Cartoonist Garry Trudeau (Doonesbury) is running a series this week about for-profit colleges. Today’s cartoon touches on something critically important in legal projects, understanding the goal:
One of the brightest people I know never went to college. Another one dropped out after a year to found a little software company in Albuquerque. (You’ve probably heard of them. They’re not in Albuquerque anymore.) Others took years to finish their degree.
Obviously, to a lawyer, a college degree (or series of degrees) is important, because it’s necessary in most states to become a lawyer. (Although… the original Lincoln Lawyer, Abe himself, didn’t go to college. It’s also possible to read for the bar in a few states, including my own, though this route is rare.)
Lawyers and doctors aside, what’s the purpose of college? It’s to get an education — or more critically, to learn how to learn.
Very little of what people learn in college, at least at the undergrad level, is useful per se. It is the process of acquiring this knowledge that is really valuable, not the knowledge itself.As a hiring manager at Microsoft, I did hundreds of interviews, from technical folks to marketers to…. Not one of them learned anything in college1 (undergrad) that would transfer directly to their job at Microsoft. I can’t tell you how many college projects I looked at, head in hands, wondering a) why the applicant thought it would be valuable to submit it and b) why the HR staff forwarded this stuff to me with an expectation I would review it.
Anyway, that’s why this week’s Doonesbury really strikes a chord with me. (My daughter is also applying to college in the coming school year.) Are we clear on the goal?
For-profit colleges, by and large (there might be exceptions) are clear on their goal, which is to make money.
But are regular (dare I say “real”) colleges equally clear? Their goal needs to be to imbue critical thinking skills in their students.
Too often, that goal gets lip service. Programming students learn to write B+ trees.2 PoliSci students learn the various causes of World War II. Literature students learn that Shakespeare was a master of the written word.3 None of that will be useful in the real world.4
I assume pretty much all of my readers have been to college. What did you learn there that proved most valuable to you?
Here’s the tie-in to Legal Project Management. To be successful on a project, you have to agree on the goal. And you have to recognize that not all of the players will have the same goal.
The Dean and President of Walden in the strip above don’t have the same goal as the students.5 That won’t make for a successful project.