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crowdSPRING: How the Internet Can Ruin the World While Smiling Sweetly

crowdSPRING ruins the world, but i can save it

Steve Dembo at teach42 posted about crowdSPRING, a site on which creative projects [logo, website design, etc.] are posted for all to see. Then designers, hobbyists and, as Dembo points out, students can respond to the ad with a design that may be chosen. In “Real World Art,” Dembo writes:

“The site is called CrowdSPRING and what’s amazing about it is that people aren’t competing to win a contract to create the logo/design, they’re actually going ahead and doing the work and hoping to be the one selected as the winner.”

Dembo sums up crowdSPRING better than they do. He goes on:

“At first I was just way impressed at the idea of the site, and that so many professional and amateur graphic designers were participating. Then i started wondering whether any student graphic designers were jumping into the game. After all, why not? If they enjoyed doing design work and wanted to practice in some real world situations, why not try their hand at some logos for real potential clients?”

I’m impressed by the idea, too, and a quick look at something from crowdSPRING’s project tab shows that range of hobbyist to professional. Imagine if Sunkist, who recently tweaked their logo, opened up a similar competition? Very cool possibilities.

Unfortunately, this stuff ruins the world.

First, the crowdSPRING model is a kissing cousin of spec work – and here’s why that’s bad. The professional association for design, AIGA, takes the following position on spec work and design competitions:

“… organizations sometimes initiate contests as a way of developing logos or other identity work. Unlike disciplines in which the designer can bill for implementation of the proposed design (e.g., architecture), in communication design, the submitted solution already represents the bulk of the intellectual work. AIGA encourages organizations to issue a request for proposals from qualified designers. This sample letter may also be sent by AIGA members to help educate organizations offering contests.

AIGA believes that doing speculative work seriously compromises the quality of work that clients are entitled to and also violates a tacit, long-standing ethical standard in the communication design profession worldwide.”

You can see how spec work and design competitions can weaken the sector – but that’s not the big issue here. Especially in education – for developing students’ interests in and capabilities with design – we need to look at the opportunity cost.

The solution is direct, local charity. Walk down the street and give away a design.

If a student researches a crowdSPRING design, mocks one up and submits, he misses out on developing most of the skills that make a designer successful. He’ll have a logo for his portfolio, but he’s not a better designer than he was the day before. That, and he hasn’t done much good in the world.

So how can a student interested in design make a bigger impact on his own development and on the world around him?

1. Identify a business or organization that could use your help. This isn’t hard – it’s fairly obvious who does and doesn’t need a bit of rebranding. Stroll down Main Street, pop in, introduce yourself and offer to do a logo/website design for free. No obligation, no payment necessary. Just ask that you can use the design in your portfolio.

2. Work with them on the design process. This is the skill that matters the most – dealing with the people behind the designs you’re creating. Find out what they want, what they need, and figure out how you can do it. There are loads of free resources that can guide you in that process. Here are a few:

The student learns how to communicate with a potential client and plan/execute project management. It doesn’t get much more relevant than that.

3. Ram home that you’re part of the community – then add to it. These small projects are great opportunities to connect with the people around you. Explain that you’re taking a design class at your high school or that you’re a local student looking to develop a small business in design. You’re part of the community, they’re part of the community. It’s a lot more valuable than an anonymous crowdSPRING design with no feedback process, no connections and no conversations.

Schools especially need all the help they can get with positive PR. Engaging taxpayers, parents, and/or business owners with the fruits of their school taxes – and a bit of promise that local youth aren’t leading their community to Hell in a handbasket – can have a tremendous effect on garnering support of a school’s endeavors.

This isn’t one of those 21st century skills – it’s just old-fashioned, 20th century charity that happens to use Photoshop.

If a business/organization uses crowdSPRING for its logo project and it takes each designer 3 hours to research, sketch and develop a suitable entry, 100 entrants nearly wastes 297 hours.

Hey, one guy’s time will be made worthwhile with his selection and a couple hundred dollars.

My model? 100 students/amateurs go through the design process, build their portfolios and develop professionally. 100 small businesses or charitable organizations get free, high-quality design. 100 schools districts get good PR and 100 communities grow a little.

crowdSPRING’s problem is opportunity cost. It’s a very cool idea, and their PRO section may work out well as a business model, but it’s far less helpful than it seems.

Their idea does nothing to prevent the erosion of communication and community. My model adds to both. You decide.

Fisking Jay Mathews on the Global Economy and Education, Part 2: Analyzing Creativity

he'll squawk at your kid's birthday party for $20!

Back to the task at hand.

Fisking Jay Mathews on the Global Economy and Education, Part 1 started a look at the recent debate between Bob Compton, Executive Producer of Two Million Minutes, and the Washington Post’s Jay Mathews.

John at the AFT’s NCLBlog called it a “cablicious babblefest,” which I can only assume is a mashup of “cable” and “-icious.” It sounds better when said aloud than it looks in print.  I like it.

And John is right that the debate left him and others “know[ing] less about the subject than I did before.” That’s what you get when one side [or both, as happens frequently on cable] presents terrible arguments.

Time to pick up where I left off in sorting out Mathews’ Mess.

“In order to get jobs, in order to get effective jobs, you have to be creative.”

I think that by “effective jobs,” Mathews meant to say “high-paying jobs.” If he really meant what he said, then I know a lot of people he’d willingly label as having “ineffective jobs.” If they only knew how useless their lives were!

Here’s a top-20 list of the highest paying jobs in the US [as ranked by BizJournals]:

  1. CEO
  2. Physician/surgeon
  3. Dentist
  4. Lawyer
  5. Aircraft pilots and flight engineer
  6. Engineering Manager
  7. Securities and commodities sales agent
  8. Computer and information systems manager
  9. Marketing and sales manager
  10. Optometrist
  11. Pharmacist
  12. General and operations manager
  13. Natural sciences manager
  14. Computer and information scientist
  15. Financial manager
  16. Computer software engineer
  17. Public relations manager
  18. Announcer [radio/TV]
  19. Purchasing manager
  20. Industrial production manager

Some of these professions, of course, are more creative than others. I want my PR firm to be creative; I want my airline pilot to stick to the protocol he’s given. I want my lawyer to win my case even if it means inventing an untried legal strategy; I want my pharmacist to exercise little creative license in the distribution of my medication.

You get the picture.

These 20 jobs all depend on creativity to an extent. At the least, creativity comes into play on the personnel side. A surgeon might specialize in just a handful of procedures that he repeats, but there’s more to his job in addition to those few hours a week when he’s holding the scalpel [though flawless repetition of procedures and various administrative duties are the meat and potatoes of his success].

But all of these jobs – every single one of them, from 1 to 20 – require the mastery of basic skills, with about half requiring stringent professional certification. You might have all the creativity in the world – and we know that CEOs, lawyers, and financial managers do some wildly creative stuff that reaps professional rewards – but if you’re an aspiring financial manager who can’t process data, you don’t become a financial manager.

You pass Organic Chemistry en route to becoming a surgeon.

You pass a multitude of physics courses en route to becoming a computer software engineer or an engineering manager.

You pass through a host of language/literacy-related training to become a successful marketing/sales manager.

And if you can’t get through the basic training required for each of these “effective jobs,” you never get the job in the first place.

Consider the series of commercials running in the northeast [maybe nationwide, I don't know] for TimeWarner Cable in which several normal people relay their ideas for phone/internet services. They explain the creative ideas they’ve brainstormed – “make the calls less expensive,” or as this YouTube video shows, “I had an idea: video on demand. Movies at the touch of a button.” Well, to the actors’ shagrin, TimeWarner offers those services now, and these folks lament that their idea was stolen.

It’s a 30-second bit of comedy. We see creative types without any means to act on their creativity; we see the company that has successfully produced the same ideas. That creativity means little without a foundation of skills is such an obvious thing that this series of commercials presents it as universal humor that everyone can understand.

Well, almost everyone, it seems.

Creativity can separate the winners from the also-rans, but creativity isn’t what gets you into the race. Creativity has a real impact when it’s on a solid foundation of skills – and little impact without that foundation. Mathews is worried about the proverbial cherry on top; Compton is worried about the rest of the sundae.

The crux of the argument here between Compton and Mathews is about the base skills required to compete in an industry [Compton] and the unique qualities necessary to rule that industry [Mathews]. Mathews is right when he intimates that the next Bill Gates is more likely be an American citizen than an Indian citizen – the odds are with that argument when political and social factors are involved.

But Compton’s next 200 programming hires aren’t likely to be from the United States – he’s not alone here in searching for competent, skilled college graduates and left wanting – and those are the numbers that add up.

Here’s a bit from Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s remarks at Harvard a few weeks ago – courtesy of Mathews’ Washington Post. In describing research on the American economic surge of the 1990s, Bernanke said:

“One key finding of that research is that, to have an economic impact, technological innovations must be translated into successful commercial applications. This country’s competitive, market-based system, its flexible capital and labor markets, its tradition of entrepreneurship, and its technological strengths–to which Harvard and other universities make a critical contribution–help ensure that that happens on an ongoing basis.”

Food for thought.

Necessary Reruns: Teachers Dressing Professionally

It isn't as expensive as it looks.

Google Analytics, Feedburner and a few other programs give me solid data about traffic on this site. Some pieces tank, some get consistent attention – and it’s anything but an exact science.

One of the posts that has truly surprised me was a brief bit on teachers dressing professionally [re-posted below]. I wrote it in March of last year after spending a day in a public high school and it’s as true – if not truer – today as it was a year ago.

But I did leave something out of the original post.

The day that I wrote it, three separate students asked me if I was rich. It happened frequently at this small-city school.

What made me look so wealthy? A white shirt, a tie, slacks – all clean and pressed properly – and polished shoes. That’s it. Nothing fancy.

The most basic standards of professional dress were so far above and beyond what passed for normal teacher attire in this school that many of the students assumed I was wealthy. I felt bad for the district when I realized that.

Jeffrey S. Solochek of the St. Petersburg Times has followed up on a 2006 blowup about whether teachers in Pasco County, Florida should be subject to a dress code:

A committee of teachers and administrators convened by superintendent Heather Fiorentino, who identified the issue as a problem, completed its review of teacher dress Thursday by deciding that there really is no problem.

The group agreed that attire matters, even suggesting that it deserves a prominent mention in new teacher training. But it deemed the district’s current policy, which says the staff should dress in a manner that “will add dignity to the educational profession,” as quite sufficient.

The committee suggested that the rare cases involving inappropriate attire can be addressed by the principal.

General George Patton said that you must, “Always do everything you ask of those you command.” Maintaining a professional appearance and demeanor in a school is an important part of education. If a teacher doesn’t demonstrate the utmost pride in their appearance and respect for themselves, no one should expect the students to follow suit.

That means a teacher must:

  • Dress neatly, wearing professional attire that shows students that you care about your appearance and are proud of it.
  • Wear clean, ironed clothing. Dirty, wrinkled clothes are the most prevalent (and needless) problem I see in schools. If you don’t like ironing, buy a bottle of wrinkle releaser. It’s $3 and works in 30 seconds.
  • Have a variety of outfits – don’t wear the same thing every day. You need not have an extensive wardrobe, just some standard tops/bottoms and a basic knowledge of how they can go together. If you don’t know how to do this, ask your sister, mom, or stylish co-worker. They’ll be glad to help. [If you're a male teacher, make use of ties to mix up your appearance.]
  • Conceal any obnoxious additions to your body, e.g. tattoos and piercings. This is not as obvious to many as it ought to be.
  • Wear clothes that fit. Clothes that are too tight, loose or revealing are distracting and reflect poorly on you.
  • Avoid “business casual” attire when possible. It looks lazy. It’s the equivalent of getting a grade of C. You know, just enough to get by without taking too much heat for it.
  • Keep current. You don’t need to read GQ or Elle every month to look good. If your clothes are out of style, stop wearing them to school. Students don’t take you seriously if you wear badly outdated clothes.

If you want respect, you’d better look and act as though you deserve it. A well-dressed teacher suggests (actually, it’s more like “screams”) that there is an important purpose for his/her presence in the class. To most adults, clothes reflect a person’s seriousness of purpose – and they’re right. Kids think in more simplified terms; they’re even more likely to equate a well-dressed teacher with seriousness.

There is no excuse – none – for being a teacher and not dressing well. It is a necessary part of the job with which you are charged (and which you have chosen). Your personal preferences and comforts mean far less than the students’ rights to encounter positive examples of adult behavior. Think you can’t afford to dress well? Saturday I spent $95 at Macy’s and got a suede jacket, a tweed suit coat, a microfiber windbreaker, two pairs of dress slacks and two chic ties.

The Education Wonks sum it up well when they say, “Maybe it would be a good idea if those who wanted to be treated as “professionals” dressed professionally.”

If you don’t want to take it from me, take it from the high school girl who last week called me “divalicious.

Innovation at Ball State University’s Entrepreneurship Center

Ball State University

25 years ago, Ball State University [Muncie, Indiana] created an Entrepreneurship major with a final exam worthy of the label “high-stakes.” The New Venture Creation course – the capstone of BSU’s Entrepreneurship major and the only one of its kind – draws upon 4 years of study in the liberal arts and business. The course’s premise is simple; students create a business plan through the semester and present it to a panel of businessmen at the end.

Pitch your plan successfully and you pass. But drop the ball and you not only fail the course, but you don’t graduate from BSU with a degree in entrepreneurship [though the ~25% who fail are welcome to try again next semester].

And as exciting and unique as a ‘winner-takes-all’ philosophy is in higher education, it might not even be the most compelling aspect of BSU’s ambitious entrepreneurship project.

The program, a division of BSU’s Miller College of Business, started in 1983. It has always been about purposeful innovation, says Dr. Larry Cox, Director of the Entrepreneurship Center. “We try to be unique – we try to do what no one else is doing or we try to find new ways to do it.”

Consider the Nascent 500 Business Plan Challenge that the Center began last year. Most business plan competitions are roughly the same; teams submit proposals that are judged on their merits or their relevance to the competition’s mission. But the Nascent 500 builds on that model and embodies the commitment to the entrepreneurial spirit that Cox and the Center tout:

  • 500-word abstracts accompany a business plan submitted for evaluation; 12 undergraduate teams move on to qualifying at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway;
  • $500 is awarded to each member of the 12 qualifying teams;
  • Teams have 500 words to pitch their plan to investors in the back of a limousine as it makes a lap around the Speedway.

“We took the standard business plan competition model and changed the experience. We attract a good, competitive group and we have a lot of fun.”

Four teams advance to compete for $18,000 in prizes. The winning team takes home $10,000 and, of course, a quart of milk to gulp after their victory lap [click here to watch last year's highlights].

In short, BSU practices exactly the entrepreneurship that they preach.

In his 3-year tenure at the Center, Cox has continued the innovation that has made Ball State a nationally-recognized name in entrepreneurship education. Traditionally, Cox explains, schools focus on the implementation of business plans, raising capital, etc. BSU focuses not just on those standards, but also on creating and developing ideas.

“We’ve built [the Center] around the idea that entrepreneurship, at its core, is creative problem-solving. The search for the idea is the search for a problem that’s worth solving,” Cox says. “First, we teach them how to find a problem.”

The Entrepreneurship major consists of nine courses; electives, other majors/minors and required liberal arts courses are often the inspiration for projects in and out of school. “We start with passion. Our students bring some content to the table from personal and professional interests,” Cox explains.

And that marriage between process and content – mixing prior knowledge, academic studies and problem-solving – is what makes BSU’s Entrepreneurship major such an impressive undergraduate track. Students leave the program with practical, relevant knowledge and experience with the processes in which it operates. They enter the job market ready to contribute – and Entrepreneur Magazine, US News and Princeton Review and others notice year after year.

Graduating seniors get a unique opportunity to meet and network with successful entrepreneurs through The Ascent Awards, given annually by the Entrepreneurship Center to those who not only impress with their business success, but also with the “energy, grit and determination of the undertaking.” Ten businesspeople are listed for the students; they choose 3 who they want to emulate.

The idea, Cox says, is “to reach out nationally and find people who have not quite hit the radar screen or who are unique in some way.” Then Ball State students talk with the three finalists and ask them about the challenges they faced – and especially how they dealt with them – on the way to their entrepreneurial success. A dinner caps the festivities, at which the three finalists are honored and a winner is announced [click here for a recap video of the 2007 Ascent Awards].

Studying entrepreneurship isn’t a license to pretend that you’re a high-profile venture capitalist through 4 years of college. The academic rigor and professional experience provided by Ball State University’s Entrepreneurship major inspire 40% of its graduates to start a business after leaving the University. “If you think about entrepreneurship and economic development,” Cox says, “it’s central to our economic well-being. When [students] come in, we don’t define their career path. We ask them, ‘What’s your dream? What are you excited about?’”

Ball State University’s Entrepreneurship Center teaches them how to evaluate what they’re passionate about and make it into a business. Cox sums up the program and says what every department head in the country would like to say with sincerity about his graduates: “They go on and implement what they’ve learned.”

Donate Professional Clothes to Job Seekers

professional dress

A few months ago I wrote about why teachers should dress professionally and gave a few tips on how to do it. Dressing professionally not only makes you look good, but also reflects your attitude and seriousness of purpose in any situation.

A common topic for discussion with young professionals – and those who are aspiring professionals – is dressing for the job. Most of them simply don’t have or can’t afford the wardrobe they need. With a little guidance, they can get an array of appropriate clothing more cheaply than they realize.

Others can’t do this as easily. I’d like to highlight two resources that provide job seekers with professional support and attire.

Dress for Success

The mission of Dress for Success is to promote the economic independence of disadvantaged women by providing professional attire, a network of support and the career development tools to help women thrive in work and in life.

Founded in New York City in 1997, Dress for Success is an international not-for-profit organization offering services designed to help our clients find a job and remain employed. Each Dress for Success client receives one suit when she has a job interview and can return for a second suit or separates when she finds work.

Dress for Success is registered with Charity Navigator, an independent charity evaluator; they’ve been given 4 stars, CN’s highest rating, for the last three years. Check out all the ways you can support Dress for Success – you can give time, money, hold a suit drive, etc.

Career Gear

Career Gear, a grassroots 501 ( c ) (3) non-profit organization, was founded in New York City in 1998 to promote the gainful employment and self-sufficiency of disadvantaged men who are actively seeking employment.

We started out with the simple goal of providing appropriate business clothing for job seekers and have grown to provide services and resources that help our clients in retaining employment and advancing in the workplace. Services include: 1) provision of interview clothing; 2) job retention and advancement skills; and 3) linkages to other resources and community based agencies.

Career Gear is an excellent “bridge” between training and employment – its reputation attests to that. You can donate funds or clothing to support their mission.

Be generous and clear out your closet. Everyone wins.

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