making vs letting – time for a change in how we look at the world

Watching two somewhat unrelated TED talks from TED2013, I had this moment of “wait a minute I heard this before”. Two talks, talking about two seemingly very different things: crowd-funding in music and learning without teachers. Yes, I’m talking about two popular TED talks from 2013: Amanda Palmer’s ‘The Art of Asking‘ and Sugata Mitra’s ‘Build a School in the Cloud‘.

Amanda Palmer @ TED2013

Let me quickly recap what the TED talks are about (If you do have time, though, I highly suggest clicking on the two links above and watch the full talks, they are thought/discussion-provoking. But okay. Amanda Palmer talks about the art of asking, asking other people for help. She goes back to the times she made a living out of being a living statue, and how that prepared her for the music business. She talks about how her Kickstarter campaign surpassed all expectations and became the biggest music crowd-funding project to date. Since I’ve been following Amanda Palmer for quite some time (since a friend of mine took me to a Dresden Dolls concert in my sophomore year in Providence), I am very familiar with this. So are most of her fans. She is not the superstar whose albums are bought by millions but nobody ever gets to actually engage with. She is that musician who stays for hours after concerts to talk to people, floods my twitter feed with so many fan conversations that I sometimes wonder if I should stop following her. But she engages, and most of her fans feel close enough to her to support her through cancellations of her tour due to very personal reasons.

On the other side we have Sugata Mitra, an educational researcher who I had not known before the TED talk. His idea about building a school in the cloud so that children can explore and learn from another without supervision (or with minimum supervision)  won him the 2013 TED Prize. He talks about his experiments of putting computers in rural areas in India which have information in English, about very technical and complex issues such as DNA, and watching children learn about it on their own. It’s fascinating, seriously.

Sugata Mitra TED 2013

As I mentioned at the beginning, these talks have something in common. The concept of making people do something vs letting them do something. For Amanda Palmer, it’s making people pay for music vs. letting people pay for music. She believes that this is the problem with the music business these days; instead of thinking about how the sector can create ways and schemes to let fans pay for music, they are looking at ways to make them. It may seem like a linguistic detail, but it is actually a mind-set problem. Think about it; if you ask individuals, they all want to support the artists they like. I don’t mind paying for music; I love music, I want to support musicians. But I also want to be able to really reach them. I don’t want that money to go to a record label that restricts the artist, I want it to go to an organization that enables the artist to reach their best. (Amanda’s anecdote about the sales of the first Dresden Dolls album is a great one, and exactly my point in terms of being unhappy about certain ancient ways of doing business).

On the other hand, Sugata Mitra also talks about making vs letting. In his case, it is making learning happen vs letting learning happen. There is quite a lot of evidence for self-learning and interest-based learning, which speak against our current education system, which as Sir Ken Robinson also touches upon: current education system in many countries kill creativity and work as student factories. They make kids learn, without regard to learning styles, interest or the needs of children. Education systems, just like the business sector, requires a serious reflection and re-evaluation process.

It is clear that the way we look at our world is changing, and the mind sets of organizations will need to adapt to this change. The music business and the educational systems are only two out of many systems that will need to be evaluated. But we are all connected, and so are our ideas.