4 min read

An Expensive Piece of Paper

I graduated from university in April and since I have been trying to figure out what this piece of paper I received really represents. Does it represent the knowledge that I have obtained, the money or the time I spent? I have been having a hard time justifying any of these metrics.
If it was the knowledge that I had obtained then wouldn’t there be a test I could have taken to prove I already had it at the beginning or throughout the process? If it was the money that I spent, could I not have bought the degree outright if I had the means? If it was the time that I had spent, what would have happened if I failed a class or if I wanted to fast track? None of these seem to be proper representation of this expensive piece of paper that so many seem to be chasing after. Seth Godin says this re: school, "Today it’s a place you go to exchange a lifetime of debt for credit hours, a degree, and maybe a good job.” This exchange seems to be quite an unfair one and one that we deem necessary in our culture. The most accurate representation of the degree that I can come to is a willingness to comply to a system. To do what we are told, put effort towards achieving a likely pointless task and wait for our reward. A reward that may be as futile as the task itself. This to me is the perfect training program for the corporate structure of old. Enter the business in a “doer” role and if you do well, you may direct those on the tier that you used to belong. Of course with very little creativity and influence because there is a tier above you that directs and dictates the decisions you pass on. The issue is that businesses that still operate in this paradigm are dying and doomed if there isn’t a radical shift in their thinking.

Businesses are starting to realize that knowledge that is absorbed in higher learning rarely has any practical value in the minds of the fresh graduate and they see them as more work than someone who has a bit of work experience. Yes, I graduated with a marketing degree and that is the lens as to which I am making this criticism. I completely understand if you are to be a lawyer, doctor, accountant or something in that scope there are many things that you need to study and memorize and this is where academia has its strength. For the rest of us, I may argue it is close to waste of time and money. That is to say when there are alternatives like college where the same information is passed along in half the time and for half the cost. Rather than giving you another class where you learn what a SWOT analysis is you also get some practical work experience through placements. If you are in high school reading this during this time trying to decide where you need to go to school. Please don’t buy the lie that university is for the smart people and college is for those who just couldn’t make it to university. That is utter garbage. If the knowledge is the result, college is the cheaper and faster way to the same result for many programs. Do some research, don’t assume.

Business today is about fresh innovative ideas that can be built into billion dollar companies with a group of seven individuals, just ask Instagram. We live in a world where we have so many tools at our disposal for little to no cost. It is absurd to me that we feel we need a piece of paper to prove to employees that we know what to do. If you are thinking of taking some marketing classes because you want to understand how to market your business effectively, don't. Read 1 or 2 books before you decide to go back to school, cheaper and likely more effective. If it’s a skill you are looking to develop, look on platforms like Skillshare first. The one book that I will always recommend is Rework by the guys at 37signals. This book is jam packed with short entries that all touch on different concepts that reach far wider than my Bachelor of Commerce managed to. The important part when self learning is to really try and understand the underlying concept rather than the consume and regurgitate approach to learning that school teaches us to practice. Mark Cuban has said that “[He] would rather hire someone who has read this book, than someone who has an MBA”. This is an incredible quote given that an MBA is roughly $30,000 (very conservative) and takes 2 years where this book is less than $20 and you can finish it in single sitting, although I recommend taking your time and really understanding the core concepts.

I have had this conversation many times with friends and it is something I am incredibly passionate about, but we exist in this world that holds this expensive piece of paper as a necessity. Comments like Mr. Cuban’s show that businesses are understanding what is valuable in an employee, is the work they can do today and their desire and passion to grow and innovate. Not the accolades they put on their CV.

I will leave this with an excerpt from Seth Godin’s book The Icarus Deception:

We've been trained to prefer being right to learning something, to prefer passing the test to making a difference, and most of all, to prefer fitting in with the right people, the people with economic power. Now it's your turn to stand up and stand out.