William Damon is a professor of education at Stanford University, director of the Stanford Center on Adolescence, and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. For the past twenty-five years, Damon has written on character development at all stages of life.
Damon had the good fortune to sit on the stage behind Steve Jobs as a faculty marshal during his famous commencement address to Stanford graduates in 2005. Jobs recounted the story of his brief college experience: at seventeen years old, he enrolled in college and then dropped out six months later. He recalled that “I couldn’t see the value in it. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and no idea how college was going to help me figure that out.” Yet he did not disappear entirely from the college scene. He stayed in town, sleeping on friends’ floors and dropping into some college classes that he found interesting. First and foremost among these was a calligraphy class.
“Because I had dropped out and didn’t have to take normal classes,” Jobs recalled, “I decided to take a calligraphy class…I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle…and I found it fascinating.” At the time, he thought that his interest was just in fun, without “even a hope of any practical application in my life.” But it turned out differently, with world-transforming consequences. “When we were designing the first Macintosh computer, [what I learned in that class] all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac.” He added that, since Windows copied the Mac, it’s likely that no personal computer would have the elegant typography that they all now share if Jobs had not dropped in on that college calligraphy class during his free time of intellectual soul-searching. “Much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on.”
A study of 5,000 business innovators, described in the recent book The Innovator’s DNA by Hal Gregersen, Jeff Dyer, and Clayton Christensen, identifies five mental habits that characterize how successful entrepreneurs operate:
– associating (that is, making connections among disparate ideas)
Do schools do a good job of nurturing the above five mental habits?
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