The change will do you good - a new generation of students want to build shit

"There's something happening here..." Edward Boches

TEDx Portland TEDxUoregon

I'm trying to gather my thoughts after three days of whirlwind activity last week down in Eugene at the University of Oregon. Edward Boches, Mullen's Chief Innovation Officer, who was invited to the University under the 2011 Richard Ward Executive In Residence program, gave a handful of presentations which also included a great roundtable on the future of journalism (more on that later.) Then it was back to Portland to speak along with Edward, Warren Berger, Deborah Morrison and Mark Blaine at the TEDx Portland event. (#TedxUOregon)

It's an absolute truth to say that none of the above could have taken place without the passion and enthusiasm of the indomitable Deborah Morrison.

Since the beginning of Winter Term in January, at her request, I have been teaching a Digital Brand Strategy class at the U of O. It's hard for me to express what a great opportunity this is, given the fact that I am doing my best to impart as much knowledge and experience (or lackthereof) that I've picked up in the digital space over the last seventeen years. I'm being very honest when I say I am learning as much as I'm giving.

But first I had to work out how to avoid falling into the trap of using rote teaching devices. Early on I guessed that just as the web can provide for an expanding and malleable user experience I would have to be prepared to provide a malleable syllabus. That has been the case. More importantly though is my students willingness to be whiplashed to and fro as the syllabus takes shape through their own input. If the ultimate goal of going to college is to learn how to learn, then my students are excelling at that. My class has become their class; we're in this thing together whether we like it or not. The really important and fun part will begin when they graduate; they will be a force to be reckoned with.

And that has nothing to do with me. They came already prepared. My job is to continue to validate their thinking and positions. The best news is that they didn't arrive with the idea that every brand communication plan starts with an ad. They don't express every idea as a digital idea or a social media idea..it's just an idea. As Boches says - "They represent the first generation that doesn’t use words like digital or social media. To them everything is digital and social. It’s how they think and create. Our industry needs them. Badly."

They are designers, project managers, copywriters, creatives, strategists, filmmakers, illustrators - and disruptors. They know they need to understand a certain amount of code if they want to provide content for a website. They now understand, as I can tell by their writings, that not one inch of code will be written for a new website until there has been as much user research done as possible, and that the build will align with the brand's business strategy. They have grasped, quickly, that interface design on a device is different from print and that there are no direct design lines from print to web and web to mobile; they know that new thinking is required. They know that they don't need to learn digital marketing, they need to go out and create or discover new markets.

And this week they learned that they don't need to necessarily find a job at an advertising agency. In one of his presentations, Boches pointed out that he sees more and more college graduates starting up their own businesses, working from home with a laptop. And he showed them some real world examples of that. Which brings me to #BuildShit. During the first class there were the obvious questions from my students about how to get a job. (This was back on January 6th, by the way. They may have changed their minds about what they want to do now.) I pointed out to them that if I see a resumé these days that doesn't show that the person has built something, then I tend to pass on it. And building something, as they now know, doesn't necessarily mean in digital. It might be a treehouse for the kids in their neighborhood, it could be their own blog - kept current please - or in our class's case, a Kickstarter project.

When Edward, along with David Ewald, joined my class last Thursday, during our discussions some of the students came up with the Twitter hashtag #BuildShit. Edward was thrilled. He wrote a post immediately after class and the social web did the rest. If you click the link above you will see how the hashtag has taken on a life of its own. The students own that idea and they are ready to get stuff done, or #BuildShit. Over the weekend David grabbed a URL and started a Build Shit Tumblr which we'll be filling up with content as we go. Everything done at the speed of the zero-barrier-to-entry web. Agencies, pay attention. Edward Boches and David Ewald would love to hire some of these students. They may well do that very soon. As Edward says - "Our industry needs them. Badly."