The School for the Future

Education for a more beautiful world

The School for the Future is a modern training ground for entrepreneurs and activists to learn the most sophisticated, high leverage tools for positive impact and to transform themselves so they can act more effectively.  In the near future, we are committed to becoming student, instructor, staff, and investor owned and governed.  Start here to learn more.

How Meditation Can Improve Your Social Entrepreneurship

The School for the Future's ongoing 6 week pilot course, Meditation for Social Entrepreneurs, is built to train you in both the entrepreneurship skills and the self-transformation skills to make you as effective as possible in getting your company off the ground. The current participants have already made significant progress on their ventures (more details on the results of the pilot when it ends in a few weeks).

Part of this progress has been due to the meditation practices we've been doing together. So I thought it appropriate to share the practices we've been doing, how they fit into building successful social ventures, and our current hypotheses about why they're helpful.

Each week during the course we pair a specific meditation practice with a specific entrepreneurship technique. Participants practice these meditations daily while also studying and putting into immediate practice the entrepreneurship techniques they learn.

The first practice, mindfulness of breathing, is a foundational technique for increasing your ability to focus on what's happening right now and gradually develop the ability to concentrate on whatever you want, whenever you want, without getting distracted. We use this practice to uncover the deep values and intentions motivating you to start your social venture in the first place.

The second practice, loving-kindness, develops the aspiration to be of benefit to yourself and others. You already have loving-kindness to some degree, otherwise you wouldn't be a social entrepreneur, but most people don't know that it's a skill that can be developed infinitely. The stronger it is, the better foundation you have to treat yourself and others in exactly the ways you and they actually need. We use this as a healthy platform to assess our weaknesses and usual obstacles to accomplishing our goals, and set up means to proactively address them.

The third practice is mindfulness of sensations. This gives you the capacity to be aware with ever more clarity and subtlety all the various things happening in your body, thoughts, emotions, and perceptions, and how they affect your behavior moment by moment. The more you cultivate this skill the faster you can catch yourself before reacting poorly in stressful situations and the better you can cultivate positive qualities and behaviors all the time. We pair this practice with taking an inventory of the resources you have nearby that enable you to take the next low-risk steps to building your product or service.

The fourth practice trains you to specifically notice how other people impact you and how you impact them. You apply your new mindfulness skills to the reactions you have to others and to their responses to you. Over time, this trains your ability to understand people and meet their needs. On the entrepreneurship skills side, we pair this with inquiring into customer's needs to find out what problems they are actually trying to solve and how you can help solve them, rather than offering them a product or service that isn't helpful.

The fifth practice is gratitude. In some ways, being alive today is better than at any other time in history. Many of us have the tools and social support to start new enterprises to positively impact our communities. A couple decades ago "social entrepreneurship" wasn't even a thing. We have more resources available to us for social and self-transformation than ever before, and we're building on shoulders of ethical and entrepreneurial giants that came before. Using gratitude as the foundation you'll take a look at your competitors' products to get a clearer picture of how your customers are already solving the problem you're trying to help them solve. Then you'll examine your own product and and how you might be able to help them solve their problem better than anyone else.

The sixth practice trains you to recognize the spontaneous, natural awareness that is the basis of all of your experiences. Gradually, by paying attention to this over and over again, your positive qualities begin to bloom on their own while your negative qualities gradually weaken. Eventually this practice leads to becoming incredibly caring, free, and authentic. Social entrepreneurship is a long game; actually, it's an infinite game. It's important to find a motivation that will last forever, no matter what obstacles you face, along with the wellbeing to sustains you through these obstacles. Cultivating your recognition of your spontaneous awareness helps to develop exactly those qualities.

These results of the practices are just the most simple and immediately relevant to social entrepreneurs. We look forward to working together to deepen and clarify our understanding of how meditation can productively interface with social innovation generally. As you take all of these practices further, they tend to make you much more flexible, insightful, kind, clear, effective, honest, passionate, authentic, and spontaneous human being. These qualities give you the capacity to work hard, sustainably, on a project that deeply impacts the communities you care about, as effectively as possible, in a way that inspires others to help.

The Meditation for Social Entrepreneurship course gives a broad introduction to skills you can practice immediately to give your social venture a better chance of succeeding. We're launching another round of the course in the coming weeks and will announce how to sign up once the current course has ended.

Effective Activism

In addition to Entrepreneurial Liberation, this February The School for the Future launches its first activism course: Effective Activism. Effective Activism is facilitated by Roger Hallam, a veteran Wales- and London-based activist, Ph.D. student at King's College London studying the strategies of historical social change movements, and long-time social entrepreneur and organic farmer.

Over the past two years he and campaign co-organizers led the first successful rent strike in London in 30 years, compelled King's College to commit to fossil fuels divestment by 2020 after a campaign that lasted only 8 weeks, successfully contributed to moving the London School of Economics to bring their janitorial staff back in house after having outsourced them to a 3rd party company that treated the staff poorly, and are now running a London wide anti-air pollution campaign.

The tactics used to win these campaigns come significantly from Roger’s historical research and will be taught in Effective Activism. In this conversation Roger and I discuss the underlying ethos of effective activism, his relevant research and strategy, and the content of the course.

For the full course syllabus and to apply, visit the course description. Effective Activism begins February 1, 2018.

Launching Entrepreneurial Liberation: An Interview with Christopher Zobrist

On November 12, The School for the Future will be launching its pilot course Entrepreneurial Liberation: How to Transform your Life and World taught by serial social entrepreneur, startup advisor, and entrepreneurship scholar Christopher Zobrist. Scroll down to watch my interview with Christopher where we discuss the course and the field of social entrepreneurship in general.

The full description of the course, including cost and application, is on the course page.  We're hosting two info sessions for interested students on October 8 and October 29.

Sign up to stay in the loop about the info sessions.

0:58 The importance of listening to and cultivating your inner voice and deepest values

4:02 The right knowledge for entrepreneurs and innovators

5:35 What is contemplative practice and how meditation can help social entrepreneurs

10:46 Why Entrepreneurial Liberation trains many meditation practices

16:43 Rigorous application of the scientific method to social entrepreneurship

19:00 Entrepreneurship is a people game

20:58 Taking lean startup methodology too far

23:10 Effectual entrepreneurship: how expert entrepreneurs think

23:40 The School for the Future’s root value, and why innovation isn’t it

25:37 Effectuation makes entrepreneurial decision making simple

26:52 The innovation of combining meditation training with entrepreneurial mindset and techniques

30:00 How Entrepreneurial Liberation could influence where social entrepreneurship goes in the next 20 years

32:28 Making entrepreneurship a path for achieving self-liberation

33:20 Course logistics


Ownership and Governance Principles for the School for the Future

The commentable google document for this article is here.

In this summary document I outline the current intention for the ownership and governance structures of the School. There are a few general principles that will likely remain consistent, applied in specific structures. These specific structures are more tentative and may change based on feedback from students, instructors, staff, and other advisors.

The intended result of implementing these principles is to make the school a source of great joy. The school is meant to model the worlds it is built to give birth to: worlds in which it is an ever-increasing pleasure to live while contributing ever more value to others. One can make the argument that our destruction of the biosphere currently makes us net destroyers of flourishing overall. Our goal is to choose an organizational structure that, when adopted at larger scales, would reverse the tide of ever increasing inequality and be one component of total human systems that collectively contribute toward ever-increasing flourishing in the world. To achieve this the school  has adopted the following principles for the governance and ownership of the school:

  1. To distribute decision making across the school community. This is more likely to produce better decisions for both individual community members and the long term health of the school.
  2. To distribute financial value across the school community. This more accurately reflects the real origins of the value of the school and will incentivize school community members to produce high quality contributions to the school and thus further raise the value of the school.
  3. To be both fair and quickly scalable. Potential economic and environmental crises demand both.

Generally speaking, the decision making structures of the school are intended to make the school simultaneously flexible, resilient, and sensitive, and capable of decisive action and perseverance towards its ideals. There are many organizational structures that exist in theory and in practice which aim to achieve this. Some of these structures are quite old and some are quite new. 

The school is currently planned to be structured as a for-profit cooperative, owned and governed by staff, instructors, students, and investors and advisors. However, voting rights will not be distributed uniformly, instead they will roughly reflect past contribution and future commitment to the development of the School. Some decisions regarding the structure of the company and its overall strategy will be delegated to the voting body as a whole, and some decisions will be delegated to individuals or sub-groups. There are many ways to implement all of this and many finer-grained decisions to make which have not yet been decided.

Initially I will own 100% of the school and set the direction and have ultimate authority on many of its decisions. Over time, my ownership share will be reduced as shares are distributed to instructors, students, staff, and investors/advisors. Eventually, I expect my ownership and voting share to settle around 30% with greater than 50% owned by other internal community members (staff, instructors, students) and not more than 20% owned by external investors. I hope that these ratios keep power significantly rooted in the community as a whole, while allowing me to still play a special role in setting the direction and philosophy of the community, until passing that role on to others as well.

More should be said about student ownership. There will be multiple levels of student participation in the school. At the most superficial, students will take advantage of free access to pre-recorded courses and discussions accessible in a public commons, and at the deepest end students will take size-limited live courses with instructors (until the school includes a residential campus, when even deeper engagement becomes possible). At some point along that gradient students will start earning equity stakes in the school itself. Ideally, for some significant percentage of students the value of their ownership share of the school will be far greater than the cost of taking courses.

All this said, it is not clear to me whether the cooperative structure outlined above is good enough, so it is there as an initial structure to iterate and improve on over time. This iteration on our own structure may occur quickly. I am currently being advised by individuals experimenting with very novel organizational structures, and will continue to educate myself and seek the guidance of the School’s instructors and students.