The more and more time I spend with young people (having just graduated from that class when I turned 26 last year), the more and more I realise how big a fight there is that they face – and they don’t even know it yet.

Since when I got into working with youth in 2003 when I started the Feedback youth charity, to today when I have youth interns working with me all the time (as per the photo to the left), I have noticed how directionless our young people have become. The irony is that the blessings of our knowledge economy have created an abundance of choice and open treasure chest full of opportunity, travel and exploration to these young people, which in turn has paralyzed them. Let me explain:

Because we are in a knowledge economy, fewer and fewer people are learning trades and instead studying soft subjects. We focus on gap years, sandwich years, extended studying at college (or high school if you are American) even up to the age of 21 – studying without obtaining any Higher Education accreditation – and then facing, whether they take an undergraduate course or not, the problem of a considerable lack of experience.

Cue my 18 year old brother, Todd. He has just finished two years of Further Education media studies, which he now regrets and is considering taking another two years of FE study. Whilst the opportunity and diversity of subjects available is a good thing, the amount of choice that he faces paralysis him. It’s good that our young people have so much more to engage with and formally learn, yet the plethora of choice has two major problems:

  1. It delays decision making
  2. It does not identify transferable skills

These are two of the fights our young people face – let’s look and them, as well as add another.

1. Delayed Decision Making

It’s a lot of pressure to force a 16 year old to make decisions about the rest of their life – yes – but it is equally detrimental to not teach decision making techniques and remove as many decisions as possible, therefore denying the essential lessons of discipline and responsibility.

My brother has no need to make a decision. He can go to University with a loan of thousand of pounds (more money than he has ever handled) that basically feels like free money to him, because the repayment date is in the distinct future, where he tells himself “I’ll be rich then.” There’s also no consequence and little responsibility here.

I want to see young people taught how to make quality decisions. I want to see them learning decision making at a younger age by having to make smaller, more incremental decisions. It is ludicris to drop the weight we do on 16 and 18/19 year olds out of nowhere, expecting them to make life changing decisions, without prior training.

2. Not Identifying Transferable Skills

I spent a good deal of time with my brother the other day helping him see the core transferable skills that he has learnt over these last two years – otherwise he was of the mind that they had been a waste of time.

I want to see all teenage activity clearly communicate at the end of the day what transferable skills and lessons are being taught – because most young people I know lack the fundamental self insight that is needed to be a success in the knowledge economy.

Here is the crux: whilst the knowledge economy affords incredible opportunity that the average person has never seen before, as far as history is concerned, it also requires greater knowledge (because after all, that is the currency, right?).

3. Realising They Have More, and Need More, Than Money

Social giving is changing. The world is changing. When I talk about young people giving towards a cause, they immediately say to me that they have no money. My response is always the same: is money the only thing you have to give?

I teach every intern who works with me that we have four things that we can give: Our Time, Talent, Treasure and Tongue.

Time is your effort and energy, your hours in the day. Talent is your gifting and resources. Treasure is your money. Tongue is your influence and word of mouth.

Our default mode is to give our treasure – often because it really requires the least of us. But I often find that charities could value more from someone’s Time or Talent or Tongue, than they could their Treasure. Again, this is knowledge economy thinking – but we haven’t passed it through to our youth.

We have to get our youth to understand that money isn’t everything. Because currently, many of them do.

Your Leading Thoughts

This post represents a new angle that I’ll be exploring on this blog about real empowerment and investment in people. It might be a rough ride at times, and there will be some hard questions, but we need to ask them if we want to be agents of change. I’ve got a lot more to say, but today I’d like to get some feedback and hear your leading thoughts:

  • Are you a young person, or do you know / have a young person who faces these situations? What is your counsel to them?
  • If play the “what if” game – then what if we don’t get this right with this next upcoming generation? What will happen to our economy?

Archived Comments

  • Claire Boyles

    good post, too many choices is not a bad thing in itself, too much poor guidance on how to make a decision is the problem, and as you say, not identifying transferable skills.

    Too many young people don’t understand what they’re good at because our education system sucks- it teaches people how to pass exams, and if you’re not particularly good at that, it doesn’t really cater too well.

    And point number 3 is the major cause for it- we’re taught that having a good job paying us good money is what makes us happy, which is just nonsense!

    Finding out what we’re good at doing, what we’re passionate at, and finding a way to earn a living from that- that’s the key to happiness. Knowing what makes you happy, and knowing that only you have the power to create that in your life is tremendously empowering.

    It is not a coincidence that the richest people in the world do what they are passionate about!

  • / Scott Gould

    Hey Claire

    Totally – having the privilege of a lot of choice is not bad but good – we just need to be taught on how to do it.

    Which is why I agree, there are large gaps in the education system which don’t help with self insight.

    If our young people could have mentors who help them get self insight, we’d be in a far better place – so that’s what I seek to do all day long with my interns – provide them with self insight.

    How, practically, do you think we can scale this and help our young people more?


  • Claire Boyles

    excellent question, what I do is coach people- I coach them how to understand what they REALLY want & HOW to go out and create that in their lives, in a very real & practical way.

    I’ve chosen to coach people who have a wide circle of influence- people who run their own businesses, because if I can help these people, these are the people that have the biggest effect on our society as a whole.

    I believe fundamentally that in order to improve the world, I have to first improve myself, so being committed to my own personal journey of understanding what makes me happy & create that in a very practical way in my life is key. Be the change- be the example, be the role model that shows it IS possible to be happy without selling your soul for a job you hate, just to pay the bills.

    A few of my clients are involved in the education system, and they are already beginning to influence people within the education. So in a practical way- by me coaching them & supporting them to achieve their goals is how I do it.

    You’re doing it already- by writing this blog post, by putting it out there & connecting to like minded people. There are lots of us now, and more and more each day vocalising what we see is wrong, and starting to develop very real practical solutions to overcoming these issues.

  • Fifty Digital

    Great insight Scott. I think kids nowadays are taught too much of WHAT to think, and not enough of HOW to think. This seems to be one of the main reasons that they have such problems deciding on a course for their life when they leave the teenage years behind.

  • Waqas Ali

    Hi Scott, you took it rightly.

    I myself is competing this all, but thank God now I’m doing what I am passionate about.

    You know it was too scary a year back when I decided to make my life’s big decision at quite early age of 22. It is because of lot of family pressure and being not of use to of making new decisions. This is very common here in Pakistan.

    But I took this bold step, learning, enjoying and creating each day. And now life is very clear.

    I often now say to mu friends and elders brothers to make big decision of your life at early age, because it helps you not to being wasted for a long.

    Thank you Scott for bringing our attentions to this. I look forward to such more post.

    Have great weekend!

  • / Scott Gould

    Claire – good insights here and thank you for sharing your experience.

    From what I can make – this is work that you are not doing directly with young people, but your clients, correct?

    I wonder, if this is true, how we could get your expertise to influence young people directly?

  • / Scott Gould

    Even more so, they need to know WHY. There’s that great TED talk on this but I can’t find it!

    Will look for it.

  • / Scott Gould

    Hey Waqas – thanks for sharing your experience with us!

    Please tell me – what is the “bold step” that you took? I’d like to know more about you!

  • Karen Michael-Cox

    Scott, what a great article. I agree completely. But how can we make it better for all young people?


  • Claire Boyles

    well I’m certainly open to suggestions, I feel very passionately about doing whatever I can to support people, especially young people in creating happy lives for themselves, I’d love young people to have the tools that I only started to discover when I was 21.

    Are you on Skype? Would love to have a chat about this sometime :)

  • / Scott Gould

    Hi Claire

    Add me on skype and we’ll sort a time: ‘scottlegould’


  • Waqas Ali

    Two years back, when I found less interest in Physics and more in Business Communication, I changed my major and it changed my life.

    I started learning about Buss. Comm and integrated it with social media. ;) Now, I have just started a first of it’s kind Social Media Agency in Pakistan. I learnt it all by myself, because I loved it and then trained my two friends who are working with me.

    Some of my fellows & teachers call me crazy, because I have changed my mind of finding any random 9-5 Job to some thing which ask for creativity.

    I’m happy and doing my best, not worried at all of the results. People like you are great source of learning for me and it makes me happy.

  • / Scott Gould


    That’s quite a story. Where can find out more about what you are doing?

    Also, who would you say have been you top people for learning from?
    What has been most useful for you?


  • sytaylor

    Waqas, this really is a brilliant story. Quite revolutionary too. Many young people don’t have the confidence or vision to understand they have to go create their own brand before they can start a career. You did it already!

  • sytaylor


    This is quite similar to a few projects I find myself involved in.

    Have a look at (One for you to check too Scott)

    I missed the value of it first, but the guy who runs it Jonathan is an absolute star. Invest an hour in reading the knowledge center. A ton of great content, and the first education outreach program I’ve seen that “Gets it”.

    We’re looking at how we can bring this to the UK, and looking for assistance in doing so.

  • / Scott Gould

    I agree Sy. I’m hoping I can meet Waqas soon and hear more about it!


  • Rachel

    As a youth (17), I think one of the big issues is that ‘adults’ are not all willing to share their time and expertise like you Scott. They are also unwilling more often than not to see us as equals or acknowledge OUR expertise.
    We are encouraged from a young age to look for the right answer not the answer we want, which can be detrimental sometimes. I get told all the time that if I don’t follow the rules or listen to what I’m told then I’ll fail, I would like to acknowledge but politely decline this notion.
    The money issue is never going to go away, only a minority with the education and freedom to understand will realise that money isn’t everything. Privileged youths don’t value money but only use money, and young people that have nothing, want security and material wealth – circle forms.
    My thought would be if you’re a young person starting out with all your decisions ahead of you and the words ‘I want to be a lawyer because I’ll get paid loads..’ come out of your mouth, it’s time to re-evaluate.
    Personally (there are others who agree) I’d like to be happy in a job I have chosen, not comfortably off and suicidal.

    p.s: We are give WAY too many decisions. But weirdly enough you still find yourself often having to settle for second best or not exactly what you wanted, go figure..

  • / Scott Gould

    Hey Rachel

    Thanks for bringing your unique angle to this, as a young person. Your description is much what I’ve heard from others too – although you of course see things with a bit more clarity and also skepticism.

    Here’s the question, then: what do you need?

    What can the people in this thread offer you? What should we being doing in order to assit the youth of this nation better?


  • / Scott Gould

    I’m about to get involved with something called “Business in the Community”. If schools have young people in, then it’s about getting to schools and providing exposure to a different mindset.

    Exposure here is the big word for me. Most young people don’t get exposure to a mindset that is different from where they grow up, hence they don’t think there’s a world beyond where they grow up.

  • Rachel

    Obviously I’m a bit biased, but if everyone with power and or knowledge in the various industries even approached this subject like you then we’d probably be ten times better off.
    I would also like to be judged more on what I have actually evolved to offer not what an exam board has generically decided to award me, obviously this would take more time, but wouldn’t it be worth it?
    This is why I adore the Americans SO much, they might just have been taught differently, but for a start they know how to communicate, and they seem to actually be interested when you decide to approach them which is, sadly, quite refreshing.
    Obviously though its 6 of one and half a dozen of the other, too many people I know are just waiting for something to happen, which I did until I was about 14, but I started to contemplate and it scared the crap out of me, however I don’t think there’s much changing the majority of those people.. But I think it’s about planting the seed not leading by the nose, young people have to come looking, not get told to look. I strongly believe this.

    All I want for the moment is:

    Opportunity (where I’ve earned it)
    and, Acknowledgement, not in a self serving way, but also not in a ‘I have to win the Nobel Peace Prize’ to get it way.

    And for the record, scepticism has got me this far! Being sceptical keeps people on their toes, which is never normally a downside. :P

  • sytaylor

    We take kids and beat out the curiosity from them. Our schooling system is built on a by the numbers ‘get the kids to pass exams and our school up the league table’ mentality.

    Jeff Jarvis mentioned something at his last TED talk. How often do we actually ask our students WHAT that want to learn, as much as HOW they want to learn it? Engaging, and nurturing the ability to self teach & to be curious is essential. There are some wonderful projects out there starting down this road, but mainstream education is by the numbers. It is so very related to volume.

    I can say with some honesty, I learned more from Google after I’ve finished School than I did at school.

  • / Scott Gould

    Hey Rachel

    Agreed – the whole education system is very flawed. But we can’t change that too much right now. Taking each of your points:

    – Education – We can increase that – give you exposure
    – Opportunity – We can give that
    – Acknowledgement – we must learn to give that.

    Thanks for the feedback – very valuable insights!

  • / Scott Gould

    I remember being at school and remembering the day when a teacher required creativity from me for a task, and I remember thinking that “they’ve drilled it out of me, and now they want it back?”

    Sad times.

  • michael oon

    Great and thoughtful article Scott. Yup, we are in an age of change and there are so many choices ahead of anybody.

    I remember when I was 16 and had to make the choice BUT, there was less.

    Secondly, we are in an age of change, with the digital economy and big organisations becoming smaller. Money will be of such importance.

    Because of all the choices and unknowns, I usually suggest they fulfil their passions.

    Great Post

    Michael Oon

  • / Scott Gould

    Hey Michael

    Thanks as always for stopping by. The change into a digital knowledge economy has huge repercussions don’t you think.

    What are the key areas that you think we need to be aware of?


  • michaeloon

    Thanks Scott
    I am going into dangerous territory now but I am saying it.

    In recent trends, people are trained to use the quality manual as a “guide” to solving problems. By following this manual, 95% of all problems are solved.

    We are now coming to an age of change, we need people who can problem solve or trouble solve. Good people in this skill is very rare nowadays, They are worth their weight in Gold.

    Therefore, there should be more people trained to solve problems. The university course I went to was about problem solving using a set of tools. It has stood me in good stead.

    Have said enough for now



  • / Scott Gould

    Very good – teaching someone to fish.

    I’ll keep this in mind – the problem solving party