I used to think that certifications weren’t very valuable. There’s a scene in Good Will Hunting where Will defends his uneducated friend from the belittlement of a Harvard graduate. After demonstrating the Harvard graduate’s lack of originality, Will exclaims ‘you spent 100,000 dollars on an education that you could’ve picked up for a few dollars at your local library’. I think there’s a lot of truth in that; in today’s world you can teach yourself almost anything for almost nothing so resourcefulness trumps resources, to be sure. I also remember feeling upset when my dad told me that when he was growing up in Kenya, he used to sit outside in the evening because that was the only nearby source of light to which he could perch beneath and read the English dictionary. Now when I reflect on this thought, I’m moved; taking learning into your own hands, grabbing it by the scruff of the neck, taking responsibly for your gifts, your talents, your unique way of looking at the world, and realising your circumstance doesn’t make nor break you.
For me the value in certification is in the commitment you make to yourself and the seed you plant. Committed action is what causes change, be it personal change or changing the sentiment of a country. Having reflected on how I learn, I can see that I like starting personal projects but I don’t close many of them out; perhaps something more interesting comes along and my focus is shifted elsewhere. What’s the impact of that? You perhaps gain a broader understanding of many things, think of the Pareto principle; 80% of your knowledge will come from 20% of the content. What you sacrifice however is a deep understanding and perhaps its here that your ideas begin to form meaningful connections with what you already know.
There’s something more at stake however, and that’s the person you become as a result of your learning. Warren Bennis’ experience showed him that people who learn effectively don’t see learning as the collection of knowledge and skills – that’s training, they see learning as a personal transformation; it affects your belief systems, your perspective, and what you feel. I see shallow learning as the same as training and deep learning as personal change. Elliott Hulse talks about personal change happening during the transcendental set – that all prior effort led you to this point of maximum exertion, where you aren’t only physically stronger but you think differently, you see yourself in a different light, you have different standards.
Bennis wrote ‘Learning is not having, it is being’. It’s the process of personal transformation that is important. And if personal transformation occurs when you dive deep and hold your breathe as you explore the unknown then anchoring your learning by way of a crystal clear goal like a certification can most certainly help.