The Value of Scalable Learning, Or How a Hardcore Geek Became a Softy

The business model of the last 100 years that aimed to achieve scalable efficiency is the very thing that stands in our way now in our unpredictable world.

Math and physics wiz John Seely Brown realized at a young age that being able to compute complex things in his head "didn't really matter."


That may seem surprising, considering that Brown's first job was a bookie, a profession that is all about numbers. And yet, Brown learned that it was more important to read the people approaching him, and to be able to determine, for instance, who might be out to cheat him.

Reading context, not just computing content, was one of the skills that Brown explored in his recent commencement address at Singapore Management University.

In his speech, Brown describes the challenge of learning new skills in a rapidly changing world and he presents a new model - scalable learning - that he says can and needs to be employed to reinvent our world today. We will explore this big idea in a moment. But first, let's read (or watch) the context, in this tribute to Brown in which the innovation guru receives an honorary degree. 

Watch here:

What's the Big Idea?

What is the half-life of a skill? It used to be about 30 years, says Brown. In other words, you could go to school and expect to learn a skill that would last throughout most of your career. In today's rapidly changing world, however, the half life of a skill is more like 5 years, Brown says. That means that what you learn in school only gets you so far. The rest of your learning will need to come on the job.

Moreover, the business model of the last 100 years that aimed to achieve scalable efficiency, according to Brown, is the very thing that stands in our way now in our unpredictable world. 

So how do we move institutions to a model of scalable learning?

Watch the video here:

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