For the past nine months I’ve spent most of my time in Oxford, researching social policy and the Internet’s impact on access to higher education. While I’ve technically been working at Penny Black and BOLDstart full time as well, I’ve spent most of my time disconnected; reading, thinking, and wandering through the countryside. Here are a few of the more important takeaways:
- There’s no such thing as a generalist. At least not a useful one. Many people who go into consulting or similar fields believe they can study a bunch of different businesses and solve any problem once they have the right set of tools. While I’m sure they can help bring clarity to many problems, there’s nothing like immersing oneself in a space – enough to intimately understand all of the players, issues, and interests. In the startup world this kind of experience gives entrepreneurs a big leg up against others with a similar idea, and it’s for this reason that venture firms put so much weight on a team’s domain knowledge.
- Detach completely for quality thought. I took for granted the importance of having time/space to think clearly, and didn’t realize how hard this is to do in New York. You get used to being bombarded every few minutes with emails, texts, phone calls, meetings, and other distractions. Living in a big city affects your clarity of thought. Being antisocial every once in a while – perferably in a beautiful place –, and taking the time to think, digest, and reflect, leads to amazing results. Simply reacting all the time to the social stimulus around us makes for dull (and stressed) people.
- Diversity of people = diversity of thought. 99% of the people I hung out with in Oxford did not know what an API was, had not integrated Rapportive into Gmail (yet), and were slightly offended when I told them that Klout could predict how influential they are online. Generally we think of diversity as people of the opposite view, but the best diversity is people who are not even on the same plane of thought. Innovation happens between, not within disciplines, and it’s important to expose yourself to that every so often.
I frequently take up issue with the costs of higher education and the general worthlessness of many degrees. But if for whatever reason you are fortunate enough to have the opportunity to do a one year independent study program, it can be an incredible and valuable experience. If you do have the opportunity, don’t go straight out of undergrad, find a program that lets you explore before diving in, in a beautiful place, and in an environment where you’ll be forced to surround yourself with people much smarter and very different from yourself.
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Juventas Fugit is designed and written by Justin Wohlstadter, who, when not writing in the third person, can be found in a coffee shop talking about startups, thinking about the future of education, and generally procrastinating something important.
- Passions: startups that positively affect the world, education innovation, good design, learning, and meeting those with an equally insatiable curiosity.
- Play: working on something really neat....
- Previously: was director of product design at Enterproid. Before that I built the early-stage venture arm of Penny Black and co-founded BOLDstart Ventures, where I was lucky enough to invest in some awesome startups including Rapportive (sold to Linkedin), Blaze (sold to Akamai), GoInstant (sold to Salesforce), Klout, Indiegogo, Enterproid, ShowMe, LocalResponse, and many more. And before all of this I was involved in a bunch of other crazy, less successful startup ventures involving fire extinguishers, measuring philanthropic impact, and creative spaces.
- Pedantry: most of the important stuff I taught myself or learned from friends, but I’m fortunate to have also (barely received) degrees from Harvard and Oxford. At Oxford I wrote my dissertation on how internet innovation will disrupt access to higher education.
- Procrastination: can be found on Twitter, Linkedin, AngelList and other web spaces, and be reached via email at my first name at this domain.