This is a guest post from Carlos Miceli.
I’m currently reading Antifragile, by Nassim Taleb (probably the most relevant book of the year), and a particular concept caught my attention: the idea of “touristification”. Taleb explains:
Touristification castrates systems and organisms that like uncertainty by sucking randomness out of them to the last drop while providing them with the illusion of benefit. […] This is my term for an aspect of modern life that treats humans as washing machines, with simplified mechanical responses and a detailed user’s manual. It is the systematic removal of uncertainty and randomness from things, trying to make matters highly predictable in their smallest details. All that for the sake of comfort, convenience, and efficiency.
This is the biggest challenge for Exosphere and any other institution that aims to be a responsible alternative to the broken traditional educational system: how NOT to create a “touristified” educational experience.
We all face the same pressure to “touristify” our lives and remove volatility and chaos from everything. It’s how modernity tries to function: by being safe and predictable. Some things in society should be predictable. But the path to develop maturity and self-reliance is anything but predictable. This is why universities and big companies are terrible at it and only foster dependency and powerlessness, with their super-structured 4-year degrees and their 8-hour, 5-day workweek. The things that matter can only be developed in volatile environments, not in educational tourism agencies.
It’s important to clarify that you can go through this process alone (it’s how I did it), but it’s harder and the chances of failure are higher (I know I failed more than was necessary). Another option is to join a community that will support you and pick you up when, not if, you stumble. This is why I’m building Exosphere.
Selling broccoli, not candy
It is paramount for new educational alternatives to have “skin in the game” for the success of their participants. They need to risk something. Otherwise, it’s not real. That’s why they don’t care when you go into the real world and experience real pain without any real preparation. They give you your piece of paper and say good luck, then reality hits you square in your unprepared face.
Lifelong learning and curiosity only come after one reaches what Charles Hayes calls a “critical mass of knowledge”, a tipping point in learning after which the activity is self-fulfilling. But there’s no pre-packaged body of knowledge that can inspire one to become a lifelong learner in a passive way. There’s no degree or job that gives it to you. It’s a process that you have to discover for yourself. It’s chaotic by nature.
It’d be easier for us to create a “touristified” experience and not be responsible for how our participants behave. After all, how can anyone complain if we deliver a predictable, streamlined experience that begins and ends the same for everyone? We would be off the hook. Once they leave, we can put the blame of their future shortcomings on them because “they didn’t work hard enough”, and take credit for their successes because “they learned at Exosphere”.
But that’s why we won’t do it. Because we won’t follow the cowardice of traditional institutions, where they disconnect themselves from the process and results of their people by making things too safe. We will always speak out of tough love with our members. We will always remind them that both their successes and failures are up to them AND us. We’re in it together.
We would rather let Exosphere die with the right values and because we had skin in the game with every member of our community, than grow it out of fear and let it poison future generations with passivity, fragility, and paternalism.
The challenge is to have the right balance of structure and volatility where people can go through the pain and growth of entrepreneurship, without being isolated to the point where they could fail too hard to ever get back up.
The challenge is to sell broccoli, not candy. If you want to learn and grow in a healthy way, you should start paying attention to the nutrition facts label of the more traditional institutions.
A case for a “flâneurial” education
If the tourist is the traveler that wants things to be clear, safe and predictable, then his opposite would be the “flâneur”: he who strolls aimlessly, open to randomness and volatility in the journey as he moves forward. We need institutions that can provide a “flâneurial” education.
What should you expect in a “flâneurial” education, you ask?
You should expect uncertainty, unknowns, and a sense of adventure.
You should expect to assume responsibility for the consequences of your actions and in-actions.
You should expect the availability of resources and support, but not directions of when or how to use them (unless you ask).
You should expect to stay attached to reality and listen to opposing views, in order to look for the truth and achieve a better outcome.
You should expect to feel sad and lost sometimes, because that’s feedback. It’s your mind reorganizing to know how to do things better next time.
You should expect to feel thrills and emotions that you never felt before when solving real problems. You’ll discover an inner creativity and resourcefulness that only wakes up when dealing with real problems.
You should expect to always have someone willing to listen and help you work through your problems.
You should expect to feel fulfilled, to experience spiritual growth, and to develop strength and discipline.
You should expect to feel like your life matters, and embrace how necessary you are to make other people’s lives better.
This is what you can expect at Exosphere. At Exosphere, we only want the flâneur entrepreneurs and curious learners. The ones that come for the broccoli and the unmatchable rewards of a courageous and uncertain life.