Get Out of Your Way

CaptureI was reading something the other day and it hit me between the eyes. I felt immediate guilt and some shame. I was aware of my face going slightly red despite being in a room by myself. I felt defensive. (I hate that feeling. Hate it.)

The thing I was reading was about Sal Khan and his wondertastic Khan Academy of which someone called Bill Gates said that its impact on education “might truly be incalculable”.

How’s that for a mission statement?

Delivering incalculable benefit to the world through free education.

The Khan Academy has thousands of educational videos and is a big part of the move in recent years from many institutions both young and old to make access to education free.

Now maybe the Khan Academy doesn’t get you access to the dreaming spires bit, but you get the learning, which is the real gold after all. The rest frankly is just university theme park – nice, but ultimately self-indulgent western nonsense.

Before the Khan Academy was founded…

…Khan was tutoring his cousin in maths. Soon more family members were taking the lessons. Then it was suggested to Khan that he video the tutorials and put them on YouTube, allowing the family members to view the lessons when and where they could.

To this suggestion, Khan said:

“YouTube? YouTube was for cats playing the piano, not serious mathematics.”

Then his next statement hit me:

“I got over the idea that it wasn’t my idea and decided to give it a shot.”


Bang. This is my kryptonite.

In my work, I hate it when someone else has the great idea. My ego takes over. It shouldn’t but it does.

I don’t want to admit it’s a great idea. I want to be the smartest guy in the room. I do. It’s all I have.

This is dumb I know.

I know the only thing that matters is the result. I should be happy to take (legally) anything and everything I can to help me get to where I want to get to. And the funny thing is I do – all the tools I use in my work for example: I am not sensitive to the fact that I did not invent them. But I’m not in the room with the people who invented WordPress.

It’s this – when I’m face-to-face with a partner, in free talking time, and someone who is not me has the idea, the conceptual thinking bit or the strategic insight…my primary emotion is that I wish it had been me.

Now not catastrophically so. I am not so stupid that I won’t use the idea. But I do pause and I don’t act as quickly as I should. This is not procrastination. It’s worse than that. It’s probably passive aggression. And passive aggression towards myself! Is that what they mean by self-sabotage? I never really got what that was.

I probably need to CBT myself.

Great idea! Let’s do the show right here…

Me (therapist)OK Marky, why do you feel bad when someone has a great idea that you could use?

Me (quivering weakling)‘cos I’m supposed to be clever and cleverer…

Me (therapist)so clever means always better than everyone else in the room ever ever ever?

Me (quivering weakling)All right you’ve shown my irrational belief to be irrational, now earn your money “therapist.”

Me (therapist)You asked for it. Tell me, (looking over top of glasses), what do you think you’ve lost when someone else has a great idea that you can use?

Me (quivering weakling)oh you got me you cad! It’s my self-esteem! Clever is all I’ve got. I can’t play football. And the girls are scary. People tell me I’m smart. I am supposed to know everything, I think. Do you know at primary school I got the morning mental arithmetic challenge correct before anybody else everyday for a year? My prize was to be allowed to take the classes’ combined lunch money to the school office by myself unsupervised during class time. Walking through the empty halls when all the other kids were in class. I walked the empty halls. I walked the empty halls. Alone. Victorious. Supreme. Different. Calm and free. Every day. Smart = the good life.

I was eleven.

Me (therapist)I quit……………………

OK I exaggerate a bit. But only a bit and not about the mental arithmetic. I don’t joke about mental arithmetic.

I get in my way sometimes and here I have described one of the ways.

I am not the only one to do this.

I see others do it all the time (and frankly men are worse than women in this particular numbskullery but I am afraid some women have their own special brand of numbskullery with equally unhelpful outcomes.)

I am not going to get in my way again.


Notes Here’s the article on the KHAN ACADEMY but you really should sign up yourself HERE. I am incredibly excited about global free access to high quality education. This is massive and is a huge leap for our species. Good good good!

2 Responses to Get Out of Your Way

  1. Robert Sloss May 7, 2013 at 9:27 am #

    There is an aspect of this that you don’t address and I suspect is even more subversive than the fact that it is someone else’s idea. It is free and everyone can have access to it and the originator is not rewarded for their work. Bill Gates hasn’t fully taken this on board as you still have to pay for Windows Office though there are free packages you can download generated by other people.

    Why do people do this, how do they get rewarded, pay for their food, electricity etc.? Where does this lead us and then how do we decide to distribute wealth?

    • Mark Nugent May 7, 2013 at 10:42 am #

      Hi Robert. I am not sure how Khan gets paid but what he is doing is predicated on the yet-to-be-widely-adopted idea that if you give value, the money will look after itself, as opposed to the corporate mindset of focusing on the money and the inevitable zero sum game thinking that follows. Now corporate owners don’t like a focus on value rather than money because they fundamentally don’t trust their employees/managers and they think that hard numbers will keep things “honest.”

      At the end of the day, the average employee’s salary across the globe is so depressingly small that entrepreneurs like Khan have little to achieve before they are well ahead of the game.

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