The IFTF Blog
Tim Ferriss Visits the Future
Tim Ferriss recently visited the Institute for the Future to discuss the future of work, learning, and his unique lifestyle. Ferris is the author of several books describing how to do things in 4 hours, as well as a world-class tango dancer, a television host, and actor. He is a guest lecturer at Princeton on entrepreneurship, and he is a cage fighter, among many other things. Where does he find the time for all of this? Ferriss also happens to be an advocate for avoiding busywork through outsourcing or automation, as well as finding new and innovative ways for more efficient learning. After hearing about how Mr. Ferriss goes about living life, I am quite intrigued.
It may not need to be said, but Ferriss doesn't subscribe to traditional ways of learning or making. Instead, he experiments and measures results in order to find the most efficient way to get work done, or the quickest way to pick up a new skill. His method lies somewhere between the scientific process and hacking. I'm no fan of self help books, but there is something fascinating in the way Ferriss goes about the process of writing and marketing his books. He approaches problems in a scientific and playful way, trying known methods in addition to asking those obvious newbie questions, sometimes with great results. He has a motivational acronym for this process: DSSS. DSSS stands for Deconstruct, Select, Sequence, Stakes. There is no need to go over DSSS here because a google for "Ferriss, DSSS" will deliver over 5,000,000 results. By simply adopting the DSSS framework for learning, you to can achieve anything. But wait, there's more!
Ferriss says that his books have an altruistic ulterior motive, but that won't necessarily make them sell. A book centered around long-term health and avoiding diabetes probably isn't going to make it onto the New York Times Best Seller list. What will make that list however, is 15 minute orgasms and 6-pack abs. Ferriss says that orgasms and abs are his "Trojan Horse" in diabetes prevention.
A book titled The 4-Hour Work Week was his ticket into mainstream media. It presented a somewhat radical idea that we should do away with the 9-to-5 daily grind and replace it with—you guessed it!—a 4-hour work week. This is a self-help book about how to outsource and automate your desk job. Ferriss stumbled upon this realization after having a series of unfulfilling experiences at his desk job (the last of which he was fired from) or his startup (which consumed every waking hour of his life). While managing the startup there was a moment of sudden realization. Ferriss decided to only look at his email once per week, for only one hour at a time. He outsourced and automated the rest of it, and discovered a world full of possibility.
When I first heard of this, I was a bit put off. It seemed as though Ferriss is exploiting others' labor for his own financial gain. One more example of this style of exploitation recently surfaced in the news. A Verizon employee who earned a six figure salary was caught outsourcing his work to a consultancy in China, and he was subsequently fired. However, as Kevin Kelly puts it, the Verizon scenario is a win-win-win situation. Verizon was more than satisfied with the labor provided, the employee had plenty of leisure time, and the consultancy had a new opportunity for work. With all the talk of creating jobs these days, one might see the Verizon employees' actions as a public service.
Douglas Rushkoff, an American media theorist, argues,
"We're living in an economy where productivity is no longer the goal, employment is…. Our problem is not that we don't have enough stuff—it's that we don't have enough ways for people to work and prove that they deserve this stuff."
If an employee is not allowed to outsource their work to a third party, then why does a manager have the privilege to outsource their work to lower employees? This presents a paradox where employment is the goal in society, but unsanctioned outsourcing (job creation) is not socially acceptable. What if, instead, we lived in a world where the Chinese workers outsourced their work too, or better yet, automated it. This is the world that Ferriss already lives in.
Buckminster Fuller argued,
"We must do away with the absolutely specious notion that everybody has to earn a living. It is a fact today that one in ten thousand of us can make a technological breakthrough capable of supporting all the rest. The youth of today are absolutely right in recognizing this nonsense of earning a living. We keep inventing jobs because of this false idea that everybody has to be employed at some kind of drudgery because, according to Malthusian-Darwinian theory, he must justify his right to exist. So we have inspectors of inspectors and people making instruments for inspectors to inspect inspectors. The true business of people should be to go back to school and think about whatever it was they were thinking about before somebody came along and told them they had to earn a living.
Buckminster Fuller thought that people ought not to be forced into mildly-productive and unfulfilling work. Fuller's vision represents a fundamentally different society from the one we have today, a world closer to that in which Ferriss lives. Buckminster Fuller's concept ties into something else that Ferriss mentioned about education. Ferriss says that teachers are disincentivized to teach subjects quickly. He thinks that it is possible for students to consistently learn much faster than they do, but teachers are encouraged by our society to slow down the learning process because he believes that school also functions as a daycare center.
I can't help but wonder how widely this daycare analogy can be applied to our lives.
Ferriss' framework for work, learning, and —ultimately— play, provides us with an interesting model to explore, another way to consider the future of work and our collective education in the post-industrialized world. As we come to a better understanding of our own computing capabilities, and fine tune our methods for scientific management, we are finding that yes, our jobs are fast becoming obsolete. Is this a bad thing? Ferriss may not think so since he has found a solution to this trouble, though many others have not had his luck or fortitude.
So, let's go back to school. Teachers ought to be acting as facilitators for exploration, not gatekeepers of knowledge. I'm not saying that Ferriss' DSSS is the ultimate model for primary education, but it could be an interesting experiment. It would certainly give us something to do after we're finished learning the core curriculum necessitated by state standards and fill-in-the-blank daycare. Learning is an inherently rewarding and pleasurable act, and allows us to take control of how we enjoy our time on this planet. Perhaps, in the future, we can all become the facilitators of our own education.