Episode 160 – Leveraged Learning with Danny Iny
Steve: Welcome to all our Becoming Your Best podcast listeners, wherever you might be in the world today. This is your host Steve Shallenberger and I am excited for our guest today. He’s a lifelong entrepreneur, bestselling author and CEO of the online business education company, Morrissey. He is a high school dropout and an MBA graduate of Canada’s elite Queen’s School of Business and is known for his high-value driven approach to business. Danny’s here to discuss his newest book, Leveraged Learning: How the Disruption of Education Helps Lifelong Learners and Experts with Something to Teach. So, welcome, Danny Iny.
Danny: Steve, thank you so much for having me. I’m really excited to be here.
Steve: Oh good. Well this is going to be a terrific subject for our listeners. One of the 12 principles of highly successful leaders is to apply the power of knowledge. Well you simply cannot apply something that you don’t have in the first place and so that’s really what this podcast is all about is how do we really gain the knowledge that’s necessary to be successful in a rapidly changing world. And Danny really has a very interesting perspective on this. And before we get going, I’ll give you a little bit more information about Danny’s background. Like most online entrepreneurs, Danny started with an idea and a message to share but no idea how to really do it. And like many of us, he made several wrong turns, which he calls plot twists. And before really understanding the audience first paradigm and how to apply it to online businesses, he then really got his act totally together and zeroed in and the results are history. So, Danny tell us about your background, including any turning points in your life that have had a significant impact on you and what you’re doing and really your story.
Danny: Sure. So, I wouldn’t say I’ve got my act totally together. I think that’s always a work in progress. But you know I’m getting there. I’d like to say I’ve been an entrepreneur for longer than my adult life. I quit school when I was 15 to start my first business and I’ve been an entrepreneur ever since. Mostly, ironically, in the field of education. I’ve always had a huge amount of respect and appreciation for the importance and value of education. I’ve just also been very frustrated with how poorly I think it’s done in most formal contexts but I’ve been through a whole bunch of different business ideas, tried a whole bunch of different things, and you know settled on the direction that I’m working in, which I have been focused on for the last seven or eight years where the focus has been very much on business education delivered online. So, working with online entrepreneurs, experts, professionals who have knowledge and expertise that’s valuable for others and teaching them how to reach more people, how to package and leverage that expertise to make more of an impact and more of an income in the process.
Steve: And what led you to this experience in terms of having the perspective you do regarding education?
Danny: So I’ll share two experiences that I had. The first was when I dropped out of high school at the age of 15. I was a kid who historically had been a good student had done well in school and you know, I become a teenager and find myself just unbelievably bored. And so, I started cutting classes. And like many entrepreneurs, I’m not someone who does anything halfway. So, the first trimester or whatever it was of that year I think I missed one hundred and fifty-two classes and the number just kept on rising. And after about a year and a half of this, I just took a step back and said, okay wait this is silly. Like what am I going to do for the next four years? Just cut classes and go to the gym and watch MTV? Like that’s not a good use of time. So, I’m going to make it official I’m going to quit, and I’ll do something productive I’ll start a business. And the prevailing narrative around me was, Danny that’s such a bad idea you’re throwing your life away, right? And there’s this implicit assumption of permanence to the decision, right? It’s not you’re making a wrong move that might set you back a year or two, you’re throwing your life away. This is the end. And that never seemed to make sense to me because in a worst-case scenario you can go back to school, right? And a lot of environments and contexts agree with that. Most colleges in Canada and I believe in the US as well, they have what’s called a mature student program where if you’ve been out of school for at least five years you can join through that program without having high school diploma and you just add 18 credits to your degree. So, there are ways of, like if this proves to have been the absolute worst move, I could have made, I could recover from it. Yet people seem to think okay this is just this is the end. You know you’re finished. So, it did work out and I think it was a great choice and a great experience for me. I’m not saying everyone should drop out of high school context notwithstanding, but fast forward 10 years and I was at another educational crossroads in my life, a business that I had worked on building had kind of fallen apart. I was feeling a little lost a little adrift. I was thinking well what should I do next. Maybe I need some more traditional structure a more traditional safety net maybe I should go back to school and get an MBA. And that ended up being a terrible move. I did go and get that MBA, it ended up costing a lot of money and taking a lot of time and being not very valuable at all. And the time and money that I spent on that MBA that everyone was like, that’s great, this is the path to success, you’re doing a great job. I can never get that time or that money back. And that just strange contrast, between the wrong move that everyone seems to think actually not having a lot of permanent consequences and then the supposed right move having a lot of permanent consequences, set me on this path to investigate well what’s going on. Why are our assumptions and why is the world of education just so messed up and that led to the better part of a decade of researching the world of education. And over the last year and a half or so doing very in-depth research on why are things the way they are. Why is it as broken as it is? Where are things going? What do we need to do to adapt? And that’s what became my book Leveraged Learning, which is essentially half about what is broken in the world of education, how the world of education is changing, and half about what we need to do in order to thrive in the world that is emerging.
Steve: Well, I have so many questions to ask. One of those questions is what did your parents say? I’m out of school. I’m leaving, I’m going to start a company.
Danny: Well, my dad was freaking out as I imagine many parents would, And I actually give him a lot of credit for allowing me to do this even though he was very concerned. My mom was much more on board with the idea. She had not had a great experience in high school herself and her perspective, just like just like I kind of articulated, was that worst comes to worst you can go back to school and as long as I’m doing something productive there should be an upside from it.
Steve: Right, okay. Good. Well let’s just talk about this whole perspective of where you see education is going. Tell us about your research and why are education and the job market headed for massive disruption?
Danny: Well we essentially live in a world where the pace of change is accelerating, right? Things are changing but they’re changing faster and faster and faster every day. And based on where we are right now there’s a great quote by Larry Summers who’s the dean of Harvard, or he was, and his quote says that everything you learn in college is going to be basically obsolete in five or 10 years. That’s how quickly things are changing and that’s driving one of the big shifts we’re seeing in education from a lot of learning and education at the start of a career on a kind of just in case basis. You know I’m going to learn all this just in case I need it to less education at the start but more ongoing through a career just in time when you need it. Which is how you know you’re getting the stuff that is actually current and relevant and important to what you’re trying to do. So that’s one of the big shifts that we’re seeing and then fundamentally what we need to adapt to as learners, as students, as professionals, is how do we prepare ourselves for a world that we don’t know what it’s going to look like? And the answer is that we don’t focus on technical skills or job skills exclusively. I mean you still need those of course, but you also need to focus on what makes someone valuable irrespective of the specific field that they’re in. And that’s where you look at things like work ethic, like resourcefulness, like reliability, like initiative, like the ability to work well with their peers and ask good questions and think critically and be curious. And those are the things that actually set us up for long term success. And so those are the things that education has to turn its attention to more and more but is not doing a very good job of currently.
Steve: Okay, well that’s a that’s a really very interesting perspective of the things that are taking place and really spot on. I’m just curious, how about the academic community, what do they have to say about your book?
Danny: Well it’s been it’s been really interesting. So, the reception of my book has been almost unanimously positive, just about everyone who reads it is like this is great, I’m loving it. There’s a dividing line, if you’ve kind of been a career academic for at least a couple of years and if you have then you hate it because my book is very, very critical of the academic establishment. We’re looking at a context that sucks so much money out of the American and global economy delivering so little back and essentially justifies it by saying well college isn’t really for being successful in life. It’s about making you well-rounded or some other euphemism for basically saying we don’t need to be accountable for delivering anything that our students actually think that we’re supposed to be delivering. And so, you know understandably some academics haven’t loved it, but I was actually surprised at how many academics have said actually this totally tracks with my experience of what I’ve seen and I’m on board with it. So, all in all the response has been very positive. But academics are probably the last ones who are going to like it.
Steve: And there is no doubt that the academic world including MBA programs and other graduate degrees are rapidly evolving and pivoting, creating distance learning how to have greater outreach. So, you’re right I mean this whole educational world is really in a world of change.
Steve: Well good. Let’s just think about this a little bit more then, let’s take our listeners or let’s take the children of our listeners, how do we prepare the students for the future? Especially when we don’t know what the future holds for jobs or technologies or even problems.
Danny: Well there’s a really interesting thought experiment, right? We see all these headlines in the news about how the hottest jobs of today didn’t exist 15 years ago. We need to train our kids today for jobs that won’t exist until tomorrow. All that kind of stuff. So, how do you prepare someone for such a rapidly changing and uncertain environment. The automatic response I see in the media a lot as well we’ve got to train everyone to be data scientists. I’m like, no I don’t think so. First of all because most of the economy is not data scientists. And second because if we don’t know how the world is evolving why would the hottest jobs today continue to be the hottest jobs tomorrow, right? Things are continuing to change. What we actually lead us to prepare people yes to pursue their passion, yes to develop great technical skills, but also to be people who are generally valuable in organizations because they are resourceful and dedicated and adaptable. And those are the things that we need to train people and those are the things that people need to take ownership of their experience in order to become. You know for the children of people who are listening to this, right, the question that I can asked a lot is, well are you saying I shouldn’t send my kid to college? And I wish I had a cut and dry answer. I could just say absolutely yes or absolutely no to everyone. But of course, you know life is not that simple for a nation of hundreds of millions of people. But what I can say to every person who’s thinking about should I go to college or should I not. Is that they’re asking the second question without having asked the first, right? Before you ask, should I go to college, you need to answer the question well what would you want to do after college, right? After this educational episode has passed, where do you want it to take you in life? Do you know the career? Do you know the industry? Do you know the kind of work? Do you know the trajectory? And if the answer is no, don’t go to college hoping you’ll figure it out and hoping that your experience will magically make it happen. Take the time to figure it out so then you can figure out whether college is the best path into that trajectory.
Steve: Okay. Yeah. That’s really a good answer because there are certain disciplines, accounting or law or engineering, where that’s really the fast track. I mean it’s this intense focus. And so there really is probably room also for a hybrid of what you’re talking about and correct me if I’m wrong, Danny, you’re really saying hold it, we need to develop the skills that helps us get the job done in a changing world.
Danny: That’s absolutely right. And you know in the context you just mentioned you know engineering, law, medicine, etc., it’s not that education is the fast track education, formal education, college etc., it’s the only track, right? You can’t be a surgeon who didn’t go to medical school. There is no other path than medical school. And so, if you know that you want to be a surgeon and you know that’s the life you’re going to enjoy by all means go to medical school. But it would be such a terrible idea to spend the years and tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars on medical school and then discover this is not what I want.
Steve: Yeah right. Absolutely. Good point. Well I like that, I like what you’re saying. It’s sure nice to know what you’re going to end up doing ahead of time so that you can really find the best way to gain the knowledge so that you can be the best at what you do.
Danny: Absolutely and it’s easy to figure these things out, right? If you have hypotheses, if you have these ideas of, I might like this career, I might like that career, take a bunch of people who work in those careers out for coffee. Ask where it’s actually like. Find some people who are leaders in that space and tell them you know I really want to learn about your industry, I would love to work with you and work for you for free for three months or six months in exchange. All I want is 30 minutes of your time once a month to ask you questions about what I’m seeing in how this industry works. It’s not that hard to get someone to say yeah, I’ll take you up on that offer. And depending on the industry and depending on the trajectory that might bypass college for you altogether. But even if it doesn’t, you’ll have the clarity that this is what you want to do if it’s what you actually are enjoying. And I often hear people say well what do you mean work for free. And I’ll say, well isn’t that better than you paying somebody else which is what happens in college, right? So, get that clarity. It’s so worth doing that.
Steve: Oh that’s good. Yeah because I had an early mentor that said whatever you choose to do ultimately, be determined you’ll be among the very best in that profession to make a difference. And it’s really what you’re saying you’re really saying listen look out there, keep your eyes open, go hang out with people of the best, people that are in it and then decide where you’re heading and then find the best way to get there. And it could be a whole combination of these things. But don’t just go along the typical educational path perhaps. Is that what we’re saying?
Danny: Don’t see the typical educational path as a path that will just magically make everything be okay. Right because that was the case 30 years ago, 50 years ago because most people at the time didn’t go to college. And so, you coming out of college, applying for a job your resume is saying Bachelor of whatever, Master of whatever, it set you apart from everybody else because everybody else didn’t have that. But these days college has become pretty ubiquitous. Right, most people who are applying for the job you’re applying for will have that. So, the college degree doesn’t differentiate you anymore. So, it’s not going to create the returns that it used to create. It’s not the guaranteed path to success that it used to be.
Steve: Ok. Well this has been a great discussion. What do you think Danny is the future of learning? What does it look like?
Danny: I think it’s a lot more self-directed. I think it’s a lot more experiential. You know we’ve lived for the last hundred years or so in this era of standardization, right? Everyone goes through the same process. Everyone learns the same things. Everyone has the same knowledge, it’s like the McDonald’s of education. And that’s important with some fundamentals. Everyone needs to know how to how to read. Everyone needs to know how to write. Everyone needs to know how to do basic math. Everyone needs to know you know basic science and so on so forth. But beyond that we’re looking at an era where I think a lot of people are going to probably develop a deeper knowledge but in things that they’re actually interested in because we are moving towards an era of much greater specialization as opposed to standardization. And that’s going to happen on a much more just in time basis allowing people to go a lot deeper in just the things that are most interesting and relevant to them.
Steve: Ok. And perhaps among these and we’ve talked about these skills accounting, medicine, law, whatever it might be. Very specific ones. And we’ll see how that all changes in the future, what’s available to people and how it plays out. But my guess as I look around at individuals that are highly successful there’s also a way of thinking. And it is having an idea, whatever that looks like, and knowing how to make that idea a reality and perhaps this is the greatest type of learning that somebody can have.
Danny: Well I’ll add a nuance because between when you have an idea and when you know how to make it a reality, there’s always going to be a period of time when you don’t yet know how to make it a reality and what keeps you moving forward to create that reality to figure it out is the belief that you can. The belief that you will, right? I see this imagined reality and I don’t know how to make it real yet, but I know that I can figure it out. And that belief in the figure-out ability of things is I think a key driver. There’s a great line out of Randy Pausch’s book, The Last Lecture, he says the brick walls in the road in front of you, they’re not there to keep you out. They’re there to keep everyone else out and give you a chance to show how much you want it. And so adopting that mindset is the precursor to then figuring out how to make things work and getting to where you want to go.
Steve: Well that’s a great summary of really a lot of what we’ve been talking about today and I love that you’re pushing people to think that way. Great going.
Danny: Thank you.
Steve: Well I am always stunned that the time is up and the time’s up. So, any final tips you’d like to leave with our listeners today, Danny?
Danny: Just keep on keeping on. Be curious and look for ways that you can deepen your understanding, get stronger, get better, get faster. Because ultimately that’s how we win.
Steve: Yeah. That’s great advice. Well how can people find out about what you’re doing? And how can they find your book and learn a little bit more?
Danny: Sure so the book is called Leveraged Learning. You can find it wherever good books are sold which is these days you know the occasional brick and mortar bookstore and mostly Amazon. Or you could just find it online at leveragedlearningbook.com. We’ve actually made the whole book available for free because I don’t make money selling books. I run a business that delivers education. I just think a trillion and a half dollars of college debts leading to very little by way of real outcomes for people is too much and it’s not right. And so, I want this book to get to as many of the people who need to see it as possible so leveragedlearningbook.com.
Steve: Well thank you, Danny, for being part of the show today. Really appreciate this whole stimulation of thinking about what our possibilities are and how to get there and how to use education in the right way so that it’s aligned with a vision that we have and causing us to think about that part first so that there’s a real purpose and cause of what we’re doing. You’re making a difference, so we wish you all the best.
Danny: Thank you very much. Thank you for having me. And thank you to everyone who’s been listening.
Steve: It’s been a delight to all of our listeners, never forget that as you become your best you are a light to everybody else around you. You’re making a difference. This is Steve Shallenberger with Becoming Your Best, wishing you a great day.