Eat mistakes, not jobs

Pacmantable
Photo by Garretc

Andy Kessler's talk yesterday got me thinking hard about why I found his argument so unconvincing. He focused on how innovation will destroy jobs, the way container ships put all the stevedores out of work. I think he's missing a completely different outcome of innovation, and one that excites me a lot more.

Stevedores were performing a process that achieved the results we were after, they weren't dropping half the boxes into the ocean as they unloaded, so containerization just made the process more efficient.

Where Andy went off the rails is when he applied that model to worlds like education. We are really, really bad at teaching our kids, enormous numbers of them don't even make it through high school. It's as if we're losing half the cargo every time we unload a ship. Innovation in education gives us the chance to achieve better results with the existing resources, giving our teachers tools so they leave fewer kids behind. It's about effectiveness not efficiency, because we're falling so far short of our goals right now.

Would we expect a school district that increased its students' overall GPA to then fire some teachers to save money and return to the old GPA, since we lived with that before? Of course not, we'd celebrate the achievement and try to replicate it elsewhere.

What really excites me about technology innovation is that we can help people do important things that weren't possible before. MIT's opencourseware is an awesome example, the lectures and materials work as an accelerator and multiplier to traditional learning methods, helping students all over the world get better results. There's no wave of professors being fired, if anything it's taking pressure off them to do mundane and routine introductory lectures and focus on the value-added personal teaching instead.

I love increasing productivity because it lets people do tricky jobs much better, which I find a lot more satisfying than automating people out of a job. I'm much happier preventing screw-ups than eating people!

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