The Four EWOR Principles
Some basic principles, attitudes or philosophical mindsets, however you would like to call them, have a high correlation with success. We have noticed that observing the entrepreneurs in the Kairos Society and in Cambridge and the by observing the individual ventures of the EWOR advisors and co-initiators. Moreover, we’ve found theoretical backing for all of them, many of which have guided us in discovering our principles in the practical world.
1. Learning is not static
I’ve explained the superficialities of this idea above already. A curriculum assumes that only after having learned A, I can learn B, and then I can learn C, then D, then E, and so forth. It treats ‘A’ as being something that is fully and perfectly observable. But in reality, the world is much more complex. Things are interdependent with each other and often to understand A fully, we need to have understood C, D and E. However, in order to understand C and D, we need to understand a bit of A, so all we can do is jump around A, B, C, D and E, understanding only a little bit each time, until we have understood the whole system. In school or university, did it sometimes happen that you read back to one of the basic topics and suddenly, after having learned all the later lectures, you truly understood the basic topic? This is how learning really works, and treating it as such will amplify our learning experience. (Murray, 2012)
To give a practical example, consider the art of identifying a customer need. It’s fairly simple, you just need to find out what a customer really wants. But quickly, you discover that people do not often say what they truly feel and mean. That is, people’s words and actions do not perfectly overlap. So, understanding a bit of cognitive and social psychology doesn’t hurt. Yet, you’ll also discover that enticing an honest answer from the customer is much more difficult than merely understanding the theoretical concepts of its root. One needs to understand practical interview techniques, but most importantly one needs to be able to apply them. Without any doubt, this needs practice. After every bit of practice, revisiting the theoretical concepts on cognitive and social sciences or the techniques used, will be of use. For the first time maybe, you might even fully grasp the theoretical concepts, which seemed meaningless before as they weren’t tied to any practical deed. Once completed, a university course is rarely revisited. EWOR will invite you to revisit, reconsider and shift to help you achieve true mastery.
Murray J. (2012) Cybernetic Principles of Learning. In: Seel N.M. (eds) Encyclopedia of the Sciences of Learning. Springer, Boston, MA
2. Maximum Feedback and Reflection
The key to learning science is reflection, especially in a wicked world. While reflection after solving mathematical exercises is certainly helpful, it is much more important in a less structured and theoretical world. As you can see in the graph below, learning happens in four steps. Most university education focuses solely on the first one: absorbing information. If you were to go to a good university, you will likely be asked to transform your knowledge, that is connect to knowledge you have already and structure it in theoretical ways. In the best case, you even apply it by means of experimentation, for instance by producing code, working with real-world customers or building a product. However, the most important step comes afterwards: Once you’ve experimented or applied, how good has your work actually been? How well was it perceived and what can be optimised? Why can certain things be optimised in the first place? This brings us back to the absorbing information part, which will usually, as stated above when we looked at dynamic learning, be of completely new meaning to you.
It is much more useful to learn less content, but to apply and receive feedback from yourself and your peers than absorbing as much information as possible. Once we’ve started learning, we often get hyped on all the new knowledge and end up learning for the sake of learning. However, learning is only a means to an end, it prepares us for a real-world challenge and experimentation and reflection should follow as quickly as possible.
Only when reflecting will you notice that there is something you can do better. We thus invite you to reflect every week, not just on your work, but also on your attitudes and mindsets. We call this meta-reflection as you do not only reflect on what you build, but also on the builder, that is yourself, to render the builder more efficient. After you have completed EWOR, you will not only have acquired a new toolset, you will also be a different person.
3. Do Things the Hard Way
University education is geared towards learning for the short-term. Bulk-memorisation for exams is encouraged and may help you get a good grade, but it certainly doesn’t prepare you for the real world. There is plenty of research demonstrating the dangers of this.
One study tested whether monkeys performed better in a test when they got hints on a memorisation puzzle. Two groups had to memorise certain pictures and choose the right one of a selection of two. The first group of monkeys got hints on the picture when needed until all tasks were completed. The latter group did not get any hints at all and drastically outperformed the former group during the test day. (Epstein, 2019)
Another study on learning Spanish divided learners again in two groups: The first group learned vocabulary and was tested the same day. The second group was tested a month later. After eight years, both groups were tested on their retention and the latter group, which was tested a month later, retained 250% more vocabulary. (Epstein, 2019)
We see this pattern over and over again. The science of doing things the hard way is neurological, that is our brain is lazy and the moment we give it a chance to cheat, it will certainly do so. A study on Tetris players noticed a sudden decline in cortical thickness and the amount of glucose used once players got better in the game. Their skill didn’t decline, but the brain clearly showed less activity. In short, the brain became more efficient. While this can be certainly useful for a game like Tetris, it is not in a wicked world. As the world grows more complex every day, we need to keep learning and retain more. We do so, by doing things the hard way. We employ this principle throughout the EWOR education experience, but ask you to have this principle in mind every time you face a difficult decision: Will you do things the hard or the easy way? Imagine you’ve just learned a new interview technique and came up with a good questionnaire: Will you use the same questionnaire over and over again, or will you experiment with its content to test its boundaries? Imagine you’ve learned how to build a website: Will you quickly hack your codes together or will you reflect deeply on the underlying principles and rules of the codes so as to take longer this time, but gain quicker in the long term?
This is a mindset question: You will face those decisions throughout your entire life and shifting towards doing things the hard way may transform your life. Take the coding example from above. There will be surprises every day. You could quickly delete your old solution, take a quick code snippet from the internet and slightly adjust the code or you could dig deep enough to really understand why the error occurred and fix it yourself. If you truly understood what the error was, the moment a similar error occurs you will be able to instantly fix it. This is not of immediate use but will make you more productive in the long-term. As those errors do not occur very often, let’s assume this attitude makes you 1% more efficient. By being 1% more efficient every day, which is very well reasonable in coding and other disciplines you learn at EWOR, you will be 37X more efficient after one year. This is what distinguishes an EWOR learner from that of an ordinary university.
Epstein, D. J. (2019). Range: Why generalists triumph in a specialized world.
4. Learning is Fun
It is a myth that learning is unpleasant and demands a lot of willpower. While most kids in primary school still see learning as a game, the opposite becomes true with increasing structure, testing and standardisation in general. Learning is never something isolated, even though it seems very much detached from reality once we’ve entered university. Learning is a means to an end, it’s something that helps us solve the complexities of life in a better, quicker way. Once we’ve forgotten that this is the case, maybe because we had to learn thousands of slides for a university course which will likely never prove useful to us, learning indeed is unenjoyable.
However, several studies show that once there is a clear quest, a clear mission, something you’re striving for, learning becomes much more endurable, even fun. At EWOR, your quest is building your venture and you’ll only learn to optimise the success of your venture. Therefore, you won’t have to learn any unnecessary content and you won’t have to learn anything that cannot be applied. In fact, you apply first and only if you cannot find a solution or only if your solution is upon reflection not ideal, you’ll be consuming additional content. Along that mission, you will earn points for good performance, which you can trade for real-life benefits, such as 1-1 sessions with billion-dollar CEOs, unicorn founders and venture capitalists. You can also get free tickets to expensive entrepreneurship events, sometimes worth more than € 2000,-.
You may consider yourself inducted the EWOR way. Once you work yourself through our content and exercises, make sure to revisit this section to (re)discover its importance.