A honeybee drifts lazily in a blanket of light as figures in shorts and t-shirts float into a dining hall. Off to the side, a small group of freshmen eat their lunch in a room lethargic with pleasure of summer. Among that group, a blonde girl in summery print and freckles, cries.

The topic is education. Some in the room glow with pride over their success in having reached Stanford; she cries because she says they miss the point. Her delicate body belies her passion. To the others her voice is startling, black, and revealing. She cries out against those who would use such a place primarily for the achievement of letters B.A./M.S. rather than for the training of their minds. She defines education as the betterment of oneself, as the inexorable expansion of one’s mind.

Does our reliance on resumes reflect this true education?

Our culture has created a society full of individuals who believe that crafting pedigree is the most important ingredient to success. Like the mediocre product that succeeds due to wide distribution and savvy marketing (I cite Transformers 2), we live with people who believe that what they can claim is more important than what they have done; indeed that what they have done is more important than what they can do.

For God’s Sake, Stay Competent

Competency is the ability to do. It is a result of true knowledge – but only when that knowledge is given the freedom to roam and the motive power to be applied. For those who are bound in a box by their job, the lack of motive power outside that box weakens their other competencies, until they are shaped like the box they were put in. Here are some ideas for staying competent within and outside work.

  1. Influence your company’s culture to become more offbeat: i.e. accepting of crazy ideas, open to challenges, and encouraging of creativity, iterative failure, and learning. How? The low(er) risk version: embody the attitude of condoning these events every time they occur, and do what you can to subtly encourage them. The higher risk version: show up to work with a Twister mat. Kidding.
  2. Encourage multidisciplinary teams.
  3. Keep close friends who are distinctly outside your field, and become engaged in learning about what they do.
  4. At work, find out about the passions of those who work for you (or with you). Actively support them in their hobbies and maybe even join them once in a while.
  5. Create Japanese game-show-style challenges at your company on a lax Friday afternoon.
  6. Introduce educational incentives for employees to learn about the world and enrich their greater mind.
  7. Keep musical instruments, games, and puzzles in your common areas.
  8. Become an entrepreneur – craft ideas, keep exercising every ability you have, and learn about the world with each successive effort to change it.

What methods do you use?