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School x crypto: is a school powered by crypto a better school?
Should we bring the Ownership Economy to academia? Could crypto enable Y Combinator, but for life and leadership instead of startups?
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School x crypto: should we bring the Ownership Economy to academia?
I can’t stop thinking about school.
Last week, I mused about an alternative to an MBA.
This week, my school musings collided with my crypto obsession.
I’ve been thinking - what if this new school were like Y Combinator, but for life and leadership instead of startups, powered by crypto?
What if this school gets paid only when it creates value, and pays its students, too?
What if this school were aligned with its students, and owned by them, too?
What if this new school were powered by crypto?
One way to think differently
A question I find really interesting to consider: if tomorrow, the existing solutions to a problem ceased to exist, would we rebuild what we have today? Or would we build something different?
This is a form of thinking from first principles that can, with surprising clarity, highlight potential solutions to today’s problems.
If tomorrow, the MBA programs that we know disappeared into thin air, I do not believe we’d rebuild what we have. I think we’d build something quite different.
This is a sign that perhaps it’s time for a new option.
What might it look like?
What kind of school?
Last week, I wrote about why I felt it was that an MBA wasn’t right for me, and what a different kind of school could look like.
Here, I’ll recap some of the main distinctions, but for more commentary, specifically on my experience of solo sabbatical-ing that led me to ask these questions and re-imagine school, read last week’s piece here.
Last week, I wondered.
What about those of us who are going to school for the process, not the credential?
What about those of us who are making our own track, not going further down someone else’s?
What about those of us who are seeking to build a life, not just a career?
What about those of us who treat life as school - who live in a state of constant curiosity, learning, and becoming? Those of us who assemble our own curricula1 and teachers in the form of podcasts, books, essays, Twitter (X?), coaching, therapy, travel, writing?
What about those of us who don’t want to do it alone?
What about those of us who want a better, more collective way of doing life as school? One that retains independence and self-authorship, but wrangles some of the chaos? One that offers support with some structure, and partnership with some coaches and peers?
What about those of us who want some scaffolding, but not a cage?
I imagine a school for leaders.
For those people already in the process of making their own track.
For those in the process of seeking to understand themselves and the world, to know truth, and to build a life that’s authentic in its expression of who they are.
Where we create containers for leaders to do leader things. To step further into self-leadership, and connect with others doing the same. To spur possibilities, and expand and actualize potential.
It would be a school to foster the process of discovery and self-actualization. Of leadership.
I think we need a new school.
A school for anybody that’s like me, and doesn’t want to get an MBA.
A school for leaders.
What if schools paid their students?
Today, we pay a bunch of money for an MBA.
The top-ranked full-time options cost almost $250,000 for two years - and that’s just the cash required out-of-pocket. When we consider the opportunity cost of the earnings we forego as we commit to full-time school, it ends up being much more expensive.
What if our school only got paid if it created value for its student?
What if the student paid our school by sharing a portion of their accomplishments post-graduation? What if our school and its student were aligned?
In fact, let’s go a step further.
What if our school paid its student?
What if the student was incentivized to contribute to the success of the other students, and our school itself?
What if the student got to share in the success of the other students? What if the student got to share in the value of our school as it grew over time?
What if our school was owned by its students?
In one word: crypto.
In two words: Ownership Economy.
Caveats and disclaimers
Let me just say that there is soooo much here.
Talk about the mother of all rabbit holes. I first dove down in early 2021, and have been going deeper since. Take this as the caveat that what I’ll say here is one tiny fraction of the full context and nuance of the realities of the crypto world.
The world of crypto information is also insanely chaotic. There are passionate evangelists and haters alike. As with so many things, the truth is likely somewhere in the middle.
I feel that it’s important to say again that all that I’m saying here is an exploration.
Questions and ideas, sparked by curiosity.
Maybe they’re wrong, maybe they’re right. But I’m going to explore. And, honestly, I’m all ears if you have any thoughts, insights, questions, or disagreements. Help me make these ideas better!
Ownership, not just usage
The fundamental principle and opportunity on offer through crypto is that of incentive alignment, through ownership instead of just usage.
In short, we’ve moved from an Attention Economy to an Ownership Economy.
Imagine - the more you use a product, the more you actually earn ownership in it, and a share of the economic value of it.
Imagine - for each video you watch on YouTube, you actually earn money for doing it.
(I’m cutting this short, for now. I wrote another 250 words painting a picture of how the current system, which we call the Attention Economy, works. I want to keep moving on to the opportunities presented by the Ownership Economy, enabled by crypto, so I cut it. If you want to give it a read, you can do so in this footnote by scrolling to the bottom or clicking the orange #2 here ➡️2)
Attention Economy → Ownership Economy
Perhaps attention is worth more than we’ve been giving it credit for.
Crypto brings us forward to the Ownership Economy.
In the Ownership Economy, users become owners, and earn for their attention.
Crypto fundamentally shifts the dynamic from one where consumers simply use products to one where, as they engage, consumers earn ownership, and with it, economic value, in the products they use.
Users become owners.
If you’d like to read more behind this idea, I highly recommend giving Jesse Walden’s landmark essay on the ownership economy from 2020 a read, linked here.
There’s a whole lot more here, but I won’t dive into it now, as I want to keep us moving to a discussion of what this could mean for our new school.
I will, however, include some excerpts from Jesse that give us a foundation for the rest of this piece:
Ownership, via employee stock option plans, has been a powerful tool for incentivizing talented people to dedicate their skills to building startups in Silicon Valley. While this model has been extremely successful, it hasn’t been accessible to all, constrained by geography and legacy financial infrastructure, among other factors. One result is that the economic interests of the biggest internet platforms are concentrated and often poorly aligned with their most valuable contributors, their users.
One of the most stunning things about the technology we consume every day is the degree to which it is built, operated, and even funded by its users.
The device you’re using to read this post, the software that’s displaying it, the server hosting this content and so much else on the internet are built with open-source code contributed by a global community of developers. Platforms like Wikipedia, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and Airbnb all operate around content and products sourced from individuals, not corporations. And increasingly marketplaces like Kickstarter, Patreon, Substack, and many other Passion Economy platforms enable users to directly fund the products, information, and services that they consume.
As the role of the individual in value creation becomes more commonplace, the next evolutionary step is toward software that is not only built, operated, and funded by individual users—but owned by users too.
In the Ownership Economy, the economic model that we have today is flipped upside-down.
In the Ownership Economy, incentives are properly aligned. It drives more democratically-distributed ownership and value, earned proportionately by those who actually create the value.
The Ownership Economy powers a system of innovation that’s even more positive-sum in nature than the current version of capitalism we have today.
Relative to today’s Attention Economy, the Ownership Economy decreases friction, increases liquidity, and better allocates rewards in a system to those closer to the source of value. It decreases the gap between contributor and beneficiary.
Instead of value created by users and captured by a concentrated group of equity shareholders, value is captured by those who create it. This further incentivizes users to contribute even greater value to the system - the ultimate form of marketing, for free. These incentives kickstart a positive flywheel, like gasoline on a fire.
In short, the Ownership Economy better delivers on the core underlying principle of capitalism: that individual interest drives mutual gain.
(More caveats from the crypto realist point of view in this footnote here ➡️3)
School x crypto
In the last week, I had a collision of musings. Thoughts of our alternative school collided with pre-existing ones on crypto’s potential that were sitting dormant for a bit.
So, I’ve been thinking - maybe our school should be be powered by crypto?
Imagine a school that only gets paid if they deliver value for the student.
Where the value of our school isn’t in its exclusivity, status, or credential, or in its hedge fund disguised as an endowment, but in its ability to offer an environment and support that fuels the student’s process of growth and becoming.
Imagine that while going to our school, you earn ownership in it.
Imagine that while supporting our school and its other students, you earn ownership in it.
Imagine that the ownership you earn pays you as it serves more students.
You’d be incentivized far beyond just your journey through our school. You’d be incentivized to contribute to other students’ journeys, therefore contributing to our school, therefore getting you paid.
Not only does this benefit you, but it benefits other students, our school, and the world.
Imagine a school that’s kind of like Y Combinator.
Y Combinator only gets paid if the startup gets paid.
Imagine a school that’s kind of like Y Combinator, but instead of fostering startup growth, it would foster a leader’s process of moving along their track towards self-leadership and actualized potential.
Imagine a school that’s kind of like Y Combinator, but for life and leadership instead of startups.
Imagine a school that gets paid only when it creates value, and pays its students, too.
Imagine a school that’s aligned with its students, and owned by them, too.
Imagine a school powered by crypto.
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Yes, I am very pumped to have found possibly my first ever opportunity to use the plural form of curriculum.
Let’s look at an example.
With a simplistic perspective, YouTube makes money by selling ads from companies who want people to buy their stuff. They present the ads to the people who watch videos on the platform.
There are two types of users on a platform like YouTube. Consumers and creators.
Creators create videos. The individual creators get value in the form of an audience of people who choose to follow them and view their content.
However, creating content carries costs for the creator: time, effort, and money. YouTube also recognizes that without content to display, there is no draw for consumers to show up, and therefore nobody to sell ads to, and no revenue.
So, YouTube has deemed it beneficial to further incentivize creators beyond the opportunity to build an audience by sharing a portion of their revenue with them.
Consumers watch videos. The individual consumer gets value (entertainment, education, etc.) from content displayed on the platform.
But, unlike the creators, consumers get no share of YouTube’s revenue.
At first glance, this seems reasonable, since it’s quite cheap for consumers to engage - it simply requires an individual’s time and choice to consume content on the platform.
But, the more I think about it, the consumer is precisely what makes YouTube valuable as a platform and a company. Remember - no consumers, nobody to sell ads to, and no revenue.
Sure, creators are critical for YouTube. Of course, they do hard work. But, at least they get economically compensated!
Consumers are also critical for YouTube. They’re arguably as critical, if not more-so, than creators. No consumers, no business. And yet, no economic compensation.
This is the Attention Economy at work: products that are economically free for consumers, yet exploitative of their attention for the economic benefit of the company and people behind the product.
This picture I’ve painted of crypto is the ideal, and as we all know, there are hurdles that stand between today’s reality and tomorrow’s ideal.
It’s not a given that we will figure out how to make it work. There’s a lot of technical work to be done to develop the technical infrastructure needed. There’s a lot of economic and incentive philosophizing to be done to architect the governing value system of the technical infrastructure to drive the outcomes we want. Nothing works perfectly.
But, we move the world forward by trying.
And, I believe we’re well on our way.
What fascinates me is looking at what these systems might unlock.