School of the Future: Initiative > Expertise

In a world of exploding information and emerging domains of knowledge, few can afford to be “expert” in one thing. We all need to take the initiative to be lifelong learners.

As Charles Duhigg points out in Smarter Faster Better,

“The workers who have succeeded in this new economy are those who know how to decide for themselves how to spend their time and allocate their energy. They understand how to set goals, prioritize tasks, and make choices about which projects to pursue.”

This portrait of success presents a challenge for schools, whose first design principle is academic “expertise,” embodied in departments. Department-based faculty tell kids what they’re supposed to study, then use grades to signal how far they are from “expertise.”

That design principle may be great for teachers who return to school year after year (and therefore become more and more “expert”). But what about the students? They graduate into an increasingly VUCA world.

As long as there are state graduation requirements and course expectations for college admissions, academic departments are likely to remain the organizing principle of school. But what if departments shifted focus from expertise to initiative?

Initiative derives from a strong internal locus of control—that is, the belief that we control our destiny through the choices we make (vs. forces external to our control).

As Duhigg goes on to say, “The choices that are most powerful in generating motivation […] are decisions that do two things: They convince us we’re in control and they endow our actions with larger meaning.”

How might schools shift the focus from expertise to initiative?

One easy place to start is by creating the conditions for learners to explore four essential questions:

  • Who am I?

  • Who are we?

  • What matters to us?

  • What are we going to do about it?

In an age of accelerations, expertise may still matter, but initiative matters even more.

Schools of the Future will design accordingly.


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Christian Talbot