For many of us, everything started on Silicon Valley. So much so that The New York Times has put the spotlight back on the region that we all know and love with an article out on Friday titled, “How a Humble College Professor Turned Billions into a Fake Empire.” The story starts with a tale of poor students who were failed by two professors at Stanford who discovered there was more to become successful in life than just getting an education. Their discovery was The Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, which now produces Siri, DeepMind and is stocked with real talent that help build the technology we use every day.
Along the way, Steve Jobs’s wife Laurene Powell Jobs says that her husband first met with Holmes (then called Laurene Powell Hilton) for a chat about learning and the intersection of technology and education at Stanford. When Powell Jobs heard about The University of Phoenix after she took Holmes and several of her employees to dinner, she knew that if the concept of The University of Phoenix could work, then the concept of education could be as important in the future as healthcare or energy.
As you will see in The New York Times article, Elizabeth Holmes the student that Powell Jobs met with, became The CEO of The University of Phoenix, a company whose online and offline education has seen many highs and lows over the last decade. Ms. Holmes has a story that many people follow due to her brainchild of The University of Phoenix – but I think that it is time for the story to be told in a more neutral light.
I’ve been following the evolution of technology since 1991 when I first wrote about the web and the introduction of World Wide Web 1.0 on the Executive Dialogue Series. The web brought with it the creation of new companies that changed the world in ways we can barely imagine today. The sites we use every day are as much a result of those same companies, and most of us have to work together to make them happen.
These are the true stories that those of us that follow Silicon Valley always strive to find. From Wikipedia CEO Jimmy Wales’s journey to get a university computer program to put American National Football League players on the map, to this week’s work of James McQuivey in the Harvard Business Review, shining a light on how companies that stop innovating, decline.
I found it a bit ironic to find the real story behind Silicon Valley in the NYT about The University of Phoenix. People have put so much trust in leaders to help us realize our potential. Even as it brings us down from successes, it also forces us to take risks that we otherwise wouldn’t. The recent story by Nick Wingfield about the sociologist Jaan Tallinn’s study of millennials studying abroad while they were worrying about work caught me while I was walking to the gym. Tapping into the fact that the stories that most of us share with our spouses/partners are also more of an imperfect version of ourselves that we have learned to accept, I turn to Jaan Tallinn to see what has been the result.
Check it out for yourself on Jaan Tallinn’s website. It’s a very insightful piece.