Leading for the Future
Originally posted in Crain’s Detroit Business here.
Lately I’ve been inspired by Nelson Mandela’s quote: “It always seems impossible until it’s done.” Michigan must adopt this spirit of action. I encourage our new governor and legislative leaders to apply it courageously, first and foremost, to our education system.
Michigan has adopted a myopic view of our problems – especially education. Data is important; it took years of evidence for many to acknowledge the educational crisis afflicting our state. But too often we allow ourselves to be mired in dashboards where progress is gauged by our ability to catch up, rather than to leap frog and set a new standard. We impose patchwork solutions that don’t account for a rapidly changing society. We govern for disruption with a hodge-podge approach that applies short-term fixes to legacy problems. Instead, let’s govern for the future.
Consider Proposal A. Initially intended to be a short-term, stopgap measure, it is still lending to the severe underfunding of schools across Michigan two decades later. A new report by Michigan State University ranking Michigan dead last in education revenue growth reaffirmed that fact. The world is changing, and we haven’t equipped our schools to adapt with it.
The economy and the way we work has shifted dramatically in recent decades. For example, in 1979 General Motors produced around 5 million vehicles with about 853,000 employees. By 2017, it produced over 9 million vehicles with 180,000 employees. This is not an anomaly, it’s our reality. With automation and robotics, manufacturers are producing 47 percent more than they did 20 years ago, with 29 percent fewer workers.
Technology is no longer just automating manual labor, it’s automating cognition. Studies estimate that human knowledge was doubling every 25 years by the mid-1940s. Today, it’s estimated to double every 13 months, and with continued technological advances, is expected to double every 12 hours in the foreseeable future.
The workplace will never look the same. It’s our job to prepare students to thrive in a world of autonomous factories, precision medicine, and artificial intelligence manning everything from surgical tables to fast food counters. Though the age of autonomy is at our doorstep, our education system is still preparing students for jobs that soon won’t exist. Our old playbooks won’t work for the next generation. We must empower our kids to lead the future rather than fall victim to it.
Businesses have learned this the hard way. Kodak, for example, was once a trailblazer that dominated the photo industry. Despite early forays into digital cameras and online photo sharing, it lost its century-long position atop the market because it was unwilling to reconsider the underlying business model it had long relied on. Its story is a prime example of the accelerating pace of data and information. In 2000, Kodak announced its consumers had taken 80 billion photos across its 112-year history. Instagram took just eight years to reach over 40 billion photo and video shares.
Planting a stake in the future requires being willing to let go of preoccupations with the past, and the present.
Our kids must be empowered to manage the true technological transformation. They need access to tools, technology, and supports that teach them how to strengthen and adapt their unique human talents in an ever-changing world. To lead this unpredictable future, children need a core set of skills:
- Content – competency in core subjects and the ability to continuously learn
- Communication – speaking, writing, reading, and listening
- Collaboration – forming relationships, teams, and communities
- Critical Thinking – sifting and scrutinizing information intelligently
- Creative Innovation – using information and resources in new ways
- Confidence – persistence and risk taking
While somewhat daunting, the age of autonomy is an opportunity to define the future. Focusing on quarterly analyses and short-term fixes will not cut it. Governing for the future requires purpose-driven collaboration and an intentional effort from all of us — government, businesses, nonprofits, and all other sectors.
Launch Michigan — a group of business, education, labor, philanthropy, civic leaders, and parents — is a great example of this kind of creative collaboration. Its work is only just beginning, but I anticipate it will have a powerful impact advancing our schools, and in turn, our economy.
Together, we can define the future.