Initiative: A Proven Method to Bring Your Passions to Life (and Work)

Category: Business Culture
Author: Joshua Spodek
This Month Reddit 3


by spodek   2021-12-10

I've been teaching inquiry-driven project-based learning since my exposure to it from Philadelphia's Science Leadership Academy's annual Educon, a tremendous community and resource.

I've known the founding Principal, Chris Lehmann, for a long time. Here are a couple of his TEDx talks: 1 and 2.

I teach leadership and entrepreneurship mostly to university students, also to adults, occasionally high school students.

I love it. Students give great reviews and video conversations about the courses.

I wrote book versions of the courses that are being used across the country: Initiative and Leadership Step by Step.

I love this way of teaching. I'm never going back to lecturing.

by spodek   2021-12-10

If you don't mind a long post, I'll post an excerpt from my book Initiative, which describes how our educational system tends to limit people's expectations of their abilities with more education -- the opposite of what education is for, if you ask me.

I wrote the book to show how to exit how schools teach us just to follow their path, and how to create one's own path.

Our most educated are often least skilled

My feeling trapped and helpless in graduate school is sadly common. Many of the most educated feel the most trapped and helpless.

I've learned to highlight this shortcoming of our educational system in a talk I've given to many highly educated students and professionals. I first gave it to Columbia's medical school. A graduate student there who saw how much I loved working outside my PhD field invited me to speak to a student-run group there called the 92 club, named because 8% of students in his field got jobs in what they studied. The other 92% had to fend for themselves.

I spoke to a full room of 150 people including graduate students, post-docs, and researchers.

“When I started graduate school,” I began, “I loved physics. I still do, but about halfway through, I learned that as much as I loved the field, I didn't want the life of a researcher. I felt like I had three options:

“I could continue researching anyway. My advisor was big and my satellite data important, but since I had fallen out of love with research, I didn't like this option.

“I could go into industry, which I felt meant military-industrial complex. I didn't want to work there either.

“Option three was Wall Street, where I'd make more money for less work and more status. I didn't like the culture, so didn't want that option either.

“So I felt trapped.”

I asked the room of students if they could relate.

One said, “Yes, that's why we brought you here.” The room generally agreed.

I continued “You've all heard of people who dropped out of school, like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, to start their own projects, right?”

They had.

I said, “You know that they could go in any direction they wanted as far as they wanted, right?”

They did.

I said, “You have more education but feel you have fewer options,” and paused to let that sink in, then continued, “Isn't that the opposite of what an education is for?”

Every audience I ask this question, from students to working professionals, reacts as dumbfounded. They sit and take time to process how their education is causing the opposite of their goal. They all show the same disillusionment as they try to figure out what they misunderstood about education. I know I have their attention for the next hour.

Why do students and graduates of top programs at top universities feel trapped? Why do so many successful people leave school to succeed? Anxiety pervades our educational system at every level, often in proportion to meeting its goals—that is, by design. Long-term research of grade-school students found that “suburban, relatively affluent . . . children of well-educated, white collar professionals . . . 'privileged' youth”, show “significantly higher rates of drug use, depression, and anxiety than their lower income counterparts”? Why is more of our educational system producing more anxiety?

I don't leave the audience hanging, by the way. I tell them how taking initiative to start my first venture liberated me from feeling trapped by giving me the skills to start other new projects. I add that their school or employer won't likely teach them how, but they can learn themselves.

What's wrong with schools?

Beside the academic information schools teach, the behavior they teach is compliance. Writer and teacher William Deresiewicz aptly titled his book on what results from compliant people filled with facts but not social and emotional development: Excellent Sheep.

Greg Whiteley, director and producer of the documentary Most Likely To Succeed, described the results of his interviewing many heads of companies: “When we look at kids who had come from the very best high schools and then gone on to the very best universities and graduated at the top of their class, when they come to us, they frequently they were incapable of doing the work we needed them to do.”

Whiteley described our educational system's most successful graduates as follows: “You get a ton of kids who probably chose a fairly safe and predictable route, probably studied something that was fairly safe and predictable so the time they get to Google, say, they're not in touch with what they're passionate over. They've long since jettisoned that ambition or even asking themselves 'What do I really love?' That's not even on the table. It's more like, 'What does the teacher want and how can I give it to them?'”

Amazon makes the first couple chapters available to give more background.

by spodek   2021-12-10

If you don't mind my describing my book, I coach teach entrepreneurship and initiative at NYU to great reviews. Students have been written up in the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Inc, and more and have spoken at Harvard, TEDx, and got into Y Combinator for projects begun doing the exercises, not just later in their lives.

I put the class in book form: Initiative: A Proven Method to Bring Your Passions to Life (and Work). Amazon makes the first couple chapters available free, which explain the technique. It starts you from having no more than a vague idea for the direction you want. It teaches you the skills to find problems and to create projects to solve them, engaging people to help.

Here's the blog of someone doing its exercises to see it in action in the wild.

by spodek   2019-11-17

I wrote a book on how to take initiative and start projects that unearth passions step-by-step based on the courses I teach on the subject. A whole book is a long answer and I don't mean to promote my stuff, but it's my best answer to the question and you can read the first chapter or so online free. It's called Initiative.

by spodek   2019-11-17

Do the exercises in the book Initiative.

by spodek   2019-09-10
I teach at NYU. My courses are in book form too:

My friend's school that inspired me is Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia. He's given TEDx talks and keynotes online:

by spodek   2019-08-28
Nothing creates more meaning for you than to create the opportunities based on knowing what you love. Since we're all different, different things create meaning for us differently. Rarely will a job someone else creates push our buttons best.

I created my course at NYU and wrote the book Initiative to create a step-by-step process to unearth each person's passions. I find that reflection alone or taking online quizzes doesn't reveal passions like action does -- that is, taking initiative (thoughtfully, with a process that works).

Recently, one person started blogging his results doing the exercises. As of August 25, here's his latest:

by spodek   2019-08-10
I hope they help.

You might also be interested in my books, which teach the social and emotional skills of leadership, initiative, and entrepreneurship, based on courses I teach at NYU.


Leadership Step by Step:

One of my past students used the Initiative skills to teach the Leadership material to youths in Gaza Every situation is unique and it's just one project, but his project shows promise of teaching youths before they get caught up in violence. He tells me that the program helps change views of leadership from command-and-control, authoritarian to based in understanding and support, though I'm oversimplifying. I'm just sharing one example.

by spodek   2019-07-26
After my PhD in physics, I learned starting a company that I needed such skills and devoted myself to learning them.

Now I teach the social and emotional skills underlying leadership, entrepreneurship, and initiative at NYU (student reviews:


by spodek   2019-05-30
The book Initiative is for this type of situation.

Disclosure: I wrote it.