Interviewer: So where did you get the idea for this book?
Nadav Zeimer: So the book really comes from my lived experience. Uh, so as a student of physics and then a software engineer during the Dotcom boom, then as a consultant, business owner. And then now as a teacher and administrator and foster parent, there were similarities in each of these pretty different phases of my life that came together to create the book. Uh, the book is about where economics and technology and education, when placed side by side, seem to line up in interesting ways. And the initial idea to make this into a book, uh, started with two very contrasting experiences. I was in a multi-year pretty intensive executive leadership training when I was a business owner. And that training focused on the importance of being a learner. Uh, this is the work of leaders at the MIT Sloan School of Management, Otto Scharmer there and at Harvard business school, Eric Jensen and others. And they suggest that the cutting edge business tools, especially right now in a time that business is evolving so quickly that the business leader has to learn how to learn. In essence, they taught that commitment is what drives action, rather than compliance. Um, so there aren’t any actions you can, you know, prescribe that’ll make a difference for all circumstances. But that learning to operationalize your commitment can lead to opportunities for effective action arising kind of organically. So then I went into education and my experience was that the value of being a learner was ironically not valued at all. Compliance was what drove the culture much more over any kind of commitment to student learning. And so that disconnect drove my work in education and led to my writing this book.
Yeah. So and let me, yeah. So anyway, I can, I can go on, but that’s, that’s kind of where the book came from.
Interviewer: Okay, very interesting. What is your writing process like?
Nadav Zeimer: So, I don’t- You know, if you’re asking in some general way like do I have some great writing process? I don’t, I came up with a very specific technique for this book, but I don’t expect that technique to work for any subsequent writing. But it really worked well for this type of writing. And so it’s kind of wonky, but I’ll explain it here as quickly as I can. So it involves four, I have four files. And I’ll say that I love the Mac. There’s this thing called focus mode in Microsoft word that gets rid of all the buttons and clears your screen. And I really um, use outline view in Mac, but those things aside, the four files. So I have a dump file, an excel spreadsheet that’s kind of a temporary transition, a manuscript file and an orphan file and here’s how they work.
So the dump file is just kind of stream of consciousness. I dump things while I’m reading Medium articles or books. I choose a specific topic like inverted corporations and as I’m reading I just am dumping into that file until I finish that topic. Then I copy and paste that dump file into excel. So each paragraph becomes a line in the excel spreadsheet. And then in the second column I just tag it with kind of what the main topic is that that paragraph relates to. That allows me to sort all of the dumped paragraphs by topic and then I copy and paste each topic into Microsoft Word into the manuscript file where it fits in. Using outline view, I reorganize it. And then as I’m reading through and kind of putting the glue in to make it run like prose, I am very generous with deleting because I don’t delete, I move into this orphaned outline, um, document, which I never look at, but it gives me some comfort to know, I’m not just deleting, I’m putting them somewhere else and if I want to go back and get them later I can. And then that process runs again, I make a new dump file, I sort it by topic, I throw it to the manuscript and make it readable. I delete a bunch of stuff into the orphan file and that goes around and around and lets the book.
Interviewer: Wow, okay. That’s not a process I’ve heard it before, but it definitely sounds kind of like an efficient way to do things.
Nadav Zeimer: Yeah, it worked really well. It, you know, cause then, the chapters kind of arise organically cause I’m just setting topics and slowly over time the topics that I set started to get gelled and then those became my chapters but I didn’t – um, yeah, they kind of grew somewhat organically which was cool.
Interviewer: Very cool. Um, so I know one thing that you kind of talk about in the book is like a post-capitalist society. So I was kind of wanted to get like, in your words, like what that is, what that means to you.
Nadav Zeimer: Yeah, so if you just step back a second to like 250 years ago, the world was moving from a landed aristocracy to a commerce-driven model. And I think it’s helpful to look back at previous transitions to realize that we’ve gone through transitions before, even though it wasn’t during our lifetimes, but it helps me to look back at history and kind of see that massive changes have happened before. And the United States, in particular, played a key role in forwarding that capitalist model with, uh, you know, parliaments protecting the merchant classes. Money was more democratic than blood and markets were more efficient at managing resources than dictatorships. So the merchants first overtook the Kings and Queens, and then the USA overtook centralized Soviet states with market efficiency. That era is what’s coming to an end. I’m not sure it’s post-capitalist that we’re talking about, but it’s that era that I think is coming to an end.
And so what I’m talking about, um, what’s – as that capitalist model, which was really a consumerist model, um, is winding down there are these new globalized digital platforms that are coming of age and dominating. I mean right now that saying, the Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, Google, those are the – by market capitalization, some of the top corporations in the world and they are these digital platforms. Um, so while America drove a model of capitalism, consumerism, um, the economy that they, that was, that worked in that industrial age was a factory style job that we had that would allow us to buy stuff. That stuff would create more jobs. And that was the engine that drove the economy. The digital economy is different. Sharing stuff is valued over hoarding things. Sharing ideas is valued over hoarding ideas. Offering things for free gets you more users and thus market dominance and network effects, rather than charging for things.
And with this inversion comes the fact that kind of people and our data are the new commodity being sold rather than products and services. And the, so just like we went from aristocracy, who ruled with bloodlines, to merchants who ruled with cumulative wealth, we’re now transitioning again to platforms that rule with sheer numbers of users. And ironically this happened because America spread this consumer capitalism and then we spread consumer capitalism more than democracy really. Um, and this spread of capitalism led to global companies that make money by stock prices rather than by selling products, right? What really matters is the stock price. That’s how you make money. It’s this abstraction. And so that abstraction of value, um, let’s the emergence of information itself becoming a commodity even before the digital age with markets. Um, you know, we took onions and pork bellies and put them on paper and abstracted and now with digital markets that abstraction, um, might replace America just as America replaced, helped replace those ruling lords almost three centuries ago.
One of my conclusions in the book is that the next major superpower would likely be one of these global platform corporations rather than a traditional nation-state. So because corporations are global, um, this American capitalism and consumerism is spread so far that America now itself is becoming obsolete. As you know, they’re agnostic in terms of nation and as corporations can now start to have currencies and have their own monetary policy, there is an opportunity for the nation-state to be replaced, which, what the angle that I’m always interested in is what does that mean for our kids? How do we prepare our kids for that? And it could mean one of two things that I lay out in the book. Either this is leading us right back to dictatorships. And I say that because corporations are run like dictatorships, they’re not run democratically.
Right, so if the corporation is the next superpower, are we, are we leading right back to the Kings and Queens? Is Zuck going to be one of the next monarchs? There was another digital native trend that is competing with that. Um, with things like the open source, um, movement where there’s no middleman, there’s no CEO, there’s no hierarchy in the middle of people can transact in the marketplace directly with each other through a digital platform that acts more like a Commons or like a utility. right. And I’m not clear whether we’re going toward the monarch version of capitalism or whether we’re going toward a more distributed democratic version of capitalism. I am seeing that consumerism is splitting off from capitalism and capitalism and democracy are merging in kind of uncomfortable ways. Um, you know, because the process the platform goes through to get users, is very similar to what a politician does to get followers.
Right? And so there’s this democratic thing happening, but if it only goes halfway where it’s a platform like Facebook and there’s still a centralized authority running it, that’s monarchy. But if it goes all the way so that the developers and the engineers that write the product are decentralized and open source, like Unix is, like Bitcoin is, like Wikipedia is, then something different might be coming out of this. And I really think it’s up in the air, which way it’ll go. And the point of my book is that education I think is going to play the critical role in deciding which way we go.
Interviewer: Okay, very interesting. So then with this focus on education, in your book do you address how you think schools are going to or need to change to adjust to this? Do you have any ideas on how you think the education system needs to change?
Nadav Zeimer: Absolutely. I think it’s, I think – So the title of my book, let me go back to that for a second here is, let me read it exactly from the title, um, which I didn’t. So the title is “The Big Deal: The End of Jobs, The E-Birth of Work and a New Role for Education.” So the distinctions that drive my analysis are one: the difference between capitalism and consumerism. Two: a critical distinction between having a job and doing work. And then three: a shift from mechanical to digital means of production. Um, and so there are a lot of polararities from big corporations to small startups, individuals to crowds, scarcity to abundance, local to global, physical to digital. Um, that’s kind of what’s driving this and I’m, and the book leads toward what does that mean about education? So right now there’s no technology that we can add into our current classrooms that’ll make a difference.
Um, we have to change the power dynamics in schools, the incentives, the commitment inside of schools. And I don’t think the public schools are going to change – Like we can’t force them to change, there’s no clear pathway. But if we redefine incentives, so there has to be a link that it, you know, kind of what drove my initial interest in the book of, you know, being trained as an executive and learning to learn and then coming to education where learning wasn’t the focus. Um, education has to enter – education policy is going to enter into economic policy. I think there has to be a financial incentive built in and I go into that, how that might work in the book. Um, but, so we have to start with teachers. It’s not about giving technology to students. Um, we redefine incentives for teachers so that there is an organic evolution of schools toward these new priorities.
Um, so teachers have to be the ones to make decisions about educational policy. Right now lawyers and politicians are doing so. Think of how standards are developed, you know, the No Child Left Behind and other federal education policy. These are the incentives that drive public education and politicians’ interests are what dominate. Each new politician wants to show, you know, each new mayor locally wants to have the test results go up. So they fudge the test number so that it looks like it’s going up, right? They have control over the system and we need to get their hands out of that pot and put it in teacher’s hands so that teachers define what a credit is. Teachers define what the standards are. Um, and I think the right now, the current SAT ACT scandals that are happening are really relevant to what I’m proposing here. I really resonated with that when I was writing about it.
And I talk about it in my Medium article on crypto credits, but just, just by putting student transcripts on a blockchain, something very simple technologically. So taking student transcripts and putting them on this ledger, on this public, you know, that student transcripts is a public document that anybody can view and that can’t be tampered with and that ledger is governed by teachers. That alone could dramatically revolutionize how our schools are governed. It would give teachers full control of teaching standards and high school credits would be defined by teachers who would develop them in an open source way. Um, and that I think would go a long way. And I, you know, I think unions should be the ones to do this, to go digital, and I think they probably won’t have the foresight to do that because they’re as out of touch as the centralized authorities that drive education policy.
But the digital grassroots will come with the next generation of teachers, right, with the, when digital natives are our teachers, these tools will come with them. And so open source, um, you know, we have GitHub and these open source models for coders to develop software. Um, similar products will develop to create standards so that teachers can ongoingly evolve standards as a global community or a local community. But, so the key point for me and how we redesign is everything has to be about student work products. That’s the only data that we should care about: the quality of student work coming out of our high schools. I’m really talking about high school, not elementary school. But the quality of the work that students do and the audience viewing students work has to be dramatically expanded. The three-paragraph essay, you know, that hamburger essay that they tell you about in high school where only the teacher might read it, that has to become a thing of the past.
In the book, I outline the opportunity we have in front of us to define a new set of digital credits that we can define independently of our high schools right now. But that become an international gold standard of academic learning, right? That, where these credits are linked to actual student work products and that universities would trust these because there was actually work behind that. You can see what led to it and that the standards are maintained at a high level. And as the standards become known as a, um, you know, kind of a global gold standard, the incentives for school districts, they would want to, you know, parents would demand having their students be, you know, trained toward these standards and we can start impacting the incentives in schools by taking control of standards and creating a set of standards that are of more interest to the families and to the students.
Um, and so in the book, I go into a lot of detail on how to drive the incentives, financially to make that work. Um, but just, you know, if we think to ourselves how our high school would be different if we knew that to earn a credit, it would have to be reviewed by an anonymous teacher. Right, so we couldn’t play games, you know, I see students manipulating teachers all the time. They don’t do any work. And then the last week they do a lot of work and the teachers feel bad. So that would be out the door. It’d be an anonymous teacher that would look just at the quality of work. And then if it was approved it would go onto a, you know, it would go alongside the work of peers across the planet. And even mainstream media could grab some of that student voice if they wanted students talking about certain topics so students would know that they have much wider audience to their work and a level of quality that would be much more standardized than what they’re dealing with now.
Um, yeah. And okay, there’s a whole other thing about, I’m not going to go into social sites and data. I have a whole chapter in the book just about educational data, which drives me crazy. Um, I think we, just to say a few words, I think we spend a lot of time valuing what we measure because politicians are running things and they just love what they measure and they forget about the kids that are behind those, that data. They just want the data to improve. And I think instead of value, what we measure, measuring what we value, which is the student work products and really focusing on measuring quality student work, um, will go a long way to help us shift education policy and teachers are the ones that know how to do that. Nobody else.
Interviewer: Yeah, that definitely makes a lot of sense. Um, alright, so just a little bit more about your writing. Is this something um – is writing something you’ve always had an interest in, was this something that just came out of nowhere? Do you have a writing background at all?
Nadav Zeimer: It’s a great question for me cause I think, I didn’t think of myself as a writer. I – as an administrator, I had to write grants. I had to write educational plans, um, to become, you know, I applied for a bunch of programs and was accepted. And so I have to write- , you know, I’ve done writing successfully, um, to get to where I am. As a principal, one thing I was, I don’t think I should have been shocked by, but I was somewhat surprised by was to learn how much reading and writing are linked. That if I wanted my students to learn how to write, I had to get them to read and if I wanted my students to enjoy reading, I had to get them to write. For them to think about the author’s voice and put themselves in the place of the author as a critical reader.
Um, those two were really linked and I’ve always had trouble reading. I always had trouble reading my whole life. That’s why I studied physics because there wasn’t much reading involved. So, um, and then in writing this book, I, I consumed a huge amount of reading and what I noticed is that I used to read wanting to absorb everything and if I missed anything I would go back and reread it, it would take me forever to get through a book cause I wouldn’t retain everything and that would drive me crazy. With this, I knew exactly what I was looking for. And so I knew when I could skip forward quickly cause I was looking for very specific topics that I was, you know, for the book. And so I could read massive amounts um, cause I, I could very quickly scan to the place where had the juicy part that I wanted. So this process has given me an interest in reading and I think that’s also developed my interest – you know, I think those two are growing together and I’m becoming a writer maybe. But I certainly don’t consider myself, I consider myself to be a physicist more than a writer.
Interviewer: Yeah, you know I’ve always heard that to be a good writer you have to be a good reader. Um, and also that knowing how to skim is a very important part of being a good reader, which is kind of not what you would expect because you feel like, you know, as a good reader, you read everything but yeah, I’ve always heard that knowing how to skim is very important.
Nadav Zeimer: That’s exactly right. Yeah.
Interviewer: So what have you learned throughout this process of, um, writing a book and going through this, that, you know, you kind of would like to share? Anything really interesting that you took away from it?
Nadav Zeimer: So, ah, being somebody who hated reading, I was always somebody who hated history. Um, so one thing for me, for other people like me, I’ve really learned to love history and finding it fascinating as a window into what we’re going through now. Because previous periods when I read the history that’s so familiar, it’s like, “oh my God,” that’s exactly what’s happening now is – It’s like when somebody gets diagnosed with a disease and you get a name for it and then you read about the disease and you’re like, “oh my God,” that’s exactly what I’ve got. Um, looking back at history, I can kind of see the social challenges that we’re going through in a whole new way. So just a love of history that I’ve never had. Um, and then the other thing is we’re not in this – there’s all of these things happening, of global warming and racial tensions and, um, you know, um, environmental issues and there’s, you know, that we work harder and make less and the economy is said to be doing so well on jobs, numbers are so low, but nobody can make ends meet. It would look like our society is collapsing or something’s broken. And what I think I’ve learned through this process and looking at history and looking now, it’s actually quite the opposite. It’s that we’re so successful. We’ve been so successful as a society that we’ve eliminated the scarcity that we – the scarcity of capital of money that we used to organize our society. Um, and that we would all fight for is no longer scarce. And there was a new scarcity, just like it used to be land and people would kill themselves and you know, marry certain people and do everything to get more land because that’s what was the scarcity. And then we went from the landed aristocracy and the Agrarian age to the industrial age where having factories and having capital became how you made more money.
So now we’re going through another transition. But it’s just because we were so successful at that industrial era work. Um, and so the analogy for me is kind of like as an individual, you know, if you imagine that you grew up in abject poverty, you know, no shoes and often no food, and you have memories of homeless shelters and by some unlikely set of circumstances and a lot of hard work money is suddenly abundant for you as a young adult, you know, you beat the odds and made it and you can retire early, right? And now that you solved that money scarcity issue, money’s no longer scarce. You should have a great life, right? There should be no more scarcity, right? But we know that that’s wrong. The next scarcity shows up: relationships or you know, there are things that you didn’t focus on to make money that suddenly you have to learn.
So it’s not that you were a failure in life, it’s that you were wildly successful and what was scarce, no longer is scarce. But the trick that the issue that comes with that is what you’ve given your whole life to growing and developing suddenly is no longer relevant because you have these whole new set of challenges of relationships, and quality of life and what do you do with your money and, right? And so I think as a society, that’s one of the things that I want people to see is we’ve been wildly successful and now we’re at this point of, you know, this inflection point where we have to learn a whole new set of skills and how long it takes us to learn that is going to determine whether there is revolution and bloodshed, you know, and people, you know, go crazy. Or if we can make that transition, there was a new model, um, that digital production makes available.
Just the question is, are we going to be able to shift our weight? And it’s, very unlikely that we can. You know, history says that we can’t, that we always stay too long in the old model and that the people with power fight to, you know, they’re willing to kill and fight and do too much to hold onto their power. So it’s not likely, but given that information is moving so quickly and there is a chance that we’ll learn and grow and share in a way that is different than the previous revolutions. I think now every 14 years we’re seeing kind of a fundamental revolution, in the way that the steam engine caused a revolution. So I think there’s a chance. But, um, yes, I think what I learned from this is that we’re, we’ve been wildly successful and we can do it again, but chances are that we will not grow quickly enough, but maybe, maybe not. Right. Yeah. So I think that’s what I, that was a perspective that surprised me cause I thought I was going to go into the book and come out discovering that American society is just fundamentally broken and we need to, you know, things need to crumble. And you know, but I don’t think that’s true.
Interviewer: Okay cool, very interesting. Um so, you know, you said you did a lot of research um, obviously, for writing this book, um and that, you know you read a lot. Are there any books that you really recommend or podcasts you listened to that you think everyone should listen to on this topic or related topics? Just kind of what’s your list of required reading and listening for this subject.
Nadav Zeimer: So there’s a whole section in my book that I give credit to – cause- I’ll go over a few now, but I’m just saying that there are so many people that I built off their research, you know research that I didn’t do and they’re so much smarter than I am and I so recommend people go and look at the sources, not my very shallow summary of them. Um, I think what I do well is bring different things together in the book, but to actually delve into them. In terms of podcasts, I love David McRaney’s “You’re Not So Smart.” I love, you know, NPR things like “Planet Money,” uh, their episode 864 about how digital economy is baffling big bankers I think is fascinating to see that our central banks don’t know what they’re doing. Um, “a16z,” um, I think has some good podcasts.
“Conversations with Tyler” is another one. “On the Media” I love. Um, “Venture Stories” is another one that I think has some great interviews. Uh, and then the TED talks. “TED Radio Hour,” the “TED Interview,” are two podcasts based on TED Talks. And while I have some conflicted feelings about TED Talks, I think getting a summary of them by topic and delving into some of the people behind TED, um, is interesting. In terms of books, there’s one I’m reading right now and I haven’t gotten to the punchline yet so I don’t know if I’m going to agree with where he ends up, but his historical context I think is – he’s doing a great job. I’m about halfway through. It’s called “The Third Pillar: How Markets and the State Leave the Community Behind” by Raghuram Rajan. So far I think is a great book. It’s just on my mind now because I’m reading it.
Winners Take All by Anand Giridharadas is, uh, I think a great book that bent my brain a little bit. Um, “Thanks for the Feedback” is a book I read a long time ago that’s just stuck with me. “The Righteous Mind” um, “Born on Third Base” I think was interesting. Oh, “Weapons of Math Destruction,” I think is great. Just to see how, um, how algorithms, opaque algorithms can be really destructive. Oh, Piketty’s “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” is critical reading. Um, “Don’t Think of an Elephant,” “Machine, Platform, Crowd.” I can go on, I’ve got – I’m looking, I’m just scanning through the list and every few I’m picking one up. “Why the West Rules— For Now.” Um, and then Christensen’s work on disruption is something that I read a long time ago that stayed with me. Those are some books that, put together, um, led to my book.
Interviewer: Okay great, yeah that’s a great list. Thank you for kind of summarizing that. Yeah so this all sounds really great. You know, I’m really excited to be able to read over your manuscript and learn more about this topic, you know, it’s not something that I’m super educated on. But this has definitely piqued my interest, and I’m excited to learn more. Uh, those were all the questions I had. I don’t know if you have anything else you just kind of want to throw in. Anything else you wanted to touch on quickly?
Nadav Zeimer: I could talk forever about this stuff. I’m so passionate about it and I think what I’m – in my writing online, I talk a little bit about bitcoin and blockchain and whether they’re related to this and so, they’re actually not directly related to the concepts in the book. What I think is interesting, but they are – As an example, so the existence of something like Bitcoin is what gives me hope. That there may be, you know, that we might actually get to something that isn’t the totalitarian economic model of, you know, of Facebook controlling and, um, you know, kind of mining all of us and extracting value from us and turning us all into, you know, controlling us with, with their platform. Um, if you think about the fact that Bitcoin was bigger than, in December 2017 at its most recent peak, is bigger than GE, Walt Disney, Mcdonald’s, IBM, Goldman Sachs, Target, American Airlines, Ford Motors, Deutsche Bank is bigger than any one of those companies in terms of market capitalization.
That blows my mind. And this is – So Bitcoin, why that’s interesting to me is this is a company that has no middleman, no CEO, no – it’s a money that has no banks, no tellers, none of that overhead, none of that middleman stuff is there. It’s just a computer network that lets two people transact directly. And so if that type of Commons utility infrastructure becomes available in social media and other, you know, what it would look like for example, in ride-hailing that you could hail a ride from a driver directly and there would be no Uber or Lyft taking a percentage in between. There would be a computer, an app, that was developed by an open source community of coders who have some financial interest in having the thing go well. And then you and the driver interact directly without anybody in between.
There’s financial incentive for that to work. But it just seems so unlikely. Um, and so something like Bitcoin, when I see it working, it gives me hope that maybe, we have a chance of going toward a kind of “by the people, for the people” type of economic sharing that um, isn’t what we’re seeing with Facebook and all these, you know, and, Amazon and these companies. Um, and it’s kind of the new – did you know, in the industrial era is building roads and water and sewage, you know, to make cities work. That infrastructure, those utilities are what led to economic, um, activity. And so we, we’re watching the digital utilities be born and you know, I don’t know if that, if – it’s the kids we’re educating now that are going to build those utilities. And so all I’d say is that we have some hope with things like, um, you know, Wikipedia or any of these open source models, Bitcoin.
But getting rid of the middleman, getting rid of CEO pay, getting rid of all that – for utilities only. Not for, you know, not for every company, but for the main utilities, for social media, for ride sharing, for, you know, the places where it works not to have a middleman. The problem is, on the other hand, that computers are really rigid. So if you set it up a certain way, there’s not going to be any special case. You can’t go appeal and call customer service and say, “Hey,” you know. The other side is computers are really stupid in a way, even with artificial intelligence. So, um, yeah, so that’s, that’s all I say is that there is, on my writing online, you see a lot about Bitcoin stuff, but it’s not really my, my point isn’t Bitcoin or Wikipedia or any of these. It’s just that open source as a model brought to teachers, um, might lead to a model of education that, um, will empower our students to be digital producers, uh, in a way that won’t lead to totalitarian rule. We’ll give them power over, you know, the people that are monetizing their attention. We’ll give them power to own their own attention, their own data. So that’s all.
Interviewer: Great, well, Nadav thank you for taking the time today to speak with me. You know, a lot of great information here and definitely am excited to learn more and get to read your book.
Nadav Zeimer: Great, yeah. Thank you for your time. I really appreciate this.