Show off!

It’s as if we Dutch are raised with some sort of false modesty: ‘Act normal, and you’re strange enough…’ Compliment someone on their clothing and you’ll almost always get the answer ‘I bought it on sale’. Ask someone what they’re good at and you’ll get all sorts of awkward twists and turns or some sort of general story. In America, in contrast, children are taught to present themselves from very early on. Here in the Netherlands there’s some sort of taboo on that. Someone who is self-confident and/or stands out from the rest is quick to be called arrogant, pushy or conceited. Personally I think it’s okay to be proud of what you do, especially if you happen to be really good at it. And be fine about saying if there’s something you’re not good at too. People and organizations working with you will only appreciate it: clarity instead of mediocrity! I am surprised how few people know what they are really good at. As a coach I am increasingly approached for help with questions that I feel everyone should address from a young age. Who am I? What do I really want? What am I good at? What makes me happy? Where’s my added value? If you ask yourself these questions, I have noticed an increase in confidence, happiness and an ability to add more value to your environment, work and society. We should really learn these things at school. But our educational system seems to have different objectives. Seth Godin, author of The Purple Cow, amongst others, explains in a free e-book that schools really evolved to ‘produce’ obedient workers for factories. For decades, this was precisely what our economy and society needed. But everything has changed dramatically in recent years. We no longer trade our manual labor for an hourly wage in factories. Instead we’re nearly all ‘knowledge workers’ in an information economy. The educational system, however, has barely been changed. Learning facts off by heart, for example, stems from a period when knowledge was power. Nowadays information is freely available and it is far more important to sort through and interpret that information. The old system is based on hierarchy and seniority, although the work placement student in a company may have a better solution than the director. Put yourself in the shoes of that student. How would you approach that? Lots of youngsters and one-man-bands use video sites like youTube to share their knowledge, ideas and talents on a large scale. There are free (instruction) videos on every imaginable topic. After Google, youTube has become the largest search engine in the world! Young people in particular prefer video instead of text. I think there are opportunities here. For companies, work placement students, educational institutions like Nyenrode, as well as for you. Share your knowledge and passion with the world without expecting anything in return. And at the same time make use of what’s on offer. Is there something at which you are better, or understand better than others? Are there questions you have to answer again and again? Why not do so once and for all in a video? Making an (instruction) video or video blog only takes a few minutes. Add a good description, and your knowledge and ideas are available to everyone. Without having to peddle them. Now anyone who’s interested can find you! Making knowledge available free of charge is happening more and more often in academia too. After a year you can follow lectures from the prestigious Harvard for free online for example. Harvard confirms its position as a leading institution precisely because it’s giving away its knowledge for free. And there’s more: is unleashing an educational revolution. They are making available thousands of free video lessons online on generally tough topics like mathematics or history. They’re presented in an understandable and even fun way. The first schools have already started aligning their education to this new method. Pupils watch the lessons at their own speed at home so that they can stop and start the video as often as they want until they understand the material completely. It allows the teachers at school to concentrate on what normally was the ‘homework’: applying the knowledge. And the children spend their time at school on interaction, to which they are far better suited than sitting still and listening to the lesson. And you? Do you stay in your seat obediently and do what is expected of you? Or do you have the guts to turn things upside down, do what suits you and to really show yourself? I argue we should dramatically change our thinking as a society and our school system. It’s no longer about knowledge transfer – it’s about finding your way in that jungle of information, choices and opportunities. It’s no longer about conformity – it’s about authenticity. It’s not about following obediently, but rather about new leaders generating new solutions for problems that our society and industry have created in the past decades. I hope we can change the attitude of ‘act normal…’ into one of ‘just act!’