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Kevin O'Leary: "Liberal Arts Is A Big Waste of Time"

Kevin O’Leary, a Shark on Shark Tank, author of The Cold Hard Truth, and rumoured to be considering a run at the highest office in Canada, with a Donald Trump ‘take no prisoners’ campaign also chimes in. In a video interview with Canada’s National Newspaper, The Globe and Mail he says that Liberal Arts degrees are useless.

Business Insider used a “2015 Hard Times Report”, published by the Georgetown Center on Education and the workforce, to examine salary and unemployment data relating to experienced college graduates. They calculated the percent difference in how much more money achieving a graduate degree will bring, as well as how improved your chances are at finding a job. The combination of the two enabled them to determine which were the ten most useless graduate degrees. Marketing makes it on the list which shocked many. It didn’t shock me.

Inflammatory Remarks Make for Good Headlines.

They do little to take the ‘un’ out of uncertainty for university graduates, buried in debt, who are trying to enter a workforce where their degree no longer guarantees a job.

This has less to do with the value of an education and more to do with the mindset of entitlement. Graduating students feel entitled to a job. University professors to a job for life and companies to hire slave labour.

Let’s Look at a Marketing Degree as an Example.

Times have changed — marketing has changed — has teaching changed?

50 years ago, in the "golden age of brands", successful marketing came down to five words: “he who shouts loudest wins". If you could outshout your competition with mass advertising and back it up with the equally loud distribution, you won your proportionate marketing share.

A Marketing degree was the 4 Ps. You learned the importance of identifying an unmet or underserved need (I love Colas but don’t want the calories). They then saw how that insight turned into a product (Diet Coke). Next came the promotional efforts. Sales attacked distribution in an attempt to dominate, build them high and watch them fly to drive massive stopping power displays, & all enjoyed premium (price) and the profits that came from their efforts.

My Advice to Students:

Liberal Arts Liberate Your Mind

Listen up students, you will be entering a marketplace where robots will soon perform many repetitive tasks faster, better and more efficient than any human. Your only way to counter this threat is through your ability to use your left and right brain. To engage and persuade with intuition, emotion and storytelling. Regardless of your discipline, immerse yourself in psychology, philosophy, anthropology, music, history, writing and poetry.

Know Who Butters Your Bread Math is the language of the Universe, and it matters across every degree of discipline. Math is a silent detective that uncovers opportunity and unmet needs across all marketplaces. It shines a spotlight on strengths and weaknesses and helps you to prioritize. Regardless of your craft, it teaches you how to keep score and commercialize. It provides substance and validation when applying for grants or investment funds.

Stories Not Just Selfies

For the first time in history, most humans have a voice that extends beyond a soapbox, a handful of friends or the generosity of a newspaper to publish their thoughts. Today we have an infinite number of channels to socialize our life and thoughts.

Students need to create a publishing empire and follow based on their ability to write and comment on stories that engage and persuade. They need to learn how to target and influence key influencers and how to generate earned and shared media.

Eat or be Eaten A degree is no longer a passport to prosperity. It is simply one of many items you need in your 'life knapsack' to navigate and survive in the future. You will be entering a marketplace where you will eat or be eaten.

You should never embark on any degree, especially one that costs tens of thousands of dollars without a thorough assessment of your personality, your interests, and emotional intelligence. Too much has been wasted by parents telling you what you should study, or worse, jumping off a cliff into a degree like 'Marketing' because Television Commercials are entertaining or a Criminal Justice Degree because Dexter makes neat blood splatters.

Embrace Your Head, Heart, and Hands Finding a life path that unlocks your 'head, heart, and hands, how you think, feel and behave is where you will find purpose, happiness and success. Pack your 'life knapsack' with more than a degree.

What else are you doing to prepare yourself for the real world?

Have you gone from someone who enjoys camp to learning leadership skills as a camp counsellor?

Have you learned how to sell over the telephone, or by knocking door to door? If you have waited tables, have you found a way to earn the most tips?

Do you write, publish, create code, or regularly perform, sing or act to a live audience?

If you like marketing, do you keep a scrapbook of ads, understand why some brands mean more to you than others? Do you write headlines, imagine new products?

Do you spend your time walking through retail, looking at e-commerce sites to see what does or doesn't work?

Are you a social gamer? I love gamers because they learn how to succeed at the speed of life. Gaming doesn’t give Johnny or Sally a Gold Star for participation or handing in homework. In a video game, when you make a mistake, you get shot, crash into a wall, or fail in your attempt to build a railway or your social currency. Cognitive learning through failure is powerful.

This is Not a Dress Rehearsal

Instead of following the Kardashians or snap chatting your life away, breathe life. Immerse yourselves in Ted Talks and read autobiographies of people who gave versus received hard knocks. Debate and dialogue with your mouth versus your thumbs. Read poetry. Job shadow the people and careers you want to pursue.

My Advice to Universities:

Deliver a Better Return

What metrics do you employ to determine the return on investment you are delivering to students and taxpayers? Have you moved beyond marking an entrenched curriculum to also measure how prepared the students are to get a job and to work? Are we looking at their emotional intelligence, their ability to collaborate and create, and to make mission-critical decisions? Have we taught them the necessary skills to identify and then find their way on the right career path? Are you teaching them how to hunt, interview and negotiate? Are they versed on what the first 30-60-90 days will be like in the working world?

Essence versus Essays

The marketplace is time and attention-starved. Teaching students how to construct a 5000-word essay with proper footnotes and citations has lost much of its value.

What matters is that students learn how to form an argument, package and position a point of view, animate an idea, and sell it to people with influence and authority. This is essential.

Make your curriculum fluid and future-focused.

Is your entire university studying the USA Presidential Race? Has Anthropology, Psychology, Humanities, History, Journalism, Film, Public Relations and Marketing, Math and Journalism become obsessed with what is happening? Why is Donald Trump leading? Why is he striking such a powerful chord with so many Americans? Is his Persona unique or borrowed? Is he an anomaly or a pivot in democracy?

Do Tenure and Textbooks Help or Hurt?

Students, families and Government invest and borrow hundreds of billions to pursue higher education. Are you keeping pace?

Can tenure continue to exist? Can a teaching job be guaranteed for life or should it be earned through one's ability to inspire, nurture and educate? Is staying relevant in today's marketplace more important than staying put? Should we consider textbooks written by a professor, a conflict of interest in their classroom?

My Advice to Organizations:

Make Room for Millennials Millennials are digital natives armed with skills sharpened through their keyboards, consoles, smartphones and can collaborate without boundaries. Yes, many want to work to live as opposed to living to work because they are smarter than we were. However, their multi-tasking skills and desire to do more, be more and see more make many of them extraordinary assets.

Pay Them versus Slave Them

I find it appalling that companies hire Interns and then don’t pay them. When I owned Capital C, we felt it was our duty to offer jobs to the next generation. Every intern got paid and most earned a bonus when they delivered.

Every organization needs to take a little of their profit and make room for the next generation. We need to bring back apprenticeships and practical hands-on experience, and we need to pay them for a job well done. It's difficult to have self-esteem or feel purposeful or accomplished when you have to borrow to work.

My One Piece of Advice...

Stop Showering Us With Uncertainty

Instead of identifying the 'ten most useless degrees', or calling some a waste of time, let's focus on the positive. Showcase the schools and professors that are re-inventing and re-imagining education. Look at the organizations that are building bridges to welcome the next generation and the students who are crossing them.

Positive over negative, enabling over providing, useful over useless.


Get Connected & Chatting

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