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Have you ever attempted to trace your purpose back to its origin? I’ve done a lot of this kind of thinking recently, in putting myself through the paces I typically would a client when preparing to launch a new business or product, or teaching a group of marketing students a similar process. “Let’s start at the beginning” I often question, “what’s the problem being solved?" For me the problem is one that I helped create, when I assumed all students graduating on my watch were going into the workforce fully equipped with the professional competencies employers required. Spoiler. They weren’t. And I had done nothing about it. So what was the real business driver behind my book?
Now, before I go too much further, I should point out that I was raised a Catholic, subjected to weekly rituals of guilt-themed exercises for the better part of 20 years, so it’s little wonder this concept has stuck with me. It’s also not surprising that when I trace my steps back to my first thoughts of why I am fanatical about the competencies in competency based education, I find my former self in various random circumstances, feeling somewhat complicit in the failure of the educational system, and the less than favourable effect it has had upon some of the very people who had placed their trust in me
Whew, there, I said it. Oh, that felt good. “What now Father? What’s my penance?” Only Catholics, who have knelt in a confessional will appreciate that reference, but suffice it to say, this current stage of my journey, which finds me absolutely evangelical about spreading the word about the importance and practice of competencies has its roots in the dark chasms of this Catholic boy’s guilty conscience. And this has made me question whether guilt, as an emotion, necessarily deserves the bad rap to which it has been attached. After all, if it has led to a product that I make that solves a problem, that is not only the essence of marketing, business, innovation and design. It is also good for people, isn’t it? ….
As author Sabaa Tahir quipped, “there are two kinds of guilt. The kind that drowns you until you’re useless, and the kind that fires your soul to purpose.” Saved by Sabaa!
Let’s backtrack a little more. I came off the conveyor belt of the corporate world in the early 2000’s with the promise that “making a positive impact” lay ahead of me as a college instructor. A wide-eyed rookie, despite being in my late 30’s, I saw the shift to work, which came with the responsibility of influencing the very life trajectories of young people, absolutely intoxicating.
Around 2015, I was asked to reimagine the marketing textbook, collaborating with University of Calgary instructor, Marc Boivin. It was an absolute gift to be given a blank canvas on which to bring the discipline of marketing into the 21st century, but in order to approach our project holistically, we felt it was necessary to survey a sample of entrepreneurs and business owners or managers in industry – the forgotten stakeholder of the post-secondary education machine. What were their pain points in the intake of our output in terms of graduates?
Both Marc and I had taught long enough, and sat in on enough industry advisory committee meetings to know that the system was flawed, but we hadn’t really grasped the gravity of post-secondary’s shortcomings until we got into these focus groups. It was right around this time, that I had become concerned with a disproportionate number of my former students, I seemed to be running into at their places of work, which all too often involved the selling or serving of consumer products. My former marketing students, now armed with legitimate business diplomas had surfaced in the workplace as baristas, bartenders, restaurant servers, or retail sales associates. I’m tempted to use the classic Seinfeld line, “not that there’s anything wrong with that”…. Still it irked me that they had not landed jobs for which I had presumably helped prepare them.
Back to those focus groups, with proven marketing leaders and successful entrepreneurs, and our search for the truth about what current college graduates possessed, and what they lacked. And the verdict of the latter was becoming more and more clear and consistent. Communication skills, teamwork, critical thinking, problem solving. All of what I would eventually describe as some of the core “pillar competencies” were making the list of what graduates lacked, at least in the minds of employers we were surveying across Canada at the time. It was at this crossroad, that the first seeds of guilt were planted. What was my role in all of this and…. how do I change the trajectory of the future I’ve helped create?
Introducing The Daily Undoing By David Gaudet Being better at being human