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CEO of Chicago Tech Hub 1871 Says We Need to Re-envision Education

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Enabling today's students to handle tomorrow's jobs will demand disruption and change in the current educational system, the head of Chicago's dynamic entrepreneurial hub known as 1871 told a group of William Blair clients at a thought leadership luncheon on October 27.

"Disruptive does not mean destructive – blowing up old things. It means finding a better way of doing things," said Howard Tullman, chief executive of the 1871 organization which nurtures dozens of tech projects and start-ups at its offices in the revamped Merchandise Mart on the Chicago River.

Tullman says traditional U.S. academic classroom work and testing, especially where memorization the priority, robs students of both skills and enthusiasm. That needs to change to emphasize active and collaborative problem solving, reflecting today’s jobs and work challenges, he said.

"'Flip the classroom' means you do your studying at night or out of class. The class is used for interactive team-based problem solving," Tullman said. "This idea that everybody is isolated and competing with everybody else is just not a model for success."

Tullman, with more than 45 years of experience as a start-up advisor, launched Chicago’s Tribeca Flashpoint Academy, a digital media school, after reviving Kendall College, another Chicago educational institution, by focusing on culinary training.

Global corporations and small companies alike are in desperate need of innovation. Yet within our education system, learning is still designed around teaching and memorization, rather than creative thinking, Tullman told the group.

In a world where acquiring information is as easy as opening a browser, what can our education system do better to produce leaders and innovators? New and disruptive technologies in education are re-imagining how and what we learn, with strategies that embrace the world we live in today, he said.

Inspiring next generation entrepreneurs

Tullman cited the wildfire expansion of Uber, a digital network connecting passengers and drivers, as a perfect example of how understanding and adapting to simple technologies changes the world. In Brooklyn, Uber now provides more than 1 million rides a month while being unknown there just two years ago.

"We’re going to see more of that. Things are going to be radically different," he said.

Such "digital matching services" as Uber reflect the reality of a growing "surplus" economy where everyone has something extra to share – talent, space, resources, skills.  "All of a sudden today we can turn those into cash," Tullman said.

"The priority is we have to get these next generations ready for different kinds of jobs, a different kind of world, a different set of skills," Tullman said. "If we don’t, it’s shame on us. We’re saddling these kids with yesterday’s skills."

Tullman said the lessons and confidence in all students from such active classroom learning and collaboration skills will benefit any modern worker, from factory production lines or mechanical repairs to medicine, software development or pure scientific research.

"We get it that not everybody is going to be an entrepreneur," Tullman told the group. "But everybody is going to need to be entrepreneurial because we are going to have to manage our lives going forward, be life-time learners. We’re not going to work for a company for our entire life."

Tullman discussed 1871 as an example of how collaboration drives today’s entrepreneurs. The hub opened in 2012 with 50 companies as an experiment to see if Chicago’s tech innovation community could be organized in one location. Four years later 1871 is home to more than 400 companies with 2,000 people coming to the hub each day to meet, learn, collaborate and develop businesses.

"The moral of this whole story: if we had the energy, the tools, the enthusiasm and bias to action and change in our schools that we have here," Tullman said of 1871, "we would change the world."

Tullman regularly writes about changing the educational system to help kids learn how to become young entrepreneurs. Two recent blogs were "10 Startup Lessons Your Kids Could Use, Too," and "The Real Benefits of Knowing How to Code."