America's Greatest Export and Import

Photo courtesy of Butch Sarma

Today, the world waits… This post, however, is about something other than an election that makes the United States a great country.

A friend of mine, Butch Sarma, asked me speak in his graduate business class at Virginia Commonwealth University. After 15 years in the classroom myself, I had little concern about teaching a lesson. Sure, I know less about digital marketing than I do about online education, but Butch really wanted the testimony of an entrepreneur. He assured me his class would welcome the message, especially because very few of them are Americans.

I puzzled over my message. Should I discuss the travails of starting a business? How to sell? How to make decisions? How to devise a “strategy”? I decided on a message germane to both American business and education in general: find a problem, create a solution, and fail fast.

Design. Test. Fail. Start again. Simple in theory, difficult in practice because in both contexts of business and education, failure is not often celebrated. It takes confidence. It takes courage. It takes leaders willing to envision the long term good. The great innovators, be they solitary inventors or executives in a company, will endure failure in order to be the best.

Butch’s students, all in search of MBA credentials and business knowledge, hail from India and the United States. As I spoke with these future business leaders, I realized America’s greatest export is also her greatest import: education. Amidst our many troubles in this country, we still have American know-how, and people from all over our country and the world will do a lot to get it. Those students, regardless of origin, bring knowledge and experiences to share.

According to a 2015 article in Inside Higher Ed, the US has more universities file for patents than any other country in the world. The article also cites a trend that other countries are catching up. This trend is good, which explains why American education is both an export and an import. How many scientists, teachers, engineers, and entrepreneurs around the world studied at some point in the USA? I don’t know, but if Butch’s class reflects any national statistic, many students studying here in the US will return home to solve the problems in their communities. Then, how many of those scientists, teachers, engineers, and entrepreneurs influence their younger generations to create new solutions and come to the US to study and share knowledge? This exchange, no matter where we live, helps us all.

Our system of business and education allows people to change paths, to pour their talents and abilities into new ventures. The myriad problems we have in this country are met every day by creative, industrious, disciplined people hell bent on solving them. Because of this persistence, on a day when we go to the polls to elect a president, let’s remember we are still a great and prosperous nation. We do well when people from all over our nation and the world gather here to learn and solve real human problems.

Last week, those bright and creative MBA students asked me questions that challenged me to state what I know and what I don’t know. I say thank you for studying hard and helping us all, now and in the future, to fail fast and succeed.

Thank you for reading.

Mason New is founder of NewVia, LLC, a consulting and design company focused on helping companies, schools, and non-profit organizations design and develop online education and training.

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