Teaching and Investing

In 2012, Christina Cacioppo and I were invited by bobulate​ to teach at SVA’s MFA in Interaction Design Program.  Together, we redesigned the Entrepreneurial Design course weaving together our own individual experiences and perspectives as well as what we had learned during our time at Union Square Ventures.

I could talk forever about the similarities between investing and teaching, but the one lesson that stands out to me today is that there’s an indeterminable lag time in

assessing the impact of your decisions.

As an investor, you never know if you’re right until you are, and even then you may never really know why you were right.  In some sense, it doesn’t really matter.  Being right and being lucky are two sides of the side coin—you just know that you are.

Similarly, as a teacher you never really know whether your students have successfully acquired the knowledge and lessons you desired to impart, much less whether they really learned anything at all.  Even in my most confident moments, I am consistently surprised when it does happen, as well as with what the student actually learns.  I rarely try to understand the how or why.

Instead, what I think is more worthwhile is to focus on what you as the instructor (or the investor) are learning yourself.  What do you take away from the experience that enables you to abductive-ly reason or pattern match more effectively in the future?  What did you previously only understand intellectually that you are now able to internalize?

For teachers and investors, this is the way in which the "learn by doing" adage applies.  You're not making a physical thing or an app, but you are making decisions based on a set of principles, observing the outcome, and iterating on the principles.  Then, you do it again and again.

It’s through this lens that I’ve best learned to frame the practice of teaching—not as a charitable act performed out of the goodness of ones heart, but as one of the most effective ways to continually learn once you are out of a formal, structured educational program or a thoughtful venture firm.

I teach so that I can continue to learn.  What I've found is that when you are privileged to spend time with as wonderful a group of students as I have, and you look at returns in 3 to 5 year window, it pays outsized returns in ways you would never be able to predict, much like the best venture funds.

Congrats to Sana and Tash on their See Think Make talks this week!

(images via @allisonacs and @seethinkmake)