Engage me or enrage me

Sep 26 2006 by Max McKeown Print This Article

According to Marc Prensky, ex-teacher and actual-entrepreneur, there are three kinds of students, those who are: (1) Self-motivated, (2) Going-Through-The-Motions, and (3) Tuned-Out.

He claims, somewhat optimistically, that the US school system does a reasonable job with the first two but is struggling to deal with the growing majority in the third group who, "are convinced that school is totally devoid of interest and totally irrelevant to their life.

"In fact," he continues, "they find school much less interesting than the myriad devices they carry in their pockets and backpacks. These kids are used to having anyone who asks for their attention - their musicians, their movie makers, their TV stars, their game designers - work really hard to earn it. When what is being offered isn't engaging, these students truly resent their time being wasted".

That's pretty rational. Compared to stuff in their life that is truly engaging school is so boring and second-rate that they, "just can't stand it", and so turn off as completely as they are able to avoid blowing up with frustration.

The best selling games promise the Y and Z generations that they can be heroes in massive multi-player game (one has nearly one million users), fly on a broomstick, or save the whole of civilization - and they need to deliver on these promises or risk not being bought.

At school, Prensky points out; students must cope without a "don't buy" option. They are forced to submit to what is "for the most part, stale, bland, and almost entirely stuff from the past". It is "yesterday's education", with no mention of genomics, bioethics, nanotech - and no Jamie Oliver in the kitchen.

Students are enraged we are not doing better by them
Prensky concludes: "students certainly don't have short attention spans for their games, movies, music, or internet surfing. More and more they just don't tolerate the old ways Ė and they are enraged we are not doing better by them".

According to Max Mckeown, ex-employee, those three kinds of children grow up to become at least three kinds of employees. Those who are: (1) Self-Motivated (2) Going-Through-The-Motions, and (3) Tuned-Out.

The claim is strengthened by evidence such as employee research that found 30 per cent of us couldn't care less about our company achieving its objectives and 50 per cent are just bored.

The UK government's 'Workforce Boredom Index" found that admin jobs get an average boredom rating of 10 out of 10, followed by manufacturing 8, sales 7.8, marketing 7.7, human resources 6.6, more boring than accounting 6.3, travel 5.3, healthcare, 5.1, and ironically that the least boring of all - teaching Ė with only a 4 out of 10 boring rating.

Teachers found that, "never having two days the same", and the, "challenge" kept them engaged - while for students every day is the same and the challenge is living with the idea that one day the world of work will be even less fulfilling.

It's almost suicidal the thought that one day the repetitive, nonsensical, never-ending, series of absurdist beckettesque sketches of mass education will become, "the best days of their lives".

More managers and leaders ask me "how to engage" and "how to innovate" than any other questions. And of course these are two sides of the same question - because innovation engages and engagement innovates. The reverse is also true: indifference kills innovation and that the inability to innovate (or simply do something better) creates indifference. And it is this indifference (or unwillingness to get serially slapped) that clogs corporate arteries.

A great film, book, game, home, car, or piece of software is intelligently designed to enhance life and magnify ability. And yet our working environments and the human systems that surround them appear to have emerged from a putrefying process of anti-Schumpeterian destruction creation. They (we) disengage to survive, to endure ill-conceived meetings, badly-laid plans, as well as the waste, day by day, minute by minute, of their (our) lives.

And if, by chance or cunning, we accumulate sufficient power, sometimes we unwittingly pass on the causes of organisation pathology, forcing employees (who, like school kids, must cope without a "don't buy" option) into what is equally "stale, bland, and almost entirely from the past". And all this because of the accumulated cultural foolishness that lets people get on, get by, and tune out.

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About The Author

Max McKeown
Max McKeown

Max McKeown works as a strategic adviser for four of the five most admired companies in the world. He is a well-known speaker on subjects including innovation and competitive advantage. His latest book, #NOW: The Surprising Truth About the Power of Now, was published in July 2016.