On more than one occasion, I have been asked to teach a university course.  Then, I was also asked if I had an MBA. *No MBA to be found.* And alas, I was then suddenly not able to teach the same class I was excitedly asked to teach mere moments before. And this is a common scenario from talking with others, one example of how traditional metrics can sometimes be unhelpful.

Before you wonder if this article is about teaching or any other one specific thing, my point is that using teaching as an example, the topics I speak about tend to be ones that are emerging.  In other words, almost no one has an advanced degree in them yet because advanced degrees aren’t readily available yet.  The most brilliant minds in those spaces that I read or hear speak often haven’t achieved even one traditional university degree but instead have spent time developing things that create seismic shifts in our world through entrepreneurism or social impact endeavors, no degrees in hand.

It begs the question, do we need to rely solely on advanced degrees – or any degrees – to lead?  Or to be experts in a field?  I suggest that we don’t.  At the same time, I think that degrees are valuable for expert learning and that the process of achieving degrees is also valuable because of the research, study, and intensive thought and discussion that is part of those degrees.

However, I don’t think that an advanced degree necessarily creates a leader or expert inherently, although it often can help. There are many ways one can become a thought leader or expert, and an advanced degree is one, but one of many.

Often, leaders emerge because they push the envelope in real-life situations.  They create change and break traditional ways.  They do not accept the idea, “That’s just how we do things.”  They rebel against the status quo.  They “fail forward fast.”  They risk everything as an entrepreneur or other leader because they see a great idea no one else sees quite yet.  They spend years in fields so new that most people shy away, waiting until it’s more fundable or more mainstream. Or they have a mission that is more humanitarian than capitalistic and lean on donations and volunteer help to learn how to “crack the code” on something new to create impact so they can help change the world.

These leaders have lived experience that is invaluable, for example, to university students.  They know, minute-by-minute, what works, and what doesn’t.  These entrepreneurs truly know what other emerging leaders need to know in order to move forward, as fast as possible, while detouring around the obstacles they’ve uncovered.

Real-life entrepreneurs may not always have advanced research skills, or sophisticated strategic plans, or logic models, but what they do have to offer is proven experience.  They know, from being in it right now, what works (or doesn’t!) at this moment.

Luckily, this is a both/and challenge.  There is room for both people with advanced degrees, AND also for the real-lifers without them.

In this day and age of unlimited free information on the internet, where anyone can DIY advanced knowledge through MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses – free audit versions of university classes), Udemy, Coursera, Lynda.com, and many other resources that provide high-quality course learning for free or nearly free – how does learning stand out?  Granted, one doesn’t get a degree after studying via DIY methods, but much of the learning can create similar inspiration and breakthroughs in ideas, as if they were in university courses.  Which is, ultimately, an important point of education.

Holding fast to traditional ideas – status quo – too tightly invariably leads to new players in a new paradigm that are more nimble and less risk-averse gaining ground.  Think of the success in travel and transportation that Airbnb and Uber have had.  Hold too tight, lose sight of opportunities.

It’s fair to say that many people in the United States sense that some of our traditional methods of teaching, useful in the past when people were in one physical place, continually, with no other way of learning, feel outdated.  People learn in different ways, and only recently have we had the opportunity to leverage new technology and customized learning styles to fully help benefit more people in ways that work better for them.

Now that we do have options, universities and other centers for higher learning can continue to be the leaders in this paradigm shift, which we are already seeing through online degree options. Hopefully, the US education system can follow their lead.

How many people learn best is by being inspired by ideas.  Being intrigued into learning.  Developing curiosity in general. 

So, people who can stir curiosity, create passion for learning for learning’s sake, and foster open-mindedness are our most critical assets.

Many of these inspiring leaders have advanced degrees, and many also don’t. 

Let’s rethink our old paradigms and status quo to open up more options for people to learn in different ways.

Status Quo, my personal definition:

sta·tus quo

/ˌstādəs ˈkwō/




 “We should probably change that.”

Do you have ideas about education? Please share your thoughts in the comments below, or connect with me @CharityIdeas!


  • Amy Neumann

    Tech for Impact | #blockchain #AI #inclusion | Speaker | Author | Nonprofit Founder | Entrepreneur | Good + Tech = #changetheworld

    Resourceful Nonprofit, Technology Inclusion, Good Plus Tech

    Amy Neumann is a social good and technology fanatic who has been creating positive change for over two decades.  With a focus on blockchain and AI, she is a social impact entrepreneur who founded a startup nonprofit called Resourceful Nonprofit - formerly Free Tech for Nonprofits (and its subsidiary, Technology Inclusion) to help nonprofits do more of their important work faster while being inclusive as well as proactive about diversity and equity.  She is also CEO and principal of the social enterprise consultancy, Good Plus Tech, with a focus on leveraging emerging technologies and smart communication strategies to solve global social impact challenges. Amy speaks often, at places like Dell’s Social Innovation Conference, ASU’s Sustainability Conference, NTEN events, Blockland Solutions, nonprofit events, and universities.  She is widely published, including as a contributor to Forbes, an author of PR News’ Crisis Management Guidebook, and a columnist for the Huffington Post.  Because she can’t get enough of innovative world-changers, Amy also publishes on her passion project site, CharityIdeas.org. Amy’s 2018 Simon & Schuster book, “Simple Acts to Change the World: 500 Ways to Make a Difference,” is a tribute to the many great ideas she’s discovered on the topics of social good, social justice, equity, technology for good, and volunteering through her work and philanthropy.