A timeless post has been made at the Church of the Customer Blog. It is a post that will most likely receive little attention – inverse to the attention that it should receive. It isn’t popular to talk about the shortcomings of the US educational system, but it is an issue that is clearly preventing this country from developing the worlds next generations of thinkers and innovators.

Why does engineering/math/science education in the US suck?

“If you studied math, science, or engineering at a four-year college in the US, much of what you learned is useless, forgotten, or obsolete. All that money, all that time, all that wasted talent. If all we lost were a few years, no big deal. But the really scary part is that we never learned what matters most to true experts in math, science, and engineering. We never really learned how to DO math, science, and engineering.

Toward the end of his life, legendary mathematician Jacques Hadamard asked 100 of the top scientists of his time how they did whatever it was that they did (math, physics, etc.) Hadamard’s survey found a massive disconnect between how we teach math and science and how mathematicians and scientists actually work. The majority of his contemporaries apparently claimed that using the logical, left-brain symbols associated with their work was NOT how they did their work. These were simply the tools they used to communicate it. What they used to do the works was much… fuzzier. Intuition. Visualization. Sensation (Einstein talked of a kinesthetic element). Anthropomorphizing. Metaphors.

We are in sooooo much trouble.”

The Lack of Context
The post made a simple comparison of what is taught in schools and what ISN’T taught, in regards to math and sciences. However, the implications are far beyond those subjects. In my own small world of website marketing, I see the same deficiencies of what should be taught and what is actually taught. However, even more concerning is that what is being taught is what is actually in demand.

I believe this is because the audience is a product of the educational system, where being taught to pass a test is more important than learning. Where dates and events are memorized without context or consequence. Where formulas are taught more than theory. Where the school day is nothing more than random subjects taught in 50-minute increments.

No Magic Formulas for Success
Because of this system, many of the audience that frequents many of the seminars where I speak are looking for that “magic number” or “golden ticket” to make their websites rank number one on Google. I wish I had the proverbial nickel for every time someone has asked, “what keyword density on the page will make it rank higher?” However, that’s how the education system is set up – teach to pass the test, pass the test, move on. Unfortunately, life is not like that. The graphic at the top of the article is significant, as it transcends the math and science boundary to website marketing, or any other field for that matter. It is a much more comprehensive issue than most people are willing to recognize.

There are no magic formulas that will equate to long term success. Read the writings of any great author, scientist, philosopher, and they will all agree. Success is not an accident. Success is based on the individual’s will and drive to succeed. This is why I cannot teach easy formulas to long-term success in search engines and website sales – they don’t exist.

Curiosity: The Core Trait
It takes more than listening to panelists and speakers to understand how to effectively market your website. If I can distill it down into one word, it would be “curiosity.” Curiosity is the underrated personality trait that distinguishes original thinkers from drones. Curiosity is what drives the start-up. Curiosity also makes for a troublesome employee – they don’t conform well because they continue to challenge the status quo – which is not that popular. Even when a job description calls for an individual who thinks “outside the box,” the creative new hire will soon learn that outside the box there is another box which should not be opened – and their creativity is now stifled.

Unfortunately for those companies, most of the speakers at the marketing conferences are entrepreneurs. They are the original thinkers that let curiosity get the better of them and develop something new. Many of my peers in this industry attained their status because they were curious how the search engines worked. It is amazing to socialize with those who had the same curiosity as you, share stories, and develop friendships. Yet I also am amazed at the attendees to the conferences who miss the time to really learn how the knowledge was attained, and the thinking behind it, and trying to develop those skills themselves.

Instead, they spend so much time trying to find “what do I do?” Asking “why should I do that?” will yield many more answers.

Now, the What and the Why . . .
There is a difference between knowing the WHAT and the WHY. There is no end to the articles discussing the WHAT. The WHAT changes with the seasons. Sure, there are some basic tenants to the WHAT, but the WHAT will always be distracted by the flavor of the month, e.g., Keyword metatags, Gmail links, Wikipedia, MySpace, YouTube, Second Life, . . . the list will always be incomplete.

The WHY will give you a filter to screen the WHAT. You will never know if the WHAT is right for you if you don’t understand the WHY. The WHY is gained through the intellectual curiosity to make things better. The WHY is gained through asking questions based in that curiosity, but then also by questioning the answers.

People have either too much fear to ask questions or they have simply forgotten how. If I could prescribe anything for someone wanting to break out of their daily grind and accomplish something great – it would be two things: Get curious about something and start asking questions.

P.S. If you wonder where I base my thinking about the lacking of the educational system in America, then I challenge you to read the interview of John Taylor Gatto in Fast Company, and his essay The Seven Lesson Schoolteacher.