Thursday, May 10, 2012

Reverse Engineering: An Essential Literacy

I just had a discussion with my College Accounting class the other day about preparing them for a workforce that doesn’t currently exist. With it being an honors class, they are pretty smart kids and quickly understood my point. They know that the days of “Go to school, get good grades, get a good job” (Rich Dad / Poor Dad) are long gone. They understand that they will not go through life working for the same company or even in the same industry.

What today’s kids aren’t seeming to understand is how a good, well structured (not spoon fed) education will actually prepare them for an unknown. The tragedy is that they are learning something without knowing that they are learning it. Being aware of what you learn makes you much more likely to use it in the future. The lack of awareness of a skill will naturally result in atrophy of that skill. If we are helping kids learn how to learn, preparing kids for unknowns, teaching them how to grow in an environment that doesn’t yet exist, they should be able to identify “it” for future use.

“It” = “Reverse Engineering”

Adaptability is simply the skill to get somewhere you’ve never been before. Sometimes we are forced to adapt and sometimes we choose to adapt. Either way, we adapt. The more successful adapt more often and more easily. Those who don’t fall behind. As James York said, “The most successful people are those who are good at plan B.”

Knowing your end goal is such a key component to knowing that you are on the right track. I ask so many kids (and adults), “What’s your end goal?” This most often results in blank stares. I rephrase “What do you want the outcome to be as a result of this?” This most often results in “Ummms” and “Uhhhs”.

As humans we seem to be great at reverse engineering simple things, subconsciously.
End goal = getting to work... must drive car... car is low on gas... must get gas... head to gas station.

So much more rarely do we see people using this in a longer term, bigger, layered approach.
Final End Goal = Earning 6 figures... get job x (end goal = get job x... excell at job y (end goal = get job y... get job z (end goal = get job z... excell in College ABC (end goal = get into College ABC))))

We need to teach kids that they know how to use this approach. We need to teach them the power of using this approach for bigger “end goals.” We need to show them that they are learning these skills in our classes, how they used them, and how they can use them in the future. The more comfortable kids are with this, the more comfortable they will be taking on the future. The more laid out the path, the easier it is to adapt when a step goes awry. If I know my “sub end goals”, I know what I need to get back to when (not if) something doesn’t go according to plan.

We are giving students these skills. Let’s not keep it a secret from them. Projects with checkpoints is a great place to start. The project being complete is the Final End Goal and the checkpoints are the layered end goals. Don’t have them just do it to get the project done. Have them do it to learn how to do it!!

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