innovation, reinvention, learning, imagination

“In a world of change, the learners shall inherit the earth, while the learned shall find themselves perfectly suited for a world that no longer exists.” ― Eric Hoffer, American moral and social philosopher

In the olden days—the latter half of the 20th century—“knowing” was everything. People were urged to attain higher levels of education than what was already socially accepted. Why? Because a solid education was deemed the key to a successful life. So, people went back to school in droves, buying up books and educating themselves to pursue satisfying careers. And then a funny thing happened. College dropouts began upending the business world.

College is Not the Only Path to Success

According to a recent study conducted by Third Way, as featured in Forbes, half of U.S. colleges in 2018 left their students earning under $28,000 a year. The increasing pressure put upon high school students to attend universities paired with rising tuition costs has created this idea that student debt is simply inevitable, as long as there’s a college degree in the crosshairs. The truth is experience and skills hold more weight than a piece of paper saying you studied theories about experience and skills.

In 1975, Bill Gates left Harvard to found Microsoft. Steve Jobs dropped out to start Apple. Michael Dell started his company while still in school. Oracle’s Larry Ellison, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg—both college dropouts. With enough financial backing, just about anyone can be an entrepreneur. But to become a visionary, you must carry sales and leadership skills, find ways to constantly educate yourself and others, and most importantly, never stop dreaming.

The story is not limited to technology visionaries either. Consider former president Abraham Lincoln, actor Brad Pitt, singer Adele, entrepreneur Walt Disney, or businessman Dhirubhai Ambani. All successful innovators who never earned college degrees. Even Oprah Winfrey left school to focus on a career in media—and now she’s worth an estimated $2.7 billion.

The point isn’t that you can succeed despite the lack of a degree. Visionaries with degrees do great things too. Of course you can succeed, as long as you never stop learning and imagining what could be, just like these successful innovators. The trick is to approach the world with an open mind, not just with what you learned in a school environment. There have always been alternate paths to success, it’s about how you define your approach to professional development and continued learning.

Learn to Adapt and Navigate the Future or Become Irrelevant

The only constant in life is change. The world we know today will become different next week, next month and even more so next year. It may even be different by this afternoon. You can never predict the future, you can only imagine it.

Imagination relies on the freedom to think, but the ability to think relies on education. The value of an education isn’t the ability to say, “There! I learned that fact and aced the test.” Education’s value lies in teaching people how to think, how to analyze and how to research, so the person can grow, adapt and innovate as the world around them changes. It’s about being adaptive and willing to accept new realities.

The world makes it easy for us to stop learning. People can immerse themselves in social media, online games and reality TV while forgetting that great literature, art and music exist, or that amazing new products and solutions are invented every day—and we will need to learn how to navigate those new playing fields or risk becoming proverbial dinosaurs. Even as there might not yet be a need to reinvent the wheel, or a need to rethink certain products that have withstood innovation altogether, reinvention is a vital building block for innovation.

A Recipe for Innovation Success

Make no mistake. There are many different paths to innovation. Though it is best achieved with an established foundation of learning and willingness to explore the facets of reinvention. Some of that foundation happens in the form of higher education, but much of it happens outside those ivy-covered walls. Success comes to those who take what they learned in school, add a sprinkle of imagination, a dash of life-long learning, and a pinch of experience to arrive at something completely new. That’s a recipe for success we can all use, at any age and in any industry.