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#NEOchats on 5 years on - The NEO Manifesto

March 15, 2022

Manifesto is a big word for a small consultancy, but NEO Academy has never been shy. We are five years old this month and, like many, we get a little reflective on birthdays, and that's as good a time to be reflective as any.

You see, 5 years ago we started out with a different idea. The whole reason "Academy" is in the name is that, at the outset, we wanted to be part of the education revolution by actually providing nano-sized learning content that learners could really use and apply in their lives. This Netflix-style approach to easily digestible and accessible content in education was something our friend and colleague Dr Steve Mallon was once horrified about, but came round to be a fan in the end. We all did, because it's part of a non-traditional approach to education on the learner's terms, and so it must be a good thing.

Good it may have been, but affordable for a new startup it was not. We kept the name but shifted focus. If we couldn't actually provide learning content that was fit for a 21st century learner, then we would focus on supporting others who did. We wanted to be part of the conversation about what education could and should look like, and we could make sure our voice was heard in other ways (like our amazing blog and NEOchats series!) and by elevating the voices of those we aligned with.

It has been a 5-year journey and though much has changed, we find ourselves only more committed than ever to key principles that guide us. As we wandered last week around the education area at the Expo 2020 in Dubai (still going in 2022 after the pandemic!), we found ourselves inspired. Sometimes we need that reminder that there are many others out there that feel the way we do, and though change happens slowly, it happens nonetheless. We want to be there as it does.

5 years on, we give you the 5 precepts of the NEO Manifesto.

1: Equity of opportunity matters

The year is 2022 and yet, some of us are still considered less than others. Though the uneven playing field is often subtle to those it favours, the people it disadvantages are more than aware that the game is rigged.

Diversity is a strength, and building a diverse team matters, but inclusion is where much of the hard work needs to be done. We need a world where everyone can thrive, regardless of gender, race, culture, religion, neurology, and all of the weaving intersections which make up the beauty of the human species. That means actively examining and dismantling our prejudices, and supporting the amazing work of people in our network who make things better. We can all do better, every day, to make sure every voice is valued.

The NEO team, currently 80% women, have seen first hand what our world of marketing and recruitment looks like, the challenges it brings, and the opportunities it presents, and we know there is much work to do. We want to see more women in leadership roles and to challenge the stereotypes about who can succeed in our industry. By setting an example for others, we want to inspire other women to know that they can walk their own paths in this industry too.

That goes for the institutions and organisations we support too. We want to support the people who are stepping up, such as our friends at CodeOp in Barcelona, who are the first international tech school for women, transgender, and non-binary individuals (women+) who want to transition to, or upskill in tech. We value this open and frank discussion with peers, colleagues, clients and friends, and invite you to join us.

UN SDGs: 5 (gender equality), 10 (reduced inequalities)

2: We need to reimagine what education is

After hundreds of NEOchats and articles, you've probably guessed: we don't think traditional education has a future. The industrial-era model, where people learn in lockstep within assessment-driven structures, is not what learning can truly be.

We are now in a time, where information can be accessed at the touch of a button, and yet so many learners sit in rows facing one person, expected to passively internalize this knowledge without voice, choice, play, experimentation and all the other good stuff. Not good enough.

This model was understandable when things were more or less linear. We got a job in an industry that likely existed when we started school, so we knew how to prepare for it. We might have even stayed there for 40 years and built a career. That world is gone.

Volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous is the world of tomorrow, and generation Z and Alpha already know this. Technology, climate change, globalisation; everything is changing so fast, and learners don't want to spend years in a room learning things they have no choice over, only to emerge and find out the world has already moved on.

Today, a school or college is just one of many available resources, as we learn online, with AI supported adaptive or liquid learning, or teach ourselves any skill we choose through MOOCs, peer to peer learning, community organisations, open studios and so many more. We can learn while travelling, working, raising or supporting a family, across times zones, synchronous or asynchronous. Everyone in at 8am when the bell rings will be a concept we look back on as a time gone by.

We can also find many other ways to evidence this learning that is not a degree or masters. We can collect micro credentials and build a learning portfolio to present to an employer, or go directly to the company we want to work with and take their own course offering. Companies understand the degree is not the golden ticket it once was, and are looking increasingly for skills like critical thinking and creativity, which are not always prioritised in traditional models.

Of course, the way we work is changing too, and more and more of us are reskilling, upskilling, downshifting, homeworking, project hopping and all the rest. It's exciting, but it can be challenging too. Tomorrow's learners need to know how to follow their purpose and passion, adapt, change, collaborate and innovate.

How we learn, where and when we learn, what we learn and how we demonstrate it- these are all changing quickly. Education institutions need to work hard to stay relevant in this future, and they have an important role to play. We support those that are striving to offer a dynamic, purposeful, learner-directed, transdisciplinary model, flexible and open, to focus on the skills we need to thrive.

We need to support others to become and be the best version of themselves in a world that needs all hands on deck. We support those institutions that are reimagining and humanising learning, and we will continue to champion them and to help them grow.

UN SDGs: 4 (quality education), 8 (decent work and economic growth)

3: We succeed together

There was a world once, where we learned to compete not against ourselves, but against others, in order to define who and what we are. There was a world where we aimed to consume, accumulate, discard and repeat. The linear economy of take-make-waste is not sustainable. The business model of stepping on others to get ahead, so that only the few can climb, is not our best look as a species.

We do not want to belong to that world. We need to think differently. Collaboration and cooperation, empowerment and equity, integrity and ikigai.

NEO Academy is not an agency. We do not drip feed services to a client, and keep them dependent on us long term. Withholding know-how, hoarding expertise and creating a captive client is not what we are about. We are happiest when we are no longer needed, because we know our work is done. When the client feels empowered to take things forward on their own, we're over the moon.

That does not fit the old model, but here's the thing- relationships are healthier when we lift each other up. NEO Academy is a consultancy, which is about sharing our expertise with others, pure and simple. If we truly believe that making a positive impact on education is our top priority (and we do), then why would we give anything less than our best to those who play a part in that? 

Another mindset is possible, and by sharing expertise, bringing in others as equals to support in projects, using our network to lift others up, our community is enriched. This is something at the heart of the NEO community, where we introduce our network each week to new people, new ideas and new collaborative possibilities through our NEOchats series.

By helping clients work efficiently, to streamline resources and work smarter, we can help the environment too. Less energy in, more energy out.

UN SDGs: 11 (sustainable cities and communities), 12 (responsible consumption and production)

4: Values are not for sale

Those bumps in the road during our first five years? Quite a few of them came from saying "no" to opportunities when we really could have used the income for growth. The reason we said "no", however, is the reason our clients trust us today, and we will never regret these moments, difficult though they were!

Values are everything. Trust, integrity, creativity. These are easy words to say, or to put on a website, but there are moments when you have to stand in them, and that is the real test.

These values are interlinked. When we do not believe the values of a potential client or partner are aligned with ours, we say no to working together. When we do not feel that we can genuinely provide a client with the best support and expertise, we say no. We know who we are and we know what we are good at. That means we have to be creative, finding a path forward that is quite different from most others in our field.

Because of this, people trust us. We may not be rocketing to the NASDAQ any time soon, but we like who we are, and our clients tell us that they feel taken care of, and feel that we have their best interests at heart. That means we're on the right track, wouldn't you say?

Being selective about who we work with is a cornerstone of our internal culture, and our team know that this is something solid underneath them. That is vital to us as NEO is fundamentally about people. If our team doesn't feel good about what they're doing, then we're not doing the right thing.

Wellbeing and mental health are always going to be a priority for us, but before reaching for the gym memberships, we prefer to get the foundations right. Trust, honesty, communication, support, growth and development. In the end, what people want more than anything is to know their personal and professional selves are not distinct, and that they don't have to leave their sense of purpose at the office door. We don't have an office, but you know what we mean.

UN SDGs: 3 (good health and wellbeing) , 8 (decent work and economic growth)

5: The future matters now

Mandarin Chinese does not have a future tense. Yes they can indicate the future through temporal phrases, but the language is spoken with a sense of the future and the present being far closer than they are in future based languages like English.

Is that why the future is always talked about with such distance in English and Spanish? We're not certain, but we need to change our mindset quickly. Things that are massively changing the way we work and live are already in motion. Climate breakdown, cryptocurrency, Web3, decentralisation of trade and finance, diminishing raw resources and increasing population.

We are seeing this unfold right in front of us, but so many institutions are waiting for change to happen to them, rather than being part of it. Learners are looking at education now with different eyes.

The promise that life will be better for children than it was for their parents is clearly fragile. The stable future, the easy access mortgage, the reasonably predictable career paths; gone. The ability to engineer our own learning, demonstrate it to employers, build our own businesses online, work remotely with different income streams, socialise in the metaverse doing things that we can't quite even imagine right now; it's all happening in front of us.

We must be part of that, because this is the future, and it is happening now. NEO Academy is committed to helping institutions and fellow education marketing professionals to not only demystify the world of Web3, tokenomics, decentralisation and the metaverse, but to learn how to make the most of the opportunities it presents. And who says we can't have fun while we do it? 

Learners have a right to feel supported and prepared for the world ahead, but to do so we have to step back from the idea that we are in control. Educators and institutions can no longer claim to meet this need, if they are still carving out the path to a future, which is based on the principles of a world that no longer exists. We must all become learners together, focus on preparing for uncertainty and on the skills and technologies that will help us to do that. It is time to let go of certainty.

We are ready, because we have long embraced the fact that change is the only constant in this new world. We are lifelong learners and constantly curious, and we can't wait to see what comes next. We want to work with others, to learn and share the best way forward; doing our best to make sure that learners have access to education that feeds and fuels their passions, and contributes to a better world for all of us.

UN SDGs: 8 (decent work and economic growth) 17 (partnerships for the goals),

Whatever happens....

NEO Academy is here to support institutions, professionals, colleagues and friends in any way we can. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose say the French, and they might be right. Whatever comes next, one thing remains the same for us at NEO Academy- values, passion, dedication, and a shared vision of a world where we all succeed together.

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