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Steve Jobs thought different. Good different.

“Think different” was the advertisement slogan Apple used during the first five years after Jobs returned to the company. Not only does it sound cool and have multiple meanings, it applied to Jobs.

Most businesses work relentlessly to learn what customers want. Then they do everything they can to give it to them. Jobs didn’t follow that formula. He said customers don’t know what they want.

Consider the iPad. Before it, we knew about smart phones, and we knew about personal computers, but we didn’t know that we’d want something in-between. Jobs did. He was a step ahead of us and seemingly always right on beat. Whether it was a talent he was born with or a skill he learned, he knew what we’d want before we knew we wanted it.

Teachers need to learn to do that. Only we have to substitute need for want. It’s our job to figure out what kids need – and give it to them – because they don’t know what they need.

So we have to study the world and figure out what they need for them. Much has been made of Jobs, Gates, Larry Ellison and Michael Dell dropping out of college. People hear that and wonder, is college necessary? Is it worth it?

But that’s not the point. What’s necessary is to find out what guys like Jobs, Gates, Ellison and Dell have that enabled them to become so successful – without college. Whatever it is, we need to find it, name it and teach it to kids. Whatever it is, that’s what they need to know, even if they don’t know they need to know it.

So what is it? What do guys like that know and, more importantly, do. We need to find out so we can teach kids so they’ll know and do. If I could tell you precisely what it is, maybe I’d be like them. Since I’m obviously not, I can only investigate and speculate – something I can do.

In today’s crummy economy, kids need to be taught to stop taking orders and following directions. Well, okay, within reason. When told that they can’t skateboard on the freeway, sell drugs or drive drunk, they need to listen.

But sitting passively in classrooms where they’re told what to do and, if they do it well, they’ll be rewarded with an A is 20th century teaching. Some of that old school stuff will always be necessary. This century, however, kids need to learn to think for themselves.

They need to solve problems that don’t have a blue print. They need to stop asking questions, trust their guts and figure it out for themselves. Instead of looking for someone to follow, they need to take the lead, initiate, innovate and start something of their own. Don’t depend on us.

In the iconic Apple commercial that Jobs promoted, “Here’s to the Crazy Ones” (Google it), there’s one line that’s especially relevant. “They’re not fond of rules, and they have no respect for the status quo.” It’s relevant because the status quo stinks.

We don’t want the next generation thinking like this one.

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