The classroom parable

At Twitter, entrepreneur Kevin Lee shares an anecdote about how a family business owner, which worked in electricity, turned extra space in its warehouse into a community-based classroom for immigrant workers to learn electrical engineering. 

That meant every Saturday, for four hours, immigrant workers could attend this free class to learn electrical engineering skills. Hundreds of people would do this, and many would go on to work at competitors of the family business. 

One day, the family business bid on a huge seven-figure government contract. A young man approaches the business owner and introduces himself as a former student. Through what he learned at the classes, he got a job at city’s largest transportation center, and now here he was—the decision maker for this seven-figure government contract.

Effectively, good content works like this; you make something, someone experiences it, and it might change their life, and one day they might reach out and change yours. 

The problem is, of course, two-fold:

  • Setting up a class, or writing content, or communicating and transferring this knowledge, sounds simple but turns out to be really time consuming. In fact, it’s downright hard. Typing is not the same as writing, and talking isn’t the same as teaching. Most leaders don’t take this seriously enough to realize they need professional expertise, until one day a competitor emerges that has a content library with a massive scale. They throw millions at the problem to try to fix it, but—especially in branding—no amount of money can compound like time can.
  • This costs money! In this parable, opportunity cost is the sublease—and all of the teachers they hired, hours they spent administrating and maintaining the class—that the family business could have directly earned on. Instead, they did what they felt was the right thing, and voila. The point isn’t just the business outcome—yes, a crazy deal that would lead to a drastic business exit according to Kevin—but also just the power of giving.

The class grew through word of mouth. No SEO. No paid acquisition. Just good old fashioned being useful to people and helping them find more opportunities. If nobody would’ve showed up to the class after a few weeks, they probably wouldn’t keep doing it! But people did, and they kept doing it during good times and bad times.

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