The readiness is all

This post was originally published in the Dow Jones News Funds’ Adviser Update, Spring 2013.

Hockey great Wayne Gretzky supposedly said, “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.”

Ask your students where they would skate if they were moving to where the puck will be in their futures.  My hunch is that after naming a pro career in their sport of choice or a Nobel prize-winning cancer research track, they will likely start listing the hip tech-based companies of the day as their goal: Apple, Facebook, Google, and the younger even-hipper versions that are springing up in tech incubators in San Francisco, Seattle, New York.

Best place to learn to skate to where those pucks will be in the world of tomorrow’s opportunities? In our publication staffrooms. Right now. Today.

Our staffs bring together the holy trinity of critical thinking, tech fluency and adaptability to change — key skills in the job markets of their futures. We are at the leading edge in providing key core competencies our students need as they move into the shifting sands of what awaits them in the marketplaces of their futures.

It’s a buzz kill for an educator to talk about “getting a job.”  I’m the first to say that the true reason for a university education should be the further shaping of a honed mind. But the reality is that our culture does see the path through high school and college as providing those without independent means to live a life of leisure with the skills to find and sustain a career of meaning, whatever that entails.

Preparing our students to be nimble and flexible both in thinking and in expectation of what the future may look like may be the best guidance we can give.

The sort of rapid change we are living through right now is not easy, and it’s not comfortable. We are living in a moving target of the “how” of both journalism and education; and maybe even a flux in the “what,” as well.

Since science, tech and math are the buzz words du jour, we have a great opportunity to save our journalism programs — and grow them — by “co-branding” as tech hotspots in our schools. We need to do a better job of training our administrators and our school community that we are where the rubber hits the road in terms of 21st century readiness.

As Hamlet put it, “The readiness is all.”

Where else in a high school do students have daily experience with tweaking HTML code, converting file formats and installing widgets as part of their English coursework?

Where else are students thinking in terms of cross-collaborative work teams, since that term aptly describes what happens when a writer, editor, photographer and designer start moving through a story package?

Where in our schools (outside of the computer programming class) do our kids get a chance to try and try and revise and revise and plug in a piece of software (that doesn’t work) and try again?

“You have to be there and get what you want done, but be ready to adapt,” current Viking co-editor-in-chief Nora Rosati (’13) says.

But wait, there’s more.

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerburg and Microsoft’s Bill Gates recently joined forces on a campaign that emphasizes ability to code (as in computer code) as a necessary skill today and into the future. Learning to code for free online with Codecademy is another trend. Dropbox creator Drew Houston likens those coding skills to a “superpower.”

If that’s true, then for our publications which run online sites that are a daily exercise in digital media and a little coding, it means we are advising a veritable room full of super heroes.

Au contraire, Pierre, you say? The world of tomorrow needs fewer screen kids and more world citizens who look up at their fellow humans instead of a digital representation of same?

We’re on the same page there, too.

Get to work — at work. That’s what Yahoo President and CEO Marissa Mayer, ordered last month as a directive that ended telecommuting as an option for employees, citing the need for employees to be in the same place at the same time, talking together.

Since then, business gurus have published piece after piece talking about the critical role face-to-face collaboration plays in the success of a nimble workplace.

That’s what our students do every day, inside a journalism staffroom. They are interacting not only with their colleagues, but actively reaching out into the world to get information from real human beings for the work that we do.

Not to be a gender warrior, but the face of tech today is not Yahoo’s Marissa Meyer. The face of tech is most often male — and the face of tech education today is also often male.

Inclusion matters in getting a fairer cross-section to the shared tables of power of tomorrow, whether that’s the boardroom or the classroom.

Many of our staffs, where we have such daily access and ability to be on the cutting-edge of where this shifting sand of innovation is going, are majority female.

Females have the best chance of breaking through the infamous “glass ceilings” of American corporate boardrooms not through the traditional business model, but through new sectors that are taking shape right now in tech, social media, and digital communication.

Several twenty-somethings from my first graduating classes of seniors on the school paper in rural Minnesota have embraced the sense of “let’s give it a try” to join ground floor roll-up-your-sleeves efforts at startups like Etsy and Mashable and finding a “sky’s the limit” opportunity available to them.

A more recent example involves a 21-year-old former editor-in-chief who graduated from Palo Alto High School in 2010. She brokered the basic skill sets she gained from working on our WordPress site into a summer internship with a San Francisco tech startup.

Her Viking colleague who figured out that Twitter was going to be something interesting and got us an account in 2009? She is now at Emerson College, majoring in social media, and has already had multiple internship and work opportunities in that rapidly-expanding field.

My staff now uses Twitter daily as an integral part of our online presence. But I’ll bet it’s going to morph and change and perhaps even be replaced.  Facebook is a daily evolution-in-action. At the Online News Association conference in San Francisco in September, new media and social media startups were lining the halls.

Me? I’m no tech wizard, far from it. And I’ll be happy to be a thousandaire, much less a billionaire. But I know what I don’t know. And I know how to teach kids to try, to persevere and to embrace change.

“We value innovation and striving to be. It’s part of our thing to understand things change all the time, Instead of fighting that, it’s our tool. It’s human nature to fight change — but it’s what our whole mindset is,” Viking’s editor Rosati explains.

Dan Nelson, a fellow adviser and frequent JEA listserve contributor from Ventura, Calif., appends a quote from architect Frank Lloyd Wright quote to his emails: “The thing always happens that you really believe in; and the belief in a thing makes it happen.”

I am reminded of Frank Lloyd Wright’s home and studio in Oak Park, Illinois, where I volunteered on weekends when I lived in Oak Park in the mid-1980s. Wright, who was forever in debt and often only a step ahead of the sheriff’s buggy waiting at his doorstep to take him away for bills unpaid, used his home as an architecture lab.

When Wright began the home for his ever-growing family in the late 1880s in this new suburb outside the city, he added electrical wiring to it. Residential electrical service didn’t exist at that time in the area. But he knew it would be arriving. Someday. And he would be ready when it happened.

The readiness is all.

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