How Do You Best Prepare For The Creative Age?


So today there was this big convergence of things I’d been thinking about lately, including:

1. The cartoon (pictured above) that we sent out in Friday’s newsletter.

2. The “Jiro Dreams Of Sushi” article I posted Thursday and the whole “Mastery” kick I’ve been riffing on recently.

3. Sir Ken Robinson’s amazing 2006 Ted Talk on how schools kill creativity.

4. Seth Godin’s fabulous, free 30,000-word manifesto on education, “Stop Stealing Dreams”.

5. The work the team and I have been doing for Babson College and to some extent, Rackspace.

6. This week’s good news for Dave McClure and 500 Startups raising $50 million for their startup incubator.

7. Being in the same room while Babson’s President, Len Schlesinger interviewed CNN senior political analyst, Dave Gergen in Boston a few months ago. Gergen’s advice to students? “Learn how to invent.”

8. A tweet I made earlier: “I’m not sure if America is ready to be a second-rate nation quite yet”.

9. The appalling 50% youth unemployment in places like Spain or Greece. Will we Americans be seeing the same one day? Horrifying!

10. One of my favorite books in the world, “Welcome to the Creative Age”  by my old buddy, Mark Earls.

A lot of people worldwide are relying on America not becoming, like I said, a second-rate nation. Even some of the people who don’t particularly like America.

And how is that going to happen, exactly? How are we going to remain at the top of our game, or at least, make a damn good show of it?

The same way we’ve always done it: by creating new, interesting products and ideas that people need, want, value and are inspired by.


To massively over-simplify, there were two main phases in the history of education, pre-industrial and industrial. The first meant only the clergy and the sons of the elite were properly educated. Then along comes the second, industrial phase, which meant universal education on a mass-scale, that emerges along with the “Age of Reason”, the industrial revolution and the whole modern era.

As Seth Godin famously likes to talk about, in this second, industrial phase, schools became little more than factories, churning out young people educated enough to work in bigger factories one day. Whether we’re talking blue collar or white collar, it didn’t matter, it’ still a factory job, basically. You’re still a cog in the factory machine, basically. This factory-model was perfect for when the factory was still the cornerstone of the industrial economy. A factory-centered model for a factory-centered world. This was true whether in elementary school in Iowa, or Harvard Business School in Cambridge, your reality was the factory because your career was the factory. Own the factory, work in the factory, live near the factory, become the factory. Factory, factory, factory…

And of course, this factory-centric model which worked fine for a hundred-plus years is now broken. We can no longer compete long-term that way. Just owning a factory doesn’t give us the same edge it used to, the same economic security, as anyone who’s ever tried competing lately in the global economy has been finding out.

A new model is needed.


Personally, I had a pretty good formal education, where I learned the basics- reading, writing, math, a bit of science, history, languages and a wee smattering of the arts. I learned to study and pass tests. Like most students, I learned how to learn, basically. I leaned how to work in a foctory, basically.

I don’t think that’s enough anymore, as the THOUSANDS UPON THOUSANDS of under-employed and unemployed university graduates with good grades in Europe and America will testify. They passed all their tests fine, they all ticked off the right boxes… and yet, look at them now, poor things.

Kids in the future are simply not going to leave school with this big, bumper crop of plum jobs waiting for them to fill, not like they used to. In the future, kids will leave school and increasingly be expected to create their own viable realities.

Like David Gergen alluded to, these young adults will be expected not just to do the work, but expected to ACTUALLY invent something. Create something, not just obey orders, not just fulfill some sort of social role.

And somehow, we have to teach our schools how to teach our kids exactly that. It’s not going to be easy.


As I see it, there are basically two ways, at least if you go at it from a college-age, entrepreneurial, startup mentality. One is the more risky path advocated by my wonderfully lucid friend, Jason Calacanis, to forget college and instead, “Spend Your College Tuition on Being Mentored and Starting a Company.” That’s probably what I would have chosen for myself, nowadays. That, or apprenticing for a master at something, the way English tailors learn their craft, or how the advertising legend, Dave Trott used to hire kids right off the street in London and give theme a chance at writing ads (Hence the earlier Jiro/Mastery reference]. Learning on the job, as it were. The street-fighter’s approach. Tough, brutal, intense, but nonetheless a first-class education in the University of Life.

The second way is what I see Len Schesinger  trying to do at Babson…. shaking things up… evolving the idea of school (business school, anyway) as not just a place of learning, but also as a place of DOING.

Where. Stuff. Gets. Done.

In the real world. Here and now.

Where students don’t just learn about running businesses, but are expected to actually start running businesses and making them viable. All while still getting good grades. It’s a pretty intense curriculum, but hey, the best students seem to thrive at it.

Michael Dell’s company was started in a dorm room. Ditto with Mark Zuckerberg. Hey, my cartooning career was, too.

This is the idea of a college as not just a seat of learning, but an incubator, of sorts. These days, business schools like Babson aren’t just competing with Harvard or Wharton, they’re competing with Y Combinator and 500 Startups. The most talented kids in the country aren’t waiting around for the grownups in the ivory towers to get their act together. They’re already inventing their own futures; they’re in a hurry.

I don’t have all the answers. All I know is that it’s already happening. It’s already begun, the genie is already out of the bottle… and it’s damn exciting to watch.

[PS: This blog post only took me a short morning and a couple of hundred words to write. Ideally, it would've taken me a couple of years and enough words to fill an entire book. I'm sorry if it's incomplete, I'm sorry if there are massive holes everywhere. It's a vast minefield of a subject that'll take the cleverest people in the land more than a few decades to work out fully. But like I inferred, it still damn exciting to think about. I just hope we're all up for it.]

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Hugh MacLeod is a genius.  Genius.

Seth Godin
Best Selling Author

His work acknowledges the absurdity of workaday life, while also encouraging employees to respond with passion, creativity, and non-conformity...   MacLeod’s work is undeniably an improvement over the office schlock of yore. At its best, it’s more honest, and more cognizant of the entrepreneurial psyche, while still retaining some idealism.

The New Republic
Lydia Depillis

Last year my State of the College address was 76 slides loaded with data. This year it was 14 cartoons that were substantially more memorable.

Len Schlesinger
Former President, Babson College

"There are only two daily newsletters that I look forward to opening and reading every time they show up to my inbox: Seth Godin's and gapingvoid."

Tony Hsieh
CEO, Zappos

In moments of indecision I glance at the wall [to Hugh's work] for guidance.

Brian Clark
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