Blunting the axe

Abraham Lincoln says, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” It makes a lot of sense!

And Nelson Mandela says, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” I so much agree!

It is obvious why the government, and our parents ensure that we go to school in our early years and continue through to tertiary levels. So, your education is your most powerful axe; but how sharp is it? Spoiler alert… usually not! Additionally, you may be naked!

As earlier suggested, society can be structured into seven spheres of influence called the pillars of culture; viz: Family, Religion, School, Arts & Entertainment, News, Business, and Government; together I refer to them as the super education system.

Now, of all the pillars of culture, the one we defer to most is the school system, followed by religion. And they are the ones mostly responsible for your nakedness; directly and indirectly.

From the very beginning, I promised you that this book will help you to know – convincingly – that you have the inborn ability or potential to develop a theory, company, product and / or service that will significantly improve or positively transform the lives of at least 1 billion people within 10 years, and thus generate wealth beyond what you could possibly spend in a lifetime. And guide you with the sure steps that can help you to achieve that, and more.

I went on to assert that formal education or schooling does not do that, and that formal education or schooling alone cannot do that! Did that make you uncomfortable?

Well, it applies to most – if not all – formal schools across the globe. It is one truth that is hidden from most people.

This strange fact about formal education or schooling sounds unbelievable to most people when they hear it at first, but soon admit to it when they are patient and open-minded enough to hear the details. Personally, I only got to know about it a couple of years after my six years of university education, and I was really outraged!

I chanced upon that weird fact about formal education, in a special report, essentially per adventure; well, one could also say: by some divine orchestration…

A year before getting married, I relocated to a different part of town and joined a church in that new location. I then joined the youth fellowship and along the line got elected to lead the fellowship. I soon reckoned that I really needed to learn ‘Leadership’ otherwise it was going to be very difficult leading the highly heterogeneous group it was; comprising people with vastly different orientations; some highly educated graduates and others having little or no formal education at all, and in-between.

So, I headed to my favourite bookshop and got leadership books; while there, some general self-help books caught my attention, so I got them as well. I read those books diligently and that was the beginning of an unforgettable experience; it was as though I was receiving education afresh! I can boldly say that the education I received from reading those books was as valuable as the education I had received in my 6 years of university education, and in some cases even more valuable!

One of the most shocking discoveries – that marked a major turning point in my life and career – was Harvard University’s sad finding about education that points to the fact that formal education or mainstream schooling is able to harness up to only 22 percent of people’s true effectiveness and greatness in life. There is every reason to suspect that this percentage contribution is much lower in Africa, my motherland.

Why had anybody not drawn our attention to this fact that formal education harnesses so little? And why had anybody not drawn our attention to self-help books while in school — as part of our education — and emphasised their equal importance as the mainstream courses that we were being taught? Did they even know?

Well, I guess it was not part of the duties of our teachers; they had been employed and were being paid to teach specific subjects. Which they were preoccupied with. And were not under any obligation to draw our attention to the shortcomings of formal education, even if they themselves happened to know. They would likely attract the wrath of their employers if they drew students’ attention to such shortcomings.

It is still the case, to a very large extent.

So, what is total education or true education? And how is it that the formal schools are not measuring up to that? I will deal with that shortly. Before then, let us do some quick exercise; it involves counting…

In the diagram shown, how many squares are there; how many squares can you make out in total?

For a good reason please write down your answer on a separate sheet of paper or somewhere else. You will be made to refer to your answer later when it is needed; before then you do not want to be seeing your written answer, especially to be distracted by it.

Better still, please scroll down towards the bottom of this page till you see a button labelled ‘Squares’ then click on that button to proceed with the exercise; follow the instructions there.

We will later refer to this exercise.

Now, let us look at what education truly is.

Education is a noun for the process of educing or bringing out a person’s hidden potential. In its truest sense, the term education has been derived from a couple of Latin words which basically mean: to nourish, to train or mould, and more deeply: to lead out, to draw out or to bring out (as in bringing out something that is within).

Functionally, the deep meaning, as in educing or bringing out what is within, should be preferred any day! Anything other than that is partial education – or more of informing – and not true education or full education.

Generally, every person has immense inborn potential; a genius within. So, you are a genius within! Indeed, you have the inborn ability or potential to develop a theory, company, product and / or service that will significantly improve or positively transform the lives of at least 1 billion people within 10 years, and thus generate wealth beyond what you could possibly spend in a lifetime. Again, that is the case even if you have neither ever been told, never felt so within you, nor demonstrated so in anyway over the period. (Please read all that again). Now, it is the process of education in its proper sense that will develop, draw out, or bring out the genius within, and make the person extremely effective and productive (or truly great) as implied by the Latin words from which the term education was derived. Ordinarily, this kind of education is beyond the scope of the formal education system we have in place; because largely, the traditional education system – especially the objectives – have not changed significantly from that for which it was designed in the twentieth century. It has been designed to quickly supply specific manpower to industry – people who are able to follow instructions without errors and do so without questioning and without much talking. And not necessarily to bring out the genius that is within people.

So indeed, formal education or mainstream schooling is able to harness up to only 22 percent of people’s true effectiveness and greatness in life. 

Particularly, Harvard University noted that although aptitude[1] is responsible for only 15 percent of success in life, and attitude accounts for 85 percent, 90 percent of the time and money spent on formal education is spent developing the aptitude, whereas only 10 percent of the time and finances is spent developing the attitude.

Research done under the auspices of other institutions – including Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching – corroborates this.

And it does not matter how high you climb the academic ladder. Because then, you will be learning more and more about less and less. I need to explain this a little more so that it does not get misconstrued…

Take it that you want to become a psychologist, so first you go to the University for a bachelor’s degree in Psychology, this will involve general principles in Psychology applicable to every sphere of human endeavour. When you decide to go higher, you will be required to narrow down to an area of interest, say Child Psychology, and study more about that in a master’s degree programme; essentially getting to know more in a much smaller area of the field of Psychology. When you decide to go higher still, you will be required to narrow down further to a smaller area of interest within Child Psychology, say Psychology of Children with Autism, and study more about that in a doctorate degree programme; essentially getting to know more in a much smaller area within the field of Psychology.

So, there is big void in the existing school system. Indeed, a lot – if not most; I’m inclined to say 80% – of what you learn in school will have little or no direct use in your life and work, so you will necessarily have to learn completely new knowledge, skills, and attitude for life and work after you graduate.

In other words, of all the knowledge, skills and attitudes you need in your life and work in order to be effective and truly fulfilled, only a little of that (about 20%) will be part of what you learn in school. And even then, you will be taught rules some of which will inadvertently hinder your progress in your professional life, though schoolteachers would grade you highly for adhering to those rules so taught.

For instance, University of Chicago Writing Program’s Larry McEnerney helps mostly expert professionals to ace up their writing, because most of them struggle when it comes to writing for the real world (the world beyond school). And the success of what he does rests on the fact that he mostly helps them to do away with most of the hindering, limiting or delimiting writing rules acquired in their prior formal education, since they do not work in the world beyond school.

Seth Godin is currently one of the great minds in the area or subject of Marketing. He graduated from a very good business school and soon after had the opportunity to work as Brand Manager for a then young software company. He had access to millions of dollars in marketing budget, with the urgency to spread the word about the company’s software and generate demand for the software, and ultimately sales. He ended up wasting all the money; the adverts did not work! He tells this story himself.

Now, why did Seth not succeed right from the get-go with his knowledge from business school? Probably because what one learns in school do not necessarily work in the world beyond school, and that what truly works comes with exposure and experience. Indeed, by the time you graduate, much of your knowledge is already obsolete because the world beyond school would have changed significantly. Besides many business schools focus more on case studies of success stories; they study more about what has worked for successful companies without enough exposure on the many failures that proceeded the successes of same companies. Let alone adequate focus on why the numerous companies that failed did.

Seth has eventually risen to the top through unlearning, relearning, and lots or trial and error; “mostly error” – in his own words.

In essence, education and schooling are not the same thing! So, someone says that “Your degree is just a piece of paper, your education is seen in your behaviour”.

And as the Nobel laureate Sir William Arthur Lewis succinctly puts it… “Education and schooling are not the same thing. What goes on inside the schools is often not education. And the results may well be that it reduces productive capacity rather than to increase it.” 

Alvin Toffler says, “The illiterates of the future are not those who cannot read or write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn!” I do agree!

Again, this quirk about formal education applies to most – if not all – formal schools across the globe. And many well-meaning individuals have sought to draw attention to this, but strangely the media has not given it the traction it deserves. Experts like Ken Robinson, Annis Haffar, Sir William Arthur Lewis, Geoffrey Canada – and several others – have had the occasion to lament profusely about the school system that exists in the UK, US, and across the globe. Ken Robinson maintains that “We are educating people out of their creative capacities”. In other words, we are by our formal school curriculum and teaching methods squashing the creative capacities of the people we purport to be educating.

It seems that Finland is the only country getting it somewhat right – at least to an appreciable extent – for some time now. They are doing something totally unconventional – and seemingly counterintuitive – and beating those of us glued to the conventional school system; on most – if not all – the applicable indicators, metrics, or indices. You can check online for more about their system. On a much smaller scale, some individual schools are doing similarly unconventional systems; example is Agora Andorra International School in Europe.

Indeed, formal schooling reduces productive capacity in individuals – ordinarily – but that is not to say that school or formal schooling is not important. So let me emphasise that formal schooling is very important; it has its place, except that it does not live up to the hype, as far as increasing your individual capacities in the relevant aspects of your life – especially the seven key results areas of life – are concerned.

If you did not know, now you know; you were naked, and probably still are! Your axe has been – or otherwise is being – blunted in school. Some covering, and sharpening are required, and you are in the process. Ideally, the religious organisations should be filling in the gap, and providing that needed complementary education, especially since they have access to people right from the cradle to the grave, and wield great influence on them – much more than what schools could ever dream of – but our religious organisations have not taken the bull by the horn, and are failing abysmally, as you will soon get to appreciate.

[1] Knowledge and skillset

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Blunting the axe

About the Author

David K Egyir

David K Egyir

Author of Purpose Compass, the exceptional life-coaching book that reveals 4 habits that are currently making your life difficult, or otherwise may soon make your life difficult, but which your parent, teacher, or pastor would dare not talk about; how to escape them and get to live a stress-free life of purpose faster! And 13 other equally amazing books that constitute the Zing4Life! Series. Lead promoter of the electronic, trendy and amazing Smart Business Card, the only business card you’ll ever need, for the executive in you! Passionate about helping serious people like you to escape the most dangerous — common but avoidable — problem most people (rich, poor, educated, non-educated, religious, and non-religious alike) face in life.Also, he designs and builds beautiful, cost-effective and functional buildings, and graphics. And he helps executives, marketers, and business owners to make effective presentations; what you may call winning presentations. Especially as a life-coach, he's been popularly adjudged the best coach for excelling in education, increasing wealth, eliminating stress, and enjoying true fulfillment in life! Egyir has a firm conviction that, “The greatest tragedy in life is that majority of people have accepted to be less than they were born to be and are thus accomplishing far less than their true capabilities.” To that end, he authored (wrote) PURPOSE COMPASS and other amazing books, and more than 100 articles; on how to live a highly productive and a truly fulfilling life. And he organises training seminars and workshops for the benefit of individuals, groups and organisations. Dave (as affectionately called by many) understands life thoroughly and shares amazingly liberating insights from a uniquely empowering perspective. He is the Lead Founder of Seers, Associate of Arthro Synergeio, Lay Preacher of The Methodist Church Ghana, Global Lead Advocate of Zing4Life! and Volunteer Mentor with iMentor Ghana. Egyir is married, and is a father of two. To see more about him you may click here. To get in touch with Dave or to follow him on social media you may click here. #DaveGuidesDaily | To support Dave's writing & life-coaching social ministry you may click here. #SeersFoundation | To be part of Egyir's live sessions online at 20.30 GMT on Sundays you may click here. #TimeWithSeers |

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In the diagram shown immediately above (with lines in orange colour) how many squares are there; how many squares can you make out in total?

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So in the diagram, how many squares did you make out in total; how many squares are there?

Well, most people get or give 16 as their answer. Some get 17 and a few get 21; and that’s at least better than the ‘16’ answer majority of people give. Just about 1 percent of people surveyed get the best answer; which is…

Well, get a full illustration of all the more than 21 possible ‘hidden’ squares…


One: Sometimes you need someone to show you the obvious, and oftentimes… the not so obvious! Credit to ZigZiglar

Two: Education and schooling are not the same thing. What goes on inside the schools is often not education. And the results may well be that it reduces productive capacity rather than to increase it. Credit to Prof Sir William Arthur Lewis

Three: My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Credit to Prophet Hosea

Four: The illiterates of the future are not those who cannot read or write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn! Credit to Alvin Toffler

Five: The greatest obstacle to progress is not ignorance, but the illusion of knowledge. Credit to Daniel Boorstin

Six: When you know the right things, the boundaries around your life suddenly disappear. Credit to Brian Sher