathons and three Olympic triathlons later, exercising is part of my everyday life. Three days without exercise significantly impacts my mind and my body.
While I was preparing for the marathon, I realized that there is an inverse relationship between health and mind. Elite athletes talk about their mental preparation all of the time. In the most recent football season, quarterbacks in college and on professional teams used virtual reality systems to help them learn to read defenses. Golfers practice swings on courses around the world in simulations. These are all examples of mental preparation.
Rarely, though, do I hear executives get out and talk about physical preparation for work. For those of us who spend most of our day with a computer, it is the organ in our skull that we think is most valuable. But that organ, our brain, requires blood and oxygen—and it requires it efficiently.
Wellness at Work: Decisions and Empathy
I talked to a few of my CEO peers about exercise and work, and while our roles might differ, we all spend a lot of our time on two key areas that are highly impacted by wellness: decision making and empathy.
First, a large part of our day is spent making decisions on matters which cannot be resolved before we arrive at our desk. For most of the issues we deal with, there are no black or white answers. It is really making a decision as the Latin origin of this word means – de caedere, a cut off, or the death of one option over another. Decisions are never perfect.
Second, we spend a lot of time working with our teams—managing challenges, dealing with emotion situations and helping people and our ecosystem to thrive. It often requires a lot of empathy, compassion and patience which we never have enough of in our very active business life.
In both of these instances, I heard too many times that my fellow CEOs all had bad memories of actions and behaviors influenced because they were on the edge—too stressed, not enough sleep, mentally exhausted.
We live in an era where there are plenty of studies that establish a clear linkage between mind and body. The ability to manage both our mind and body to operate at peak performance is our responsibility as leaders.
Let’s be honest, I’m not an elite athlete, but I am proud of what I’ve accomplished in terms of operating at my optimal self – this is what matters, not the volume of muscles or how fast I finish a race. In fact, we have to be cautious for as much as exercise is good for the mind, some people can become obsessed with it to the point that they suffer from conditions like “excessive exercise” and “overtraining syndrome”.
Wellness at Work: Finding Time
When I decided to add more regular exercise to my day, the biggest challenge for me was finding the time. My preparation exercises taught me that I have to make real time for staying healthy. I can’t just work it into my routine and do a couple of crunches in the lunch room, or knee bends waiting for a conference call to start. I think in a way my body knows when I’m paying attention to it. It is part of the design of my life. This body & mind preparation became an official block on my business calendar.
I have to make time for my body—for my heart and lungs and muscles—as much as I make time for strategy, evaluating the competition and nurturing the career goals of my staff. Balance is an important idea in design. We must find a balance that lets us be whole people, not just brains with bodies or bodies with brains. We have to design our own personal mind-body experience.
This isn’t new wisdom, just a new realization.
As the Buddha said:
To keep the body in good health is a duty… otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear.
My Continuous Learning Conversations at Pearson English
Over the last couple of weeks, I wrote three blogs for the Pearson English website that extend the recent continuous learning themes I explored here. I want to share the opening paragraphs of the blogs and links to them. I look forward to your thoughts!
Continuous Learning: Staying Relevant to the Talent Conversation
I am very excited about the dialog that Pearson English Business Solutions is creating around the future of jobs, and the need for continuous learning. Anyone who has been reading my personal blog knows that continuous learning is very important to me. I think continuous learning is critical to people staying relevant in the 21st Century job market.
Read more here.
Is Learning English the Way to Tackle English-biased Research?
In order to change the world, we have to start by accepting it where we find it. When it comes to content on the Internet, the vast majority of it is written in English. Even non-English speaking countries like Germany, France and Spain produce much of their scientific literature in English. Eighty percent of articles, for instance, collected by the SCOPUS database of peer-reviewed articles, were written in English according to a 2012 study by Research Trends.
Read more here.
English as a Gateway Skill
English is currently the most important language of business and business travel. I speak French, but when I travel, I am much more likely to meet someone who shares speaking English with me, than speaking French. The following list offers evidence as to why English is dominant, but more importantly, why it is important to invest in reaching English proficiency.
Read more here.
Over the last several posts, I have explored continuous learning. Here are the last three topics for now. I look forward to creating a dialog around this topic. Please comment if you have other ideas or questions about continuous learning.
1. Say yes – keep space for spontaneity
When people are asked to do things, a lot goes on in their mind. Do I have time? Can I afford it? What do I get out of it? Who is getting something out of this beside me? Is this aligned with my plans?
All very selfish thoughts. I find that one of the best ways to be selfish is to just say, yes. When you say yes you put yourself into situations that you wouldn’t be in if you had said no. Now I don’t mean dangerous situations, but business situations. Let’s say somebody asked you to be on a panel, to present at a conference, take on a new project or coach a new employee. If you say no, you will never meet the people on the panel, you will never learn new things as you prepare for the presentation, you will never gain experience through the wins and failings of the project, and you will never have the opportunity to get to know a really interesting new person at more than a passing level.
All of that happens because you say yes; break through the barrier of routine, and open yourself up to learning.
2. Hold your beliefs lightly
If you think you know something, you may be reluctant to look into it any deeper. I have conversations all of the time about topics that I think I know something about, but when I get in a group, I find that some of what I know is only surface knowledge, and some of it is wrong. If I hold on to what I think I know about everything, I can’t learn new things. In some areas I might be considered a subject matter expert, but even in these areas, I am not the only source, or even the best source for all aspects of entrepreneurship, managing start-ups or social learning. I think a subject matter expert is someone who actively learns all of the time, someone who is passionate about their area, but not so trapped by their beliefs that they can see when disruptions happen, new insights occur or new technologies offer improvements. Be humble even about what you know because some new discovery may be very important to your future, and you need to be willing to embrace it, or it may just pass you by.
3. Negotiate learning into your objectives
This is harder than it sounds because when most people write their objectives, they create them based on their manager’s objectives — which are derived from other, higher-level objectives. Even organizations that consider themselves “learning organizations” seldom flow down any meaningful learning objectives to individuals.
People can take classes, but they often feel like the classes take time away from work, and the success of that work drives personal assessments, and personal assessments drive bonuses. Contributing to lessons-learned systems and in-house communities often get left out of time measurements and success metrics. If you can’t integrate learning into your personal achievement equation, you will probably skip most learning opportunities. People don’t get paid for learning more on the job, really, do they?
I find it useful to not assume that this is the case. I have learned to take the time to talk with my manager about what I need to know to advance in my career, and then find ways to put that learning into my objectives. If it is important enough that I know something to better contribute to the organization, then it is important enough that the organization recognize my effort to learn it. Even for a CEO!
Adopt What You Learn
Many organizations sponsor professional development classes, or people take brief courses on their own at a local college or online. With our get-everything-done-now world it may be convenient to drop these short courses into your life, but it is much harder to figure out what to do with what you have learned. The same is true of books or conversations. I have a list of great ideas. Many of them are still waiting to be great for me. But some of them do help me reorient my work, or change the way I think. But I must make the effort, I must try to incorporate the idea into the way I do things and see if it really works.
I went to a meeting recently where I learned some important ideas I wanted to apply to my business, including some insights out about how best to design a website. I didn’t just send out a list of five ideas people should start doing. I sat down and wrote five e-mails for things like redoing our website, which were turned into projects with accountabilities and commitments for doing things differently. I think if I had just sent out a note about how to make a better website, we would still have the same website. Now, we not only have started implementing those ideas, but we are actively looking for other great practices to apply.
Every one of my direct personnel is required to routinely create a learning and development activity report. Each of them will have to identify a minimum of two areas where learning will be integrated immediately.
I’m trying to get my team to build continuous learning into any change activity. Every one of my direct personnel is required to routinely create a learning and development activity report. Each of them will have to identify a minimum of two areas where learning will be integrated immediately. I think it is essential for a development program to create a mindset in which individuals find applicable learning and actively, and visibly, engage in applying that learning. I tell them to ‘adopt what you learn.’ I don’t want to just encourage passive learning. I want my team to see that their peers are applying learning, and perhaps that will even inspire them to learn more from each other.
Be a connector and find the relationship building approach that suits you best
When you are given an opportunity to meet an interesting person, don’t be shy, even if you are shy. I’m kind of shy, but I’ve meet CEOs, diplomats and technology leaders, and some of them are now my mentors and friends. They would be neither if I hadn’t made the effort to meet them and talk with them. Relationship building is an active, not passive activity.
Sure, a lot of your encounters are brief, and you may not get to do much more than say hello, but sometimes, you get to have a leisurely breakfast or a deep conversation ahead of a presentation, or the opportunity for a chat over a glass of wine at the end of a day. But you know what? If you are standing shyly on the side, not approaching a person to at least say hello, none of those things is ever going to happen … unless you are the interesting person and people come over to you. Yes, that is a bit of extra advice: you are an interesting person and if you are confident and open, people will want to know you.
To be honest, I don’t do well when I’m in a big group— I find in big groups all of our defenses are up—and that’s not where I connect best. So I have learned to not only master my shyness when in big crowds, but also to not be bashful in reaching out to people I already know at conferences and get myself invited to dinners, for instance, where I can really talk to people. In a smaller setting, over time, everybody can get comfortable and we become more vulnerable — and that is when we really start having a conversation, when we really start getting to know each other.
Some readers may be comfortable in other situations. If that is true, then you should try to find a way to bring yourself into those situations more often. That is where you will learn best.
Get out of your comfort zone…
To put it simply, you have to get out. Out of the office, out of the house—you have to get out of your comfort zone. Our global connections let us learn anywhere, but there is nothing like the conversation after an interesting presentation as people descend on snacks or a sunny patio. If you can’t afford, or aren’t invited to major industry events, you can still get connected to local groups or associations like Rotary Clubs and Chambers of Commerce, as well as more topic-specific clubs. Many cities now hold regular networking meetings coordinated through organizations like . I am always fascinated, and often humbled, by the people I meet. I usually go to an event with a question in mind, or a hypothesis I want to research — sometimes the best question is just: “What brought you here tonight?”
…but on a schedule that fits your lifestyle
I have two very personal thoughts about events. First, local events need to recognize that people have families. Rather than starting at 5pm, they should consider starting later so people can get home, share time with their children, eat a meal together, and then go out after the children are asleep. My Lean-In Circle starts at 8:30pm in recognition of this need and this reality.
While you have to balance priorities between work and family during a regular week, when you travel, your priority should be to get as much out of that trip as possible.
The second event thing for me is using travel as a time to meet people and connect. When I’m traveling, I run on a different schedule, so I leverage that to go to everything I can and to meet all of the people I can. I don’t think it is a good use of your time to go to an event, paid for by your company or yourself, and spend all of your time in a hotel room working or watching television. How many opportunities do you have to meet and interact with dozens, hundreds, even thousands of people who can provide you insights, potentially buy your product or add value to it, or to just hold a good conversation? While you have to balance priorities between work and family during a regular week, when you travel, your priority should be to get as much out of that trip as possible.
Continuous Learning: Patiently connect the dots
If all you do is execute all day—go from one thing to the next to get everything done—you may miss one of the best learning opportunities that humans can experience: reflection.
As I understand it, our brains, through dreams, are made to reflect and organize, hone and emphasize our experiences. That is a passive experience. I think it is important for people to take the time in areas they want to explore, in areas where they want to learn, and think about and trace out the relationships between the different aspects of the concept. Are there gaps? How are these things similar? How are they connected? Is there some causal relationship? Or even—do some of the ideas not fit at all, and if not, why did I think they fit in the first place?
When you watch police shows that put the detective in-front of a wall covered with pictures and notes, an image where long-lengths of string connect faces to fact, what you are seeing is a very visceral, physical way of connecting ideas. That kind of organization can be used for anything you want to explore or solve. But it doesn’t have to be physical; many tools—from electronic cork boards to mind maps—can help you think about ideas more inclusively and holistically.
You do, however, have to make time to do this kind of analysis.
In my current job I keep Fridays open for meeting people who don’t regularly work with me or for me. I use the time when I’m not meeting new people to brainstorm and to think about how things are related.
I come from a Latin culture, where not all meetings and situations are planned. In my current job I keep Fridays open for meeting people who don’t regularly work with me or for me. I use the time when I’m not meeting new people to brainstorm and to think about how things are related. I think of this as an aspect of diversity. Diversity in people by getting outside of those I know really well — and diversity of time by allowing myself to do something very different one day a week. I find that being perceived as a connector is also very positive for managers and learners, as it helps create a circle of trust and credibility that creates even more new dots to connect — even more opportunities to learn.
If start-ups teach us anything, it is that true leaders pitch in and do what needs to be done. They don't worry about boundaries, just goals. And they bring everyone along with them.
We are surrounded by technology. Leveraging technology is a strategic necessity. The best leaders will transform emerging technology into a strategic advantage, and they won't be afraid to abandon the obsolete.
Education is essential. Life-long learning is the key ingredient for today's business.