Welcome to a Project-Based World (A 5 Minute Commencement Speech)

Last week I visited Silicon Valley, one of the most innovative and affluent places on earth. I stayed in Fremont next to the Tesla factory where they’re making cool cars for rich people. We drove by hundreds of Santa Clara County tech companies and saw Uber’s new location in Oakland. Project-based world
I visited a half a dozen schools full of children living in or near poverty, many new to this country and the English language, their families fleeing poverty and oppression. Some, like Diana in Oakland, said her family failed to find the better future they hoped for.
It was a trip of contrasts, the promise of America and all of its challenges–a good news, bad news story. The contrasts inspired this five minute commencement speech delivered to an online school.

Good News: Five Revolutions

The good news is that we’re living through five historic revolutions that are improving lives at a scope and pace never seen:

  1. Learning Revolution: With 20 innovations, anyone (with broadband) can learn almost anything anywhere.
  2. Genetics Revolution: Decoding and using genomic data is ushering in an era of personalized health allowing us to edit the code of life.
  3. Tech Revolution: It’s easier than ever to build an app, a game or launch a business; smart machines are improving our lives and super AI is around the corner.
  4. Connectivity Revolution: Broadband, transaction platforms, pipelines and cables connect the world’s population, now clustering in 50 great cities–and often more important than political borders.
  5. Green Revolution: Great progress is being made in sustainable energy.

A few years ago I would have said the democracy revolution….but that seems to have stalled which brings me to the bad news.

Bad News: We Boomers Have Left A Bit Of A Mess

You’ll be inheriting:

  • A “Winner-Take-Most” Economy: Inequity is spreading across the world.
  • Climate Change: The planet will warm by at least two degrees; in some places it will be more than five–making big parts of MENA uninhabitable. Weather is becoming more unpredictable, and sea levels are swamping low lying areas.
  • Conflict: Ideological divides power civil wars and non-state terrorist organizations.

What This All Means For You

  1. Innovation Mindset: Develop a growth mindset, maker mindset and team mindset; that means effort, initiative and collaboration are key to contribution (read Smart Cities, Chapter 1).
  2. We’re All in Marketing: Learn brand advancement, get some sales experience and don’t be an idiot online.
  3. Project-Based World: Half of you will freelance, the other half will manage your work in projects in a larger organization. Learn how to manage projects; look for experience leading a team. It’s all about getting work and delivering value–marketing and project management.
  4. Stumble Toward Your Purpose: Here’s the magic formula:
    • Figure out what you’re good at–that stuff that produces a flow.
    • Find causes that get you out of bed–the things that create joy and fulfillment.
    • Figure out what the world needs–where you create value and where there’s a chance to make some money.

If you keep looking for ways to connect flow, joy and money, you’ll never look for work again.
Good luck and Godspeed.
For more, see:

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Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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