I don’t have a degree. I completed all my courses, and dropped out in the middle of writing my thesis. None of my friends or family could understand it, but I felt it was the right way to go. It’s been a few years, but I’ve never openly shared the reasons before.
Before trashing the university system, let me begin with what I think is good about university. University allows you to form good habits in regards to time management, lets you discover ways to absorb information, and along the way make some cool friends. Now, let’s continue.
During my three years in university, I was quite bored. I would spend the least amount of effort in school, then rushing home to play computer games or work on my latest money making project. While many classmates ended up in debt, I made some money during my university years.
The classes themselves were underwhelming due to their static and dated content. We got to learn models from the industrial age where mankind had just invented factories and were figuring out ways to optimize them. This was insanely odd for me, who took it for granted that we were already well into the information age. Besides, if I’d wanted to find out about something specific, I could just Google it. It wasn’t as if Google would become a worse source of information as time went by. It was certain that memorized, factual information would become less and less important in the future. We were investing our time into learning things that would lose value with time, which is the exact opposite of the concept of investing in the first place.
Due to my lack of effort in university, my grades weren’t amazing. This lead to me thinking I wasn’t smart enough. So one summer, I took the Mensa test and scored pretty well. I had proven to myself that I wasn’t stupid.
Also, I have a light dislike for authority. Since middle school, I’ve thought that it was inefficient and immoral to kiss ass to teachers. This type of thinking carried on throughout university. As a result, teachers didn’t notice me, and I was bummed that they couldn’t see my intelligence and potential. It was a vicious cycle.
I felt that my teachers didn’t pay enough attention. So another reason why I dropped out was that I didn’t want my university to receive credit for me, later on when I would be a smashing success. When journalists would interview me, they could write about me dropping out like many of my role models before me, adding spice and excitement to their stories. It’s extremely childish and funny looking back at it, but the scary thing is, that childish idea is on its way of becoming a reality…
I’ll share what I did after dropping out in the future when I have time.
The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out; the brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. The brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They are there to stop the other people!
Ever since the amazing launch of the first iPhone, I’ve been fascinated by Steve Jobs. After hearing about it, I immediately contacted my friend in the US to help me buy an AT&T locked iPhone to have it shipped halfway across the world. 2011 was the peak of my fascination with Jobs and Apple. At one point, I owned almost Apple’s entire product line: iPod Shuffle, iPod Nano, iPod Touch, iPhone 3GS, MacBook Air 11” and iMac 27”.
I was excited when I heard that there was going to be a biography written on Jobs. I pre-ordered it on Amazon, and looked forward to it for months. I devoured the book in little more than a weekend. It was great to learn about Jobs’ thought process, and reading the book made me draw parallels to my own thinking and naively feel that we were similar.
Two years later, I’ve just recently finished re-reading the biography. It felt like a new book to me. Having worked in the smartphone industry for two years, I can relate in a deep way to what’s written in the book. This time, I didn’t feel like Steve Jobs anymore. While I share a few characteristics, we are completely different people.
So, after two readings, and two years of experience, below are a three themes I reflected on while reading the book.
I just re-watched the Swedish movie Evil (Ondskan). What the movie is about is beyond this post, but it’s good and I recommend you to watch it! It’s set in an elite Swedish boarding school during the 50s, where almost all the students came from aristocratic families. This detail piqued my interest, and lead to me reading up on medieval Scandinavian history. In turn, it reminded me of how profoundly society and the power structure in our world has changed in the recent 300 years (which is a blip in the history of humanity).
Everything has changed, and is change is accelerating.
Education should prepare youth to boldly face the future as individuals. But education is still largely unchanged since the industrial era, as if the purpose is still to produce employees for factories and corporations. There is no sense of urgency about the level of change happening in today’s world. We are all busy with the minutiae our everyday lives, and not reacting to the implications of a changing world.
Over the past decade, we’ve seen the rise of the internet, globalization, BRICs, smartphones & more. The creation & distribution of value is fundamentally changing. Middlemen will die. YouTube & iTunes will kill record labels. Music players and digital distribution have killed CDs & record shops. The internet & tablets will kill magazines. Amazon will kill book publishers. Large areas of physical commerce will be killed by e-commerce. Big corporations will be killed by nimble startups. In all areas of the economy, transparency will increase, middlemen will disappear, leaving more value for creators and consumers.
The next decade marks the demise of the middle class in developed economies, a manufacturing revolution (3D printing & Made in USA), and a further blurring of the lines between man and machine.
No, everything is not normal. So let’s stop acting like it.
Two generations ago, it was hard to take an invention to market. You had to apply for patents and meet with large corporations, in hopes that one will license and develop your idea further. Now, it’s becoming increasingly cheap, fast and low risk to realize ones ideas. The internet made it easy to share digital information. The next industrial revolution will remove barriers for creating and distributing physical objects on a global scale. Big factories will play a smaller role in the future, while grassroots innovation will flourish.
Just like how the PC revolution went from mainframes to personal computers, we are seeing a similar shift in physical production; a democratization of production. Not only are we changing the way things are made with 3D printers and laser cutters, we are also, more importantly, changing who does it (regular people). Makerspaces, where people can gather and collaborate on creating physical objects, are popping up around the world.
Some of the relatively new players are Kickstarter (crowd-funding for smaller projects) and Makerbot (one of the most prominent 3D printer manufacturers). What’s interesting is that traditional product design and engineering companies like Autodesk, PTC, and 3D Systems have also hopped on the bandwagon, releasing mobile apps and printing services. The path to create physical products has been shortened dramatically. Silicon Valley has minted many millionaires creating web companies, but the next wave of opportunity will lie in hardware.
The first industrial revolution was when key technologies, such as steam, cotton and the spinning machine came together. Coupled with a suitable legal and social environment, it lead to 10,000% increases in average inflation adjusted income. The second industrial revolution came with the modern factory, the conveyor belt and the associated productivity gains (Ford T-Model for instance). By increasing productivity, people needed to worry less about spending time for survival essentials, and could spend more time on things like invention, education, and arts. Things that define modernity, and push the human race forward. The third industrial revolution will be the information revolution. The proliferation of personal computers, the internet, and now the coming democratization of the production and distribution of physical goods. Already now, makers can sell direct no consumers on platforms such as Ebay and Etsy, cutting out the middle man.
In the long run, manufacturing will be less dominated by industrial mass production (economies of scale), and there will be more and more customization and and the focus on long tail consumer needs. This also implies that economies and scale become less interesting, and hence also the associated search for the lowest labor cost, for instance in China and increasingly other Asian countries. Less than a year after the book was released, we’re already beginning to see this phenomena in technology; with the new Mac Pro (made in USA) and Motorola X (made in USA, made-to-order).
Jack Ma is the founder of Alibaba, and arguably one of the most respected in the Chinese tech space. This is not only due to the companies he built, but also his personality and ideas.
Here are his 30 tips for success that I’ve translated into English.