Have the time of your life

A Dissertation Turns 25

Twenty-five years ago this month I finished my doctoral dissertation and walked off the UCLA graduation stage with a Ph.D.

To my knowledge, exactly no one – including me – has read that dissertation since.

Today, on the 2022 Summer solstice, I’m opening the research time capsule. It turns out that the issues I raised are at least as important now as they were when I started my research.

My focus was on how individuals perceive time, and how our perceptions of time contribute to both individual and organizational performance.

I became interested in time when my best friend died just after we graduated high school. I suddenly started caring about every minute. Everything important in life – success, health, love – is a function of the time we invest in it.

For my dissertation I created a portfolio model of time investment. I conducted original research designed to measure elements of perceptions and behaviors that could be correlated with performance and results. I summarized my work in 201 pages that included 38 statistical tables, including Canonical Centroids of Discriminant Functions. (!)

Bullshit Jobs

But the further down the rabbit hole I went, as important as the ideas were, I had to spend more and more of my time on other stuff. Checking margins. Filing documents with the research librarian. Much of this work felt like Bullshit. I capitalize Bullshit in reference to Professor David Graeber’s theory of  Bullshit Jobs. Graeber defined bullshit jobs as, “Jobs that are primarily or entirely made up of tasks that the person doing that job considers to be pointless, unnecessary, or even pernicious.”

Today’s teacher presumably spends some time teaching, but much of the day is consumed by menial tasks – taking attendance, grading, aligning curriculum to standards, conducting emergency drills, writing bathroom passes/late passes/detention hall passes, sitting in meetings – that could be done by a robot or a monkey. (Or a robot monkey.)

School doesn’t pay teachers for the value of the work we do. We agree to accept money in exchange for giving up control over our lives. Graeber illustrated the point by describing his first summer job washing dishes as a teenager. Graeber and his friends washed the dishes quickly so they could hang out together. Their supervisor would chastise them: “I’m not paying you to sit around!”

At some point, rather than paying people for a job, employers began buying our time. Nowhere is this more evident than in school. School is where we are taught to follow an authority figure’s schedule. According to Rifkin (1987, p.96), “Strict adherence to time schedules (in schools have) become as important, if not more important, than reading, writing, and arithmetic.”

Time is Power

Marching to the rhythm of the bell schedule is the beginning of our subjugation. If that sounds extreme, consider:

  • School tells you to jump and you jump. The bell rings at odd times (10:17? 3:09?), and without thinking you pack up your stuff and move to the next activity/class.
  • Ivan Pavlov won the Nobel Peace Prize for demonstrating the impact of classical conditioning – specifically, the “conditioned reflex” demonstrated by dogs salivating to the sound of a bell. [Note: This response is physiological, not psychological.]
  • In the early 20th century, schools were organized in ways that provided for moving more students through the system more efficiently (in similar fashion to industrial factories and military platoons).
  • Carnegie Units and curriculum standards have always focused on optimizing learning resources (textbooks, tests, buildings) – not on individual learners or learning.

Taking control of your time in school is an act of rebellion. If you want control, you must wrest it away from hierarchical authority figures.

Controlling your time is no small thing. If we were better at it, there wouldn’t be a bazillion dollar time management industry. Generally speaking, graduates are incapable of independently designing their days and establishing time practices that support their goals.

People act as though school’s failure to empower students to manage their own time is a bug, but it’s actually a feature. School is designed to control time. When young people can’t think for themselves they’re easier to control. So are teachers.

As I wrote in my dissertation, “Time is often the focal point for power struggles in organizations, because whoever controls the way in which a person uses their time controls their life. For the teacher, the sense of time passage controls every work-related decision.”  I went on to quote Hargreaves (1994, p.95):

“Time is the enemy of freedom. Or so it seems to teachers. Time presses down the fulfillment of their wishes. It pushes against the realization of their wants. Time compounds the problem of innovation and confounds the implementation of change. It is central to the formation of teachers’ work. Teachers take their time seriously. They experience it as a major constraint on what they are able and expected to achieve in their schools.”

Time itself is not the enemy. But the way time is weaponized in schools can be hurtful. (Ever wonder why we use the word deadline?)

Focus Your War

Too often, teachers and students confuse rebelling against school with rebelling against learning: “I’m supposed to learn in school/ I hate school/ As soon as the bell rings I’m gonna quit learning.”

If we lose our passionate curiosity and we stop thinking critically, we go from an economy of Bullshit Jobs to a society of Bullshit People. Do you know anyone who still believes that the last American presidential election was stolen? Then you know what I mean. Better understanding of better information leads to better decisions which leads to better lives for us all. Period.

When you take your freedom, use it to say more than, “You’re not the boss of me!”

What will you learn in the time you claim?

In Conclusion

Teachers do take their time seriously. They should. We all should.

Today is the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. We have more hours of daylight than we will tomorrow, and we should appreciate the value of every minute, because tomorrow is promised to no one. David Graeber died in 2020 at the age of 59.

Many philosophical and religious traditions have emphasized the importance of remembering the scarcity of our time: Memento mori. Remembering that we have to die someday encourages us to live today. Hall of Fame UCLA Basketball Coach John Wooden used to carry a card in his wallet with this advice from his father: Make each day your masterpiece.

The best way I have found to do this is by practicing Open-Source Learning.

As for the work we do around school, let’s stop counting the hours in class. Forget how many days there are until Friday – that only brings you closer to next Monday. Instead, learn right now. Joyously. Ferociously. For as long as you want. For as long as it takes.






What’s your why?

Viktor Frankl‘s expertise as a psychiatrist and experience as a Holocaust survivor led him to this conclusion: “Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any how.”

Today will bring you all sorts of unpleasant gifts. On a personal level, you will encounter people who are lazy, negative, and seemingly eager to drag you down with them. On a big picture level, you will doom scroll through the same headlines as yesterday:

  • climate? check.
  • coronavirus? check.
  • poverty? check.
  • racism? check.
  • And so on.

It’s a lot. We’ve all gone through a lot. Oy, have we gone through a lot. It’s exhausting just reading how much we’ve all gone through.

Kids. Parents. Medical professionals. Front line workers. And my colleagues – teachers.

According to federal data, more teachers left the field in 2021 than any other profession. And, according to the Wall Street Journal, “companies are hot to hire them.”

If you’re a teacher, or do anything with your day that is underfunded, underappreciated, under-respected and overly abused… why do you do what you do?

Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any how. -Viktor Frankl

Don’t tell me it’s a “calling.” That’s just a cheap way of saying, “This feels really good to me – it’s rewarding.”

There is a word for compulsively acting in ways that feel rewarding but work against our well-being or self-interest: addiction.

Name Your Why

What’s your Why? It might be helping the next generation sort out the mess we’ve made. It might be a job with a steady paycheck and benefits. I’m not here to judge.

Your Why is everything. It will get you up in the morning, see you through the day, and protect you against the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune – even that maskless bully who blocks the doorway to yell at you about things they know precisely nothing about.

Your Why is the invisible camera that keeps you company all day, the one you can always turn to and say, “Did you see that shit?” Of course it did. That’s Why you’re here.

Why Not

But for all the ink we’ve spilled on passion, and purpose, and being our best selves etc., what if you can’t identify your Why? What if your Why game is weak?

Find a better Why. Or do something else.

Why not?

Giving learners the business

Is promoting innovation and entrepreneurship in education a good thing? 

Encouraging young people to develop and share their ideas seems like a good starting point for learning communities. But not every new idea is a good idea, and not every good idea should be monetized or made into a business.  Open-Source Learning champions passionate curiosity and putting ideas out into the world in ways that create value.  That is real entrepreneurship.  



My good friend and hero Jesse teaches collaborative special education programs for California high school students. Together they do things like build hi-tech gardens that monitor soil chemistry for optimal growth and run bike repair shops that keep P.E. departments running (cycling). They use Kanban boards and online tools to manage their work flows.

It’s important to push the envelope and challenge the status quo. If we didn’t, we’d never improve as individuals or as a society.

I consider Jesse an entrepreneur, so I was surprised when he called me a few years back to express concern about promoting entrepreneurship in school. “Hey,” he said, “I don’t get the big push here. Is this like what you described in your TED talk or just hype?”

Jesse was specifically concerned about entrepreneurs influencing students. Around that time, the desk-renting company WeWork — which attracted a $760M round of investment and was valued at $20B before failing so spectacularly that it became Netflix documentary fodder — announced its intent to open a school and make its mark on education.  WeWork co-founder Rebekah Neumann told Bloomberg, “In my book, there’s no reason why children in elementary school can’t be launching their own businesses.”


In entrepreneurship, the boundary between visionary and heretic is often blurry and too often defined by financial success.  Steve Jobs was a hippie whack job with B.O. and a driving passion for “insanely great” products. People didn’t understand Jobs and Atari’s CEO famously kicked his stinky ass out of a meeting. But when his “Reality Distortion Field” spurred Apple employees to ship insanely great products and change the world, Jobs became a genius.

It’s important to push the envelope and challenge the status quo. If we didn’t, we’d never improve as individuals or as a society.

It’s also important to question and think critically about the lines we cross, especially in this Internet-enabled era of marketing magic and bullshit.


I am not an expert in business valuation. WeWork was reported to be the fifth-most valuable technology startup in the world. I saw the headline and I was impressed. The company was valued in the billions. That’s a lot.

But what made that company worth that much?  Did it provide that much value to the marketplace? Did it have an amazing P/E ratio?  A really good management team?  Well-connected advisors?  A super-sexy pitch deck? Or… what?

When it came to schooling the connections were even more tenuous. What did the company’s initial success in commercial real estate have to do with helping young people learn?


I’ve always been a big fan of entrepreneurship and I love creating out-of-the-box opportunities with students. So I didn’t reject Ms. Neumann’s comment to Bloomberg without first considering it. But the idea simply doesn’t hold water.  Apart from Neumann’s questionable use of the invariant be, there are many very good reasons that children in elementary school can’t – and shouldn’t – launch their own businesses.  Here are three:

  • Real entrepreneurship is the process of creating wonderful ideas and taking responsibility for them by putting them out into the world.

There is certainly value in approaching the world with a child’s mind and asking “Why not?” There is also value in preserving our childhood time to build, learn, play, make fart noises, stare into space, and master the basic art of being human.  You have no business being an entrepreneur until you know enough about the world and your place in it to understand the problems you’re solving, the opportunities you’re creating, and, most importantly, what ownership really means.

The nature of ownership depends on standing for something.  The vision and identity of a business depends on its core operating values.  Therefore, young people first need to learn what it really means to take responsibility for themselves.  That begins with owning our own words and practicing the habits that will, given time and maturity, eventually become a sense of integrity.  Entrepreneurs need backbone and character to stay true to their vision, to honor their families and communities and customers and employees, and to avoid taking unethical, unlawful shortcuts that screw people over.

  • Entrepreneurship is the domain of the amateur.

The word amateur comes from French and means, “One who loves; lover.”  To fully invest yourself as an entrepreneur, to make all the mistakes you need to make and take all the risks you need to take and work all those insane hours doing something others don’t understand while your well-meaning relatives tell you to get a job, you have to LOVE what you’re doing.  This is the magic secret sauce of awesome—not business models or profits.  Children understand this intuitively.  They do what they love for free.  They rightly experience this as play.  But children don’t associate doing what they love with work or business.

When they were young, I loved watching my children lose themselves in creating art and building things.  It’s important to protect and cultivate this experience of flow; the last thing we should do is shatter their reverie by forcing them to ship product under deadline in order to maximize shareholder value.  Monetizing their curiosity and their passionate craft and introducing business concepts too early would take all the fun out of imagining, and that would be rotten and cruel.  The simple act of introducing money and monetary valuation can taint a child’s efforts.  Imagine a little girl’s face when she proudly hands you the birthday present she spent hours making for you with love and care.  How does her expression change when you pay her $9.23 for it while explaining why it’s not quite worth $10?

  • The most immediately practical reason why children in elementary school shouldn’t launch a business is that it’s illegal.

A person who launches a business must make legally binding representations.  To enter into contracts and assume liability, a person must be 18 years of age. Since elementary school students can’t meet this requirement, or even sign their own names in cursive, they can’t legally own (i.e., take responsibility for) a business entity.  They can’t defend themselves, their ideas, or their management teams against aggressive investors or competitors or litigants.  They don’t understand the legal instrumentation designed to protect their IP.

I appreciate that Ms. Neumann’s own children may have had very supportive, entrepreneurial, savvy (if not particularly ethical) parents.  But who will help the rest of the students navigate the Shark Tank-infested waters of the online and offline marketplaces?  Imagine school-based Richelieus advising infant king bosses, consolidating the school’s corporate holdings and conquering competitors.

It’s important to question and think critically, especially in this Internet-enabled era of marketing magic and bullshit.


I want to see successful people taking an interest in education and putting their money where their mouths are. I fully support young people developing their visions and pursuing those visions with learning-fueled passion.

But there is a dangerous, illusory double-standard in thinking we don’t need experts in learning, or that a successful business person can automatically be a successful educator.

Even if we agree that a young person should start a business, the experience itself is secondary to what the child LEARNS from the experience.

I didn’t learn this in education. I learned it in business, as a management consultant.  Organizational thinkers of a certain age may remember Peter Senge’s Learning Disability #6 from The Fifth Discipline: Direct experience is a powerful teacher.

It is delusional to think that we learn from our experience alone. We need structured reflection. Adherents of Tuckman’s model of teambuilding added an “adjourning” stage for the purpose.  Learning is a discipline apart from whatever else we do.


It was never clear how Ms. Neumann and WeWork intended to provide students with the sort of meaningful experience that lead to success later in life. How would their students strengthen their mental fitness, physical fitness, civic fitness, technological fitness, and spiritual fitness? How would their learning empower them to contribute to our society and our marketplace?

It’s irresponsible to suggest that a seven year-old can or should launch a business.

That’s not providing opportunity.  It’s stealing childhood.