Back to School – How a Day of Teaching Became a Day of Learning


Back to School – How a Day of Teaching Became a Day of Learning

Normally, I write about all things IT and innovation in the hope that my readers will take a step back, pause for thought, and then come up with a far better way of leveraging modern technology, learning, and saving themselves countless hours and many thousands of dollars. 

It’s what my articles and videos here at Smallville are about; it’s what my book is about; and it’s what my blog, LinkedIn and Facebook content are about too.

But not this week. Well, not directly anyway.

This week is a story about an extraordinary opportunity that I’ve just had to give a little back to the community and to pay it forward. And I have to tell you; this was soul food of the highest calibre.

Beyond my wife, family and “business partner” Floyd, my black Labrador, I have two great loves – innovation and education. One or other of these two has been a constant in my life for as long as I can recall. Sadly, self-awareness was never really a strong suit, so it’s only in recent years that I’ve understood how important these are for me.

As a young man, I wanted to be a teacher, and for years, I watched countless TV shows about gadgets and inventions. I studied computing and even spent time as a professional trainer. But it was only when I started MarshallFloyd and began to shape my business that the penny truly dropped, and I put innovation and education at the heart of my activities.

So it was with a level of cautious optimism that I reached out to a fellow contributor here at Smallville who also helps educational establishments find guest lecturers. And within a couple of weeks, I was asked if I’d like to lead a couple of sessions as part of Sydney University’s Master of Management program.

This is the number one ranked such course in Australia, widely recognised around the world, and definitely a chance not to be missed.

So I put my best pitching hat on and offered a talk entitled, “If you’re looking at the technology, you’re missing the point – How human-centricity can make you millions”.

A few emails later and I was booked in to talk to two classes of budding business leaders from Australia and around the world, and I did just that a few days ago.

What I told them was that IT and technology, in general, is there to serve a purpose: It’s a tool. It’s there to help us better at what we do and help us do things we can’t do. I told them that people are expensive, with an average Australian employee costing over $100,000 a year, and how software and technology are far cheaper, easily paying for itself as efficiency and accuracy rise and wages drop.

And I told them that we get the best results when we combine the right tools with the right people and we educate so that they’re used effectively.

I showed them three examples of businesses who’ve disrupted and transformed their markets. And to get the students thinking about the real purpose of digital transformation and disruption, I asked them to come up with ideas about the changes each has made that have made the difference.

One of these was UBER. Many think their success in disrupting the taxi industry comes from having an app, but that’s just a means to an end. Their real magic is that they have made the experience safer and better for both the driver and the customer. They’ve put the needs of their people, their customers, prospects and team, at the centre of their business, and it’s this human-centricity that has made the difference.

It was delightful to listen to the student’s ideas and to talk to them about the importance of focusing on the needs of people. Just being able to share my 30 years of IT experience with the next generation and to give them new ideas and avenues of thinking was utterly fulfilling. 

But the real learning of the day? Well, that was the one which came from them.

Beyond my 12-year-old daughter and her friends, I’ve had precious little exposure to generation Z, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. What I found were young adults who share so many of the traits I recognise in myself and my friends from when we were that age, but with one very notable difference. We grew up in our insular little world focused mainly on ourselves.

The students, however, are children of the modern connected world, and we’ve raised them to understand greater societal needs. They’re tolerant of others, endorse equality, care for the environment, and at their core, they want nothing more than a better world tomorrow for everyone.

And that, for someone who advocates for human-centricity and improving the human experience, is the most wonderful of things to have learned.

So what is the moral to this story – sometimes doing an act of good, like offering to go back to school to give a guest lecture or teach a class, can reap unexpected benefits. In fact, it could become a wonderful learning experience that you hadn’t expected – and in these moments we often learn some very inspirational lessons about life and business.

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  • Malaika Samuel Namdas

    Hi Stewart, I was one of your students that day. I’m very grateful for your time and that session which was indeed different to our regular day. You brought insights which I was never aware of, particularly your examples; one that sticks in my brain was the florist in the UK, how brilliant!
    I left that day with a key message that people are indeed very important and much to the contrary of what the world says to me, technology cannot remove the human out of the equation, no matter how advanced we get. Truly inspirational and thought provoking!

    • Stewart Marshall

      Thanks Malaika, it was entirely my pleasure to have the opportunity to talk to you and with you about the ever changing world of technology. And many thanks for the kind words. I’m truly delighted that you found what I had to say to be “Truly inspirational and thought provoking”

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