BY KERRY EDELSTEIN, FOUNDER
Hello all, and welcome to Trophy Nation! As we dive into this community, I suspect some of you might be curious to know what Trophy Nation is all about. So let’s start there.
The seeds for Trophy Nation were planted in August 2016, when I attended a screening of the movie Most Likely to Succeed at a local public school. The film’s central thesis is basically a giant punch-in-the-gut, and it’s this: our public education system no longer makes much sense in today’s economy. As I quickly learned, the structure of most US public schools was the brainchild of an 1890’s team of academics, who were seeking to prepare people for the current economy. Of course, back then the “current economy” was the industrial economy, AKA the manufacturing economy, AKA factory life.
Think about the structure of most schools today. Class, bell, class, bell, class, bell, eat, bathroom break, repeat. Most classes are exactly the same length, regardless of their complexity or how quickly an individual student can learn that material. Maybe AP classes will get twice the hours. Maybe. When I was a student, they didn’t.
When you stop and think about it, we shuttle our kids around schools just like they’re at a factory. And as I learned from the film, there’s no educational basis for this, it was solely done to train students for factory life. The factory life that is now “Made in China.” And by the end of the decade, will probably be “Made by Robots.”
My bruised gut and I left the screening with a furrowed brow – I loved school as a kid, probably because I was good at it. Just as some people are natural athletes, I was a natural student. But some of my pretty darn smart friends hated school and didn’t start to thrive until they were done with it. And I can’t say I’m surprised. When you’re a brilliant creative mind who is destined to become, say, an author or fashion designer or interior decorator – school is kind of horribly misaligned with getting you there. (My favorite joke about this comes from Ken Robinson, who in his 2006 TED talk asks the audience to imagine Shakespeare…as a student. The audience howls with laughter, undoubtedly picturing this epic playwright subject to a typical English class in today’s schools. You hear the joke, and can’t help but think that Shakespeare might have been a spectacular F student in today’s world.)
But it’s not just creative minds that our system neglects, is it?
A couple months after seeing that movie, I watched the 2016 election hoopla unfold around me. Whether you love or hate the election outcome, one thing is crystal clear – Americans on both the left and right are frustrated with our economy, and tired of being buried in debt, with high expenses and few job options. Technology, global outsourcing of jobs, increasing life spans – these things smacked us upside the head and left us reeling. We were told if we just finished school, worked hard, and stayed loyal to our employers, it would pay off. Then our employers shipped our jobs abroad, replaced us with computers, or simply stopped being able to afford us – and we got laid off. The promise of the American Dream feels a bit empty these days.
Up until last year, I observed a lot of people scapegoating this economic frustration to a younger generation, labeling Millennials as the “Trophy Generation,” the unprepared special-snowflake generation that expected too much too soon – the generation that received trophies merely for participating. But as the 2016 election’s voice of economic discontent demonstrated, the gap between “entitlement to success” and “the skills necessary to achieve it” is not limited to young adults. It’s manifesting throughout all generations. CBS recently reported that more than half of Americans can’t afford a $500 emergency; AARP estimates that there is a $6.6 TRILLION gap between what Baby Boomers have saved toward retirement and what they need. That’s not generational crisis, that’s a national crisis.
That’s when the idea for Trophy Nation crystallized. In a rapidly changing, technologically-driven, global economy, the skills that used to promise success no longer do. The education we received isn’t altogether relevant anymore. Success is in our country’s fabric, the American Dream is still who we are. And yet, as a society, we feel increasingly powerless to achieve & maintain it. The name Trophy Nation represents two sides of this coin – both the danger of becoming a nation so accustomed to success that it complacently fails to evolve, and the promise of reinvention and becoming a nation truly worthy of a trophy.
Things have changed so fast that I often refer to today’s era as the “adaptability economy.” When I started my career 20 years ago, I didn’t even own a cell phone. I eventually bought one in 1998 after getting stuck on my way to a fireman’s parade on a country road with smoke pouring out of the hood of my car. (Shout out to the minivan mom who gave me a ride to her house to call AAA; that would have been a long walk.) In the course of my own career, the internet became fast enough to video chat halfway across the world in real time. China became a manufacturing hub. Photography became digital. CDs turned to mp3s turned to iTunes turned to Pandora and Spotify and Stitcher. The iPhone put the whole world literally at our fingertips. Today, I can post this message with no distributor, vetting, or overhead cost, and reach an audience from New York to Nigeria – immediately. The world didn’t just change, it did three back flips with 1 ½ twists off the high platform.
The contortions to keep up with the rate of change can be exhausting. I’ve pivoted my company and absorbed new ideas so many times, my head sometimes feels like it’s going to spin off its axis and catapult off my neck. My neck muscles have put in some solid overtime keeping my head attached.
But adapt we must. In that regard, Trophy Nation isn’t just about communicating the roots of our educational and economic challenges, it’s about imagining ideas, celebrating innovation, and offering solutions. Our aim is to inspire economic success by empowering adults and children alike. Our goal is to establish new paradigms and reinvent the pathways to achieving the American Dream. And in order to do so, we have to be willing to completely reimagine: Reimagine education. Reimagine employment. Reimagine success. And reimagine our thinking.
Some of these ideas will come from me. Many of them will come from others. And I hope that even more of them will come from you, on this journey to imagine and reimagine. Let’s explore the boundaries of what learning looks like at all ages, and how we prepare ourselves and our children to adapt no matter what the economy looks like in 10, 20, or 50 years. Let’s turn our broken, battered trophy held together by duct tape and a Band-Aid into the Stanley Cup.
Let’s get started, Trophy Nation!