Salman Khan and the primacy of doing

What if all of the big intitatives — both public and private — put into place over the past decade to computerize learning were trumped by a smart, funny, personable guy who, acting largely alone and on a shoestring budget, used a human-centered approach to creating a simple, cost-effective way to reach thousands and thousands of students over the web? And what if it all happened simply because he started teaching kids?

Well, here you go: Salman Khan did all of that, and more.  He is a wonderful example of the primacy of doing.

Let's look at some of the innovations brought to market by the Khan Academy.  Among others:

  • free access over the internet
  • self-paced learning
  • lecture attendance at home, homework at school
  • the psychological and emotional safety created by learning in private
  • helping students achieve true mastery, as opposed to minimum tolerable levels of understanding
  • liberating "slow" students from the tyrranny of being put on the low achievement track
  • a more human classroom experience

What do all of these have in common?  Well, aside from being truly amazing outcomes for students, teachers, and parents, none of them were captured in a business plan slide deck, nor were they necessarily premediated goals for his venture.  In other words, Salman didn't start out with the goal to flip the learning paradigm.  He worked his way up to that point by doing something he loved.  To push that point even further, Sallman wasn't looking to start a venture at all, just to tutor his cousins more effectively.  He designed for them, saw the value he created, and then went from there. 

Embracing the primacy of doing, getting started, saying "what the hell, why don't I try this!" is a way to open yourself up to powerful forces of serendipity, luck, and good fortune.  In technical terms, doing gives you access to a real option, which is defined as:

the right — but not the obligation — to undertake some business decision; typically the option to make, abandon, expand, or contract a capital investment.

Think about it: if you could create the right to give yourself an expanded range of opportunities in the future, wouldn't you give that gift to yourself?  Of course you would.  So what Salman teaches us is that we need to act — we have to act — because inside of that action is a gift of a better future, both for ourselves and for others.  Accessing the gift requires some courage, so tell yourself you can do it, and help your friends and family to embrace their own potential to get out there and make it happen.  For me, that's the ultimate lesson of the Khan Academy.


1 thought on “Salman Khan and the primacy of doing

  1. Diego,
    Here is another example. Karl Fisch, also know as Mr. Did You Know. Fisch is a High School algebra teacher in Colorado. He flipped the structure of teaching in a literal sense. How? He records is lectures and post them to YouTube for view at night by students and then devotes classroom time to working on what would normally be know as homework. Here is what Dan Pink had to say about Fisch
    I suppose it breaks down you one of your principles, innovators do, dreamer don’t.
    Thanks, Brian

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