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Radical Innovation: Success Without Academic Boundaries

Updated: Oct 29, 2023

Part 1: Foundation for Success

Pause for a moment before delving into this, and liberate your thoughts about business, your industry, and the potential of your career. Take a few deep breaths, release the constraints of conventional 'status quo' wisdom, and open up for new ideas. Transport yourself back to when you were a child, with the world at your fingertips, and finish this sentence:

'I would love to (fill in the blank) but that’s pretty much impossible unless (fill in the blank).'

Recently, I had the privilege of engaging in a thought-provoking conversation with one a pioneer in creative thinking, one of the founders of The College of Extraordinary Experiences, Claus Raasted. The College of Extraordinary Experiences (CoEE) stands as an embodiment of innovative ideas in the realm of experiential learning. Founded by visionaries Paul Bulencea and Claus Raasted, it's said to be a 'fifth element' in creative ways to bring together individuals from diverse backgrounds to perform an array of daily tasks that force them to immerse themselves in a unique learning environment focused on experience design. The CoEE explores the captivating realm of crafting meaningful and transformative experiences.

Bottom line, experience design, at its core, is about shaping experiences that engage, delight, and leave a lasting impact on individuals. It's the process of carefully curating every touchpoint a person has with a product, service, or, in this case, an educational event like CoEE. From the initial encounter to the overall journey, experience designers consider emotions, aesthetics, usability, and the totality of how an individual perceives and interacts with the experience. Next September, Nathaniel Metz, Devon Pasha, and I will voyage to a castle in Poland to attend this life-changing event and I couldn’t be more excited. No conference rooms with coffee and bagels on this professional development journey!

My first discussion with Claus was actually the interview to assess whether or not I would be a good fit for the CoEE and visa-versa. I have to admit, I was nervous. The past guest list includes all walks of life from street vendors to execs from large companies like Google and Disney. When it was my turn to ask questions I had only 2. ‘Am I going to be way out of my league, your past guest list includes some pretty smart people?’ and ‘Has anyone ever told you you look like The Dude from The Big Lebowski?’ I was apprehensive about posing the second question but it turns out Claus had heard that over 100 times before he broke down and watched the Cohen brother blockbuster. My first inquiry prompted my new Danish friend to ask me the question I posed at the beginning of this blog article. Before he asked me to complete that sentence he explained that the CoEE strives to bring a diversity of perspectives together and foster a truly innovative culture. They even set aside spaces for attendees to lead evening activities like yoga, painting, or other creative ideas and activities that fall within their particular skill set.

Claus has a very disarming way about him and for just a moment I let down my guard and spoke from the heart: “I would love to be at the helm of a big corporation someday, but that's pretty much impossible unless I go back and get a bachelor’s degree and an MBA.” In my eyes this is not just a ‘perceived barrier’ it is a sting of realism. Unless you’re a Bill Gates this obstacle can appear insurmountable and it echoes the sentiments of many aspiring business leaders.

Claus, a true luminary in the field of experience design, boasts an impressive track record—authoring 43 books, delivering 100 keynotes in 100 days, and contributing to a multitude of platforms. When I confessed my aspiration Claus didn't dismiss my perspective or laugh at my response, nor did he affirm the pragmatism of my views, instead he proposed a second meeting, unveiling new solutions, and alternate, less conventional pathways to success.

This seasoned Danish experience designer was on point. Following a second Zoom call 'across the pond', I found myself pondering my journey and its potential track. Admittedly, at times I sell myself short. Just over six years ago, I made a significant career shift. After more than 30 years in the restaurant industry, primarily working as a waiter with some managerial roles, I transitioned into the social service and healthcare sector driven by a yearning to engage in purposeful work. Over these six years, I progressively transitioned into increasingly challenging roles—from being an addictions and mental health recovery coach to developing proficiencies around networking, workplace culture, and a knack for taking an innovative approach to problem-solving which led to assuming the role of Chief Strategy and Transformation Officer (CSTO) at a leading Mobile-Integrated Health (MIH) company at the end of this month, a full circle in my professional journey.

In preparation for my new position and subsequent return to Phoenix Paramedic Solutions, I've been engaging in conversations with friends and colleagues. Asking questions and seeking different perspectives reveals a growing sentiment challenging the conventional belief. The notion that a university degree is the sole key to unlocking executive roles is shifting. A broader understanding of the diverse pathways to success is emerging and may one day lead to an entirely new set of best practices. I've long known that Nate Metz, Phoenix's President and CEO is a unique leader whose focus on building people up by offering unique growth opportunities is beyond parallel; however, while not yet the gold standard, great ideas like this seem to be growing in popularity. Conventional academic qualifications like a bachelor's degree and an MBA are undoubtedly valuable, but the world now appreciates a broader spectrum of talents and skills. Individuals who carve their own paths by harnessing their unique abilities are increasingly demonstrating that success isn't confined to a particular trajectory, subsequently, some of the best ideas are born out of new perspectives. I imagine, in the not-so-distant future, most innovative companies will incorporate a different set of ideas when seeking new candidates. Imagine the true innovation, diversity, and inclusion a workforce powered by skill, ambition, and raw talent might have if internal processes didn't include weeding out hundreds if not thousands, of applicants simply because they lack a formal degree.

This prompts a critical question: If you lack a degree, what does it take to claim a seat at the table with those who possess one? Unconventional pathways can encompass various routes - self-education,

vocational training, mentorship, and experiential learning. The impact of these pathways is far-reaching for the end user. They can provide the right tools to individuals from diverse backgrounds and circumstances, enabling them to rise to positions of influence and effect meaningful change. The evolving workforce is recognizing that skills, passion, and dedication are pivotal markers of potential and achievement. I believe the answer also lies in radical innovation. Few senior leaders would likely disagree that ambition coupled with innovation can unearth the bedrock of personal success.

Join me on this exhilarating voyage of exploration through Radical Innovation—a five-part blog series. In the first part, we'll shed light on real-life CEOs who defied the odds by not having a college degree. We'll then delve into innovative strategies for personal branding, the value of mentorship, and the finesse required in honing soft skills.

In the subsequent segments of this series, we will explore these crucial topics in depth:

Alternative Pathways to Success: We'll delve into inspiring stories and strategies of individuals who achieved remarkable success through unconventional routes, breaking the

mold of traditional career paths.

Leadership and Growth Strategies: We'll examine effective leadership styles and growth strategies that empower individuals and organizations to create inclusive workplaces and thrive in a constantly evolving professional landscape.

Optimizing ROI in Non-Degreed Employees Isn't Just About Financial Gains; it's about fostering a culture of growth and inclusivity. When organizations embrace the long-term strategy of investing wisely in their employees,

regardless of their formal education, they unlock untapped

potential and achieve sustainable success.

Leading in a Dynamic World: The dynamic, fast-paced world necessitates adaptable leadership. We'll discuss how leaders can navigate change, foster innovation, support employees and sustain success in such an environment.

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