Venn Diagrams of Education: Hip Hop and Blockchain

The World Economic Forum annual meeting 2019 is happening right now in Davos, Switzerland. While you are reading this, the world’s preeminent thought leaders are discussing, debating, and defining a roadmap for our future. And inevitably, one of the key items on the Davos agenda is education reform.

Davos 2019 Co-Chair Juan David Aristizábal, founder of Todos por la Educación said,

“One of the things that I want to do here is show that we don’t just need to change the education system, we have to do a revolution in education.”

A highlight from Davos 2018 was a speech by Jack Ma, founder of Chinese internet giant Alibaba, who declared,

“Education is a big challenge. If we do not change the way we teach, 30 years from now, we’re going to be in trouble.”

Also from Davos 2018, the director of the London School of Economics, Minouche Shafik, echoed similar sentiment by encouraging the development of…

“the soft skills, the creative skills. Research skills, the ability to find information, synthesise it, make something of it.”

Many of us watching these videos, reading these quotes, and listening to these speeches are nodding our heads vigorously in agreement.

While I’m not currently in Davos (I wasn’t invited) and don’t claim to have the silver bullet solution for education, I have my own minor, but potentially radical proposal for education reform: Venn Diagrams.

It begins by taking a look back to a comedy film that came out in the year 2000 called Road Trip.

The film Road Trip tells the story of a group of students skipping class to go on a ‘road trip’ across the United States. At the end of the film, the four main characters are driving back to their university after a long, hilarious adventure. The main character Josh is worried because his impending midterm exam begins in 46 hours and he has not studied. Just when all hope is lost and Josh thinks he is going to fail the exam, his friend Rubin enters the picture:

Rubin: What’s your midterm on?

Josh: Ancient Philosophy.

Rubin: Well, I could teach you ancient philosophy in 46 hours.

Josh: Really?

Rubin: Yeah, I could teach Japanese to a monkey in 46 hours. The key is just finding a way to relate to the material.

The key is just finding a way to relate to the materialand what happens next is brilliant.

Rubin: You like pro wrestling don’t you?

Josh: Who doesn’t?

Rubin: Ok, Socrates…he was like the Vince McMahon of philosophy. He started it all.

Rubin knows that Josh is a big fan of professional wrestling. So Rubin begins comparing Vince McMahon (CEO of the World Wrestling Federation/World Wrestling Entertainment) to Ancient Greek philosopher Socrates, as they are both the godfathers of their respective professions.

He compares famous wrestlers to philosophers so Josh can better relate to the material. You could outline a case that Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is just like Plato because of his view on the world. You describe “Stone Cold” Steve Austin as similar to Aristotle in the way that he approaches his opponents. You can draw analogies between almost any professional wrestler and find a way to relate them to ancient philosophers.

Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson: Professional Wrestler, Actor, Ancient Philosopher…?

Rubin takes the most dynamic superstars from the world of professional wrestling and finds their Greco-Roman counterparts in philosophy. And because Rubin’s teaching method is so engaging, Josh actually learns the class material in a super unique way that enables him to pass his exam.

If you review the situation outlined in the film, Rubin has taken concept A = Ancient Philosophy, mixed it with concept B = Professional Wrestling, and created concept C = A unique and personalised approach to teaching, Ancient Philosophy through late 1990s Pro-Wrestling.

You can take A = Intellectual or academic concepts; combine it with B = Topics that people can better relate to; and then create C = Entirely new methods of learning. The combination of two seemingly unrelated topics (A and B), come together to build something in the intersection (C), like a Venn Digram.

A Venn Diagram

You can apply this same technique of creating a Venn Diagram to teach anything.

Understand this concept through another example. Close your eyes and try to remember when you were a young 15 year-old student sitting in a classroom. Suddenly, your teacher throws a large statistics textbook onto your desk and says, “Today we are going to learn statistics.” You look at the dull textbook and groan.

I have vivid memories of my bland and mentally draining high school statistics class, a relatively common experience for many people who have experienced traditional teaching methods. Yet from my perspective as an adult today in 2019, I really do wish I had a better grasp of statistics!

The challenge was that the examples used in my statistics textbook were not relatable to a 15 year-old boy. And this problem is widespread. Some of the recent research on high school education includes the following data:

Now close your eyes and imagine yourself as this 15 year-old again. Instead of your teacher giving you a statistics textbook, global star athlete David Beckham walks into the classroom and announces that you are all about to play a game. Your class is divided into small groups of students representing different football teams like Chelsea, Manchester United, and Real Madrid.

You are assigned a task to compare how well each your teams have been doing and how you would pick, trade, and develop players. You begin furiously studying the data of your team roster, trying to plan your next move based on analysis of player strengths and weaknesses. This game actually matters to you — because these football teams and football players are real-life heroes to many 15 year-olds.

Suddenly, this group of 15 year-olds is now playing a fun game of football manager and does not even realise that they are learning statistics. The teacher has discovered a new Venn Diagram of education = Statistics through Fantasy Football Manager.

Athletes, Heroines, Teachers…?

I decided to write the book Music On The Chain in search of a new ‘Venn Diagram’ = Blockchain Technology through Arts, Entertainment and Popular Culture

Last year, I was reading an article about how the Wu-Tang Clan, one of my favourite hip hop groups, had taken the radical decision to release only one copy of their 2015 album Once Upon a Time in Shaolin. The album was listed in a private auction and eventually bought by Martin Shkreli, an infamous pharmaceutical executive and former hedge fund manager.

In the ensuing controversy, the structural challenges of the music industry became clearer. I have always been a fan of music, and as I dug deeper into the issues within the industry, the solutions seemed clearer.

To me, this seemed like a perfect use case for blockchain technology. And so I started writing. What began as a rough initial blog post on Medium spiralled into a three-part article series I couldn’t stop writing, and then into a fully fledged book. This is something I have no qualifications for and without official backing from a large publishing house — but hope that doesn’t get in the way of you enjoying the book!

The book Music on the Chain was born as a way to educate people about blockchain through something relatable — through music. This book covers topics ranging from the Wu-Tang Clan selling the only copy of their album to Martin Shkreli to Harry Potter’s archvillain Voldemort being a great way to describe distributed databases, to Taylor Swift’s open letter to the public in the Wall Street Journal outlining the future of fan engagement

If someone like Kanye West hired me to implement blockchain in their music catalog, that would be more exciting than joining an enterprise blockchain consulting practice at Accenture or Deloitte.

“We have to teach something unique, so that a machine can never catch up with us.”

— Jack Ma, co-founder of Alibaba Group

If you approach a random person on the street and ask them, “Do you want to learn more about blockchain technology?” Most people won’t know how to respond, will say no, or won’t care.

Alternatively, if you approach someone on the street and ask them, “Who is your favourite musical artist?” Most people will have a clear answer. In fact, nearly every person in the world will have an answer to that question.

Whether they say Lady Gaga, The Beatles, or Travis Scott, a human appreciation for music is something that transcends borders.

Once you’ve got them hooked, continue by asking,

“Ok, so what do you think about these challenges [your favourite artist] faces today?

One thing is piracy — people illegally downloading their music without paying them, buying fake merchandise, or scalpers selling tickets.

Another thing is royalties — getting paid fairly for their work, securing their intellectual property and credit for their creative copyright.

And now imagine if some new tech solution could create a platform to connect you more deeply with your favourite artists, engaging you on a more personal level, and maybe even financially rewarding a die hard fan like you?”

The next thing you should do — give them a copy of Music on the Chain.

Because if you, like me, feel strongly about at least one artist in the world, you should be excited about the future of creative technology.

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I’m always looking to meet and work with like-minded people from around the world. You can find me on Twitter and Linkedin — come say hi!

Tech, Entertainment, Media, Emerging Markets. Ex-Facebook and Singularity University.

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