In a scene from the brilliant cult-hit movie Office Space, the main character, Peter, is describing to his coworkers a memory from high school.
PETER Our high school guidance counselor used to ask us what you would do if we had a million dollars and didn't have to work. And invariably, whatever we would say, that was supposed to be our careers. If you wanted to build cars, then you're supposed to be an auto mechanic. SAMIR So what did you say? PETER I never had an answer. I guess that's why I'm working at Initech. MICHAEL No, you're working at Initech because that question is bullshit to begin with. [...] If that quiz worked, there would be no janitors, because no one would clean shit up if they had a million dollars.
Sigh. Michael Bolton, we feel your pain: life is frustrating. When we first meet these people (caught in early-morning rush hour traffic), we immediately understand that they aren’t exactly happy to be driving into work.. especially since it’s no more than a couple hours from when they get into the office that Peter decides he’s had enough and needs to leave for coffee.
For the longest time I agreed with Michael. Not the hating my job part, but with the idea that if money were no issue, there would no one to be janitors, garbage collectors, or, heck, roadkill-shovellers (for lack of a more PC term). I never wanted to fully believe it, though. I thought to myself that there must be some people in the world that wouldn’t have life any other way. Hey, sanitation works do make a decent amount of money. And it’s good exercise, and you work outdoors. What’s not to love?
Ultimately, though, Michael’s right. Even if those types of people did exist, I would be hard-pressed to think that there would be enough of them to sustain the sanitation program. But by claiming that nobody would want to pick up garbage, he’s effectively holding firm to the system that’s already in place.
Who’s to say that, if individuals were backed with time, thought, resources, passion, and creativity, sanitation removal would look the way it does now? In an alternate universe where humans stepped back for a second and used a little imagination, how we take out our garbage would be radically different. Perhaps no one would opt to haul trash to the city dumps, or drive rancid trucks around at the height of a muggy summer, but who’s to say that city dumps, in the way that we know them now, would even exist? With individuals motivated by passion and creativity, rather than a sense of conformity and obligation maybe they’d be replaced with an underground system of conveyor belts that connect to each one of our sinks? Maybe helicopters with the help of giant cranes filled with garbage fly into the sunset three times a week? Maybe they wouldn’t even need to?
Of course I’m just steam-punking and sci-fying in my own head here, but the fact is, in pursuing their passions and interests, individuals would produce radically different models for how we live our lives. Whether by accident or necessity, over time a better system would emerge. You might be thinking, that’s preposterous, if we were at a town meeting and someone suggested flying garbage cranes, no one would buy into that idea. How would any of it get done? But I want you to think back to the last time you heard someone speak with conviction and unwavering passion. Regardless of the subject, how tempted were you to support them?
When we witness authentic passion, we’re more likely to buy in to what that person is selling. I’m not saying there wouldn’t be failures and mistakes. There would be many failures and mistakes. But innovation doesn’t happen without failures.
Now for the pitch: What better place to test something like this than in a high school, where we could see the effects of passion-driven learning tried and tested with relatively few consequences? (Meaning, not having miles and miles of rusted underground garbage conveyor belts and millions of incensed taxpayers.)
Let me introduce to you, The Independent Project, which in my mind, is doing just that. Take fifteen minutes to watch the above video, and get ready to see what I would like to be the future of secondary education. Overall, if we were each given a project like this in high school, I think the world would be filled with a lot fewer frustrated Michael Boltons.