AWESOME CREATOR :: MYCELIUM'S MATTHEW ABRAMS AND THE EVOLUTION OF EDUCATION
We are honored to introduce The Operating System community to Mycelium school founder, educator, forward thinker, instigator, entrepreneur, lifehacker Matthew Abrams today as part of our ongoing Awesome Creator series.
It’s always been important to me that this platform understands creative life (and awesome creators) as not limited to “the arts” or their commonly understood trappings — you can be an utterly uncreative artist, after all — but as an inspired, intentional, always questioning approach to being in the world. Social entrepreneurship, technology, and education are, in particular, areas that are exploding with creative energies from which those who do practice the arts can benefit enormously — and vice versa!
In the meanwhile, consider joining the next live Talk Purpose hangout (on, coincidentally enough, Art and Systems Change) tomorrow April 4th at 1pm EST, with guests Mark Beam, Deborah Cullinan, Bear Kittay, Ruben Alvarado, Thomas Arthur and Kevin Jones, facilitated by Abrams and Ashley Cooper.
I digress! Let’s get to the good stuff, without further ado, your new favorite person: Matthew Abrams. WOOT!
Who is Matthew?
I am a vessel. I wasn’t always a vessel. There was a time when I was a wanderer. At the age of 25, I realized I had a choice. I could live everyone else’s life or I could live mine. I chose the latter. Once I made this decision, I had to figure out the contours and the compass of this life. I did so this through traveling, through writing and through photography. Through these mediums I was invited into new ways of seeing, reflecting, processing and enmeshing myself and the world around me. Diverse experiences across 40 countries opened new window and doors into the journey of my life. I contiued walking through these new pathways as an explorer until the inflection point where I shifted from wanderer to vessel. This happened in Cuba.
I was living for a short while in Alamar, a municipality just outside Havana working on a story on the underground arts. As I was writing notes, thoughts & reflections I was overtaken by the closest thing I’ve ever known to divine inspiration. For 3 hours I could not stop writing. Ideas flushed through me and I did my best to take them from the sky and put them on paper.
All these thoughts became the foundation for the Mycelium School.
I reached a point in my life where all my hands-on experiences in the world allowed me to definitely see how much can be learned about the world by engaging within the actual world. I realized how much traditional, classroom based education can clip the wings of possibility. It happened to me and so many of the people in my life.
I see humans, when fully aligned with their calling, as regenerative agents. They open the blocked energy flows of the world. I see education as a technology that can support the calibration of this alignment.
How best to create the conditions and experiences for emerging leaders to live in alignment, connect with the world and create with intention? This is the question that guides my quest. Realizing this question transitioned me from a the wanderer to the vessel.
What is The Mycelium?
Mycelium is the vegetative part of the mushroom – the largest living network on the planet. It is alive, intelligent and adaptable. It’s been called the neural network of the planet. The mycelia (pl) link into the root systems of trees and plants and transfer information and nutrients across the forest floor with one mission: To maintain the health and vitality of the host ecosystem. The Mycelium School was modeled after this phenomenon. Mycelium students and their creations are the fruiting bodies, but what keeps them alive and flourishing is this underground network of support.
So what does it look like?
Imagine an idea hive, a hackerspace. A home for heretics, outliers, experimenters and nonconformists. A Petri dish of possibility, an incubator of dreams. A living lab where you can hone your vision as you learn from and create with the great thinkers and doers of our time – a modern day Plato’s Academy.
Mycelium is a 9-month, residential program in Asheville, NC for 18-35 year old emerging leaders. In September, we’ll invite 14 of these emerging leaders to begin their learning journey by spending two months developing a strong foundation of core skills, models and frameworks for our times. This two month foundational phase focuses on 7 core disciplines: Self-Awareness, Living Systems Thinking, Creative Adaptive Leadership, Design Science, Social Entrepreneurship, Network Building & Creating Healthy Systems.
Following the two month intensive, participants are given 3 things: 1) a learning budget of $45,000 2) a Rolodex of leading thinkers and doers – designers, social entrepreneurs, impact investors, academics, philosophers, etc, and 3) the task of creating a team-based social venture that is designed to add value to social & environmental systems while being profitable.
Myceliumni will go back into the world with a clarified sense of self as well as the skills, connections and hands-on entrepreneurial experience they need to bring their visions of a better world to life. Graduates will have honed their abilities to think & act critically, work well with diverse teams, be innovative, take initiative – a lot of the core components that are missing in other, more traditional, higher education programs.
Open-sourced learning & the disruption of the status quo of education
I shy away from dichotomies. Every time I have fallen into a dichotomy, I’ve overdone it and have learned to be weary. I have learned that there is always more information than that with which I have access to. I share this about life in general and how we educate in specific. While I believe in the virtues of open sourcing, open sharing and using tech to disseminate knowledge that would be otherwise inaccessible, I believe an unscrutinized adoption of the open sharing vantage can be at best limiting and at worst, perpetuating a harmful, industrial way of perceiving the world.
We live in a time where our access to information is prolific. However, access to information does not facilitate a better world. Education has historically been a tool to control the masses in both content and process. The industrial age taught us not only what to think, but how to think about it. The traditional models taught us to be fragmented experts. To succeed is to have mastery over a specific disciple. There are two problems with this: one, when the goal is expertise, it’s easy to jump from learner to expert and never look back. This creates a context of innovation atrophy. The other problem is these experts learn to go deep in analysis without holding the imperative of synthesis – how everything fits together. Systems thinking.
All this to say, if we open source more information without offering context and an awareness of how it’s all connected, we simply perpetuate old ways of thinking, but at a much greater rate of destruction.
Mycelium’s mission is to invite diverse people who are driven to support healthy systems and create the conditions for them to succeed in this work. So the question we ask at Mycelium is, “How do we invite learners into an environment that honors the diversity, complexity and context of ourselves and the world we live in?”
We’re exploring this question with one of our new offerings – a Google supported conversation called Talk Purpose. With the partnership of SoCap & The HUB Ventures, Mycelium invites diverse stakeholders in age, race, status & perspective to engage in a facilitated conversation around a sticky topic. This month’s topic question is, “How can art be a vehicle toward individual and collective transformation?”
While much open sourced learning focuses on transmission – an interview with an expert, access to an Stanford lecture, 7 keys to launch a successful such and such –
Talk Purpose is designed to be evocative rather than transmissional. The tag line, “Where Emerging and Established Leaders Conspire” infers that no matter how “expert” we may be, we are always on a learning journey. We believe that to create and sustain a healthy system, learning in the 21st Century must incorporate ALL stakeholders in exploration, collaboration and co-creation. We limit our potential and our agency by putting our learning eggs in the baskets solely of the “experts”.
Mycelium is not a solution or an answer, but an experiment. It is alive, agile and evolving.
What began as a scheme to get from the east coast to the AshokaU conference in San Diego inexpensively turned into a 35 day road trip over 15 cities with 46 interviews in an RV. Someone threw out the idea of carpooling in an email chain, then another said my folks have an RV, then 12 threads and 3 days later the plan was in motion. 8 of us were to hit the road to find out the future of higher education.
The inspiration behind it was our realization that there’s so much talk & research on what’s wrong with education, but we believed there’s also so much right with it. Innovations both within the traditional institutional structures and outside it are evolving to meet contemporary needs. Our mission was to capture and share these stories.
We conducted interviews with thought leaders such as Seth Godin, Cheryl Heller from Design for Social Innovation, Dean of Education Randolph J. Canterbury from UVA Medical School who spearheaded the complete transformation from a lecture-based classroom to a collaborative one. We interviewed people in the online education space such as Evonne Heyning, who created Eddefy, an online tool utilizing collective intelligence to facilitate personalized lifelong learning and skill-building.
Throughout all our interviews and experiences, the one thing we learned for certain is that we are in a time of experiments. There is no one solution to what is being called for in higher education for the 21st Century. Some of these initiatives will stick. Others won’t. But these are all necessary experiments to inform our response-ability toward creating learning conditions & experiences that matter.
Mycelium and Exit Strata are fractals of the same source. Both Mycelium and Exit Strata are a home for the human spirit to shed that which doesn’t serve and show up authentically. Not in Truth, but in the many truths that we all are. A pallette of stories. A mosaic of expression, of experience, fear, doubt, possibility and creation. A home for LIFE. Both Mycelium & Exit Strata can handle the fuzzy and in fact, we welcome it. Life is fuzzy. Life is complex. We exist at the edge – a meeting place for the diverse to gather in experiment and experience. A place to create.
Want more? here’s some links:
Here’s a link to an article written by Matthew about the Educate 20/20 Roadtour, him speaking at TEDxYale on 21st Century Education, and an interview he did with Seth Godin on Higher Education from Educate 20/20.