The future of the “educated” person – From “their” brand to yours

Common: Assuming that a college degree offers the best and only path to a guaranteed job, more income, and a secure future.

Uncommon: The perception of an “educated” person will likely be very different in the future. For the past few centuries we have placed our faith in schools and universities to provide us with skills and information that will improve our lives. High schools and colleges used to offer graduates coveted badges of personal aptitude.

This model has worked for a long time. But times are changing.

As more and more people (employers and graduates) recognize that many degrees lack relevancy, they begin to question what a degree actually represents.

For this reason, the discussion surrounding conventional education is changing and intensifying. This is a good thing because as the price to value of education continues to diverge, people need to think seriously about their goals and how to best position themselves for a promising future. Conventional education may be one path, but it’s certainly not the only one.

We are currently experiencing an interregnum, a period of discontinuity or “gap” in our social order. And as we adjust to the new emerging landscape, I believe the way we define and recognize an “educated” person will also change.

A “degree” of intelligence:

One of the greatest assumptions supporting the current model of education is how we, as a global society, still equate a conventional education with intelligence. Proponents of conventional education are always quick to claim that this is just one measuring stick among many. However, as a general rule, I find the majority (society included) still uses a degree as the benchmark of intellect and qualification. But the inefficiencies of conventional education continue because of this socially symbolic perception of value.

Consider someone who accomplishes something great without a degree. The absence of the degree becomes the most impressive part of the story. Is a degree so significant that success without one makes him or her a phenom?

Let’s be real.

It’s time to reassess assumptions of the past that once framed our understanding of intelligence, ability, commitment, and accreditation. Many people and industries already are…

The age of free agency:

As best-selling author, Dan Pink, writes here and in his book Free Agent Nation, the way we work is changing. There are legions of Americans (in the millions) who are “declaring independence – becoming self-employed, independent contractors, and micropreneurs.” Whether you place yourself in these categories or not, these shifts also represent changes in the employee-employer relationship.

Fewer and fewer workers are viewing themselves as a consecrated extension of the company they work for. This means individuals are creating an independent personal identity as free agents (self-employed or not). With the uncertainty of the job market and the questionable future of many companies, this is a logical maneuver.


Although many individuals and employers still cling to educational institutions to define their personal brand, I believe this will become less propitious and also less prevalent.

In the future, motivated and educated people will care less about proving their participation in a recognized and structured system and more about how they use what they know to build personal brand equity through self-directed learning backed by past performance and reputation.

I am not referring to an accumulation of clever marketing prose in an inflated resume, but a showcase of relevant personal skills and past results (more on this shortly).

As we move into what some are calling the “creative economy,” the Internet and many other technologies are changing the way we assess personal aptitude. In this emerging world, creating and managing one’s personal brand will trump our past inclination to fervently associate ourselves with familiar and illustrious intuitions. It may help to do so, but it will become less significant in one’s path to success.

The opportunity cost of attending:

When people consider the opportunity cost of school, most automatically assume the cost of not attending. Educational institutions persistently force the same cliche statistic down our throats to maintain this perspective: “Those will a college degree make on average 1 million dollars more in their lifetime than those who do not.”

A little research into how this figure/statement is calculated shows extreme bias by omitting the opportunity costs of attending. Considering tuition, interest, lost income, lost work experience, and lost industry/company-specific relationship building (among other things), college can also be viewed as an extremely expensive opportunitysacrifice – something future students should seriously evaluate.

Some also say that part of college is not just receiving a formal education, but a chance to grow emotionally and socially. I don’t know why this cannot be accomplished outside of college as well, but this discussion digresses from the point at hand.

While conventional education can be a constructive experience for some (primarily trade and profession based industries), the value for the majority in terms of skill and knowledge is most often mediocre at best. Personally, college was one of the most overwhelming and understimulating experiences of my life. For the time and money invested, I feel like I received very little useful information and skill. The greatest value, it seems, came from the perceived brand equity the university held in the public eye.

Here is an excellent short video on the topic:


Many students hope to get a good “education” while at school, but it would be ignorant to think that most students aren’t also hoping their university’s brand complements their own. The question is, does six figures of debt justify the supplemental branding expensive universities provide? Hmmm…

Author and thought leader, Seth Godin asks some very important questions:

“It’s reported that student debt in the USA is approaching a trillion dollars, five times what it was ten years ago. Are those in debt buying more education or are they seeking better branding in the form of coveted diplomas? Does a $40,000 a year education that comes with an elite degree deliver ten times the education of a cheaper but no less rigorous self-generated approach assembled from less famous institutions and free or inexpensive resources?… The question is whether a trillion dollars is the right amount for individuals to spend marketing themselves. What would happen if people spent it building up a work history instead? On becoming smarter, more flexible, more self-sufficient and yes, able to take more risk because they owe less money…”


Building a personal brand:

As we move further into the 21st century, an individual’s future will depend less on a degree and much more on their propensity and creativity in applying what they know to differentiate themselves from the majority (the legions of graduates with similar and expendable degrees).

As many have recognized, individuals with degrees in conventional education are plentiful – something educational institutions are not discussing. But basic economics will tell that abundance decreases value and scarcity increases value.

Soon we will be forced to reconsider what it means to “be educated” – by students, employers, and the greater society. In the struggle to find work and build a career, more and more grads are realizing that it’s not the brand of a mass institution that will open the most important doors (there are always exceptions, but exceptions don’t make the majority). And even if a degree gets one’s foot in the door, it’s personal substance that keeps it open and builds future opportunities. For this reason, it’s the individual’s brand that’s becomes valuable, admirable, and distinguishing.

It’s not about degrees and diplomas; it’s about personal experiences, skills, past results, and a questing disposition to become more and learn more – a concept that has been overlooked for too long.  As SkillShare says, “The pinnacle of education should revolve around learning and gaining knowledge, and not going to college.”

The collective college community has done an excellent job marketing itself as an essential ingredient to success – making individuals and society believe that without it, you don’t stand a chance.

In many cases, a degree is better than no degree. But most degrees do not accurately signify competence. Nor do they make an individual indispensable. I would argue that one’s real education begins once they step foot in the real world – not the surreal environment we call college.

In a world of merging borders, expanding education, and fast-growing workforce, creativity and originality are the antidotes to obscurity. It’s becoming more and more important to find ways to make yourself remarkable, indispensable, and irreplaceable – ways to differentiate yourself and bring something unique to the table.


UVP = Opportunity:

In a previous post I described a billboard appearing in Silicon Valley that read: “1,000,000 people can do your job.  What makes you so special?” There isn’t a better way to put it.  The upper hand is given to those who think ahead and think differently.

As we shift from an information economy to a creative economy, thinking differently has never been more important. There is immense value in being able to think and act independently in a world of conformity and convention – all innovation and novelty depend on it (see post on this topic here). After all, doing what everyone else does decreases value and increases competition.

Colleges have dominated the branding surrounding education and have controlled the social perception of what education means, but this is changing amidst the era of free agency. The path of the new-age “educated” person is industrious, explorative, experimental, and resourceful.

So, what are you doing to differentiate yourself? What is your personal brand? Why should people care? How are you using emerging technologies to take advantage of this shift?

Our brand, is constantly being shaped, for better or worse, regardless of where we are and what we’re doing. The question each person has to ask is, “Is what I’m currently doing the most effective way to build my brand in the near and long-term?”

It’s our actions that shape our brand more than anything else. And, it’s also our responsibility to make ourselves valuable and irreplaceable. Just as an enlightened business would do, individuals should craft and uphold their own UVP (Unique Value Proposition) as a way to spotlight their unique talents and dedication.

These distinguishing factors of personal aptitude are your most prized assets. They are embedded in your brand, which is also your professional passport. So respect it, build it, share it. This way, everyone wins.

Your thoughts?

What are your thoughts about the future of the educated person or of education itself?

Stay uncommon,

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