It’s what you know.
It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.
It’s not who you know, it’s who knows you.
Knowledge, networks, and branding.
You have to start somewhere, and the logical starting point is to acquire knowledge. Society understands the importance of this, which is why primary and high school education can be obtained for free in pretty much all developed countries. And in many countries, university is also heavily subsidized.
But hold on a minute, you might be thinking, many high schools are not free. In fact, they can be very expensive. Think of schools like Eton, public schools in the UK, or private schools in Australia.
It’s true that many schools are expensive, but there is a good reason for this. The parents at these schools are buying something in addition to mere knowledge. They understand the importance of surrounding their fortunate child with other fortunate children. And they are willing to pay big money for the privilege. Friendship networks are a valuable resource that can open doors to a more prosperous and enjoyable life.
However, in a world where knowledge is increasingly commoditised and friendship networks can provide counsel and support but not definite opportunities, the truly important factor is to become distinctive.
The best schools understand and educate their students in the importance of finding an interest and standing out. In Australia, I was fortunate to attend St Aloysius’ College. It was a school run by the Jesuits where students were encouraged to partake is sports, music, cadets, drama, the Duke of Edinburgh program, and all manner of other extra-curricular activities. These activities were fun but they also gave the students a unique experience and story that we could tell about themselves. A brand that the boys could continue to build at university and beyond.
I am currently teaching at a university in China, and the students also seem to have an intuitive sense that branding is crucial. While extra-curricular activities may not be quite as important as they are in Australia, the students will do almost anything to obtain an ‘A’.
Nothing could be more devastating than a ‘B+’.
Of course, after the dust has settled and the exams are finished, the student who earns the ‘A’ doesn’t necessarily know or remember more than the student with the ‘B+’. But in a country with 1.3+ billion people, the costs of failing to distinguish oneself can be high – less chance to study abroad, fewer career opportunities and, perhaps worst of all, diminished prospects for a favorable marriage.
Knowledge is mandatory and networks are helpful, but branding is key.
[Side note: Congratulations to my alma mater, Oxford University, which was ranked #1 in the latest Times Higher Education World University Rankings, which judges the performance of 980 universities across 79 countries.]
(Image Source: Flickr)