Just before the Christmas break, the 2019 Peterson Fellows stood before a room of 158 successful entrepreneurs to tell the story of their “Next Great Adventure” in life. This marked the end of their time at Acton, and was a declaration of the direction they would take in the months that followed. Completing a program ranked by Princeton Review as having “the most competitive students” in America (seven years running), and presenting to this caliber of audience, are noteworthy demonstrations of courage and perseverance. The true power of these graduates however, resided in the meaning of their stories. They were stories of individuals who knew they could create the position or business that would match their unique ability and perspective. They were stories of individuals who knew they could effectively adapt and act to achieve their goals. Regardless of where they landed, they could (and would) make it and themselves better. The 2019 graduates knew how to learn and improve.
We often only pay attention to people at the peak of their success. We know Brett Favre as one of the greatest quarterbacks in football history, able to make plays out of nothing, and perform through any tragedy or injury. We know William Buckley and Christopher Hitchens as prolific writers and cutting debaters, able to produce near-perfect 1000-word pieces in under thirty-minutes. We see domain-leaders as having unmatched gifts and machine-level productivity. What’s not clear is how they got there.
Our default is to resort to explanations of nature versus nurture.
Consider the story of nature: Brett Favre as a baby gunslinger, launching Cheerios at his mother from across the kitchen with deadly accuracy. Belief in the nature story can afford a person knowledge of their strengths and wants. Mere talent however, will not make a person effective or efficient in reaching larger, more complex goals. Reliance on pure will alone leads to a life of many false starts and wasted energy, doing work that does not produce progress.
Now consider the story of nurture: Hitchens and Buckley learning their acerbic wit and vicious turns of phrase from the stellar institutions they attended. Belief in the nurture story encourages a person to go places that have records of producing these successes. It suggests they memorize the factual details correlated with success. Unfortunately, the world is far too complex, and human memory is far too limited to store all the variations. By the time students graduate, they have forgotten most of what they learned, and are left with a resounding uncertainty of what to do next.
Nature and nurture, navigation by pure will and fact, showcase and describe what is. They don’t help a person transform their world into something better. The Peterson Fellowship at the Acton School of Business solves this problem. Founded by an engineer, Acton approaches the purpose of education as the delivery of a process, rather than facts. It’s the difference between an athlete spending their time working out, breaking down hours of game tape, and scrimmaging at full speed, versus memorizing and running through the plays. One equips the athlete to be an individual that can adapt, the other creates a machine that is reliant on the relevance of the known plays. Acton focuses on developing student resilience, judgment, and discipline — qualities needed not only to be a successful entrepreneur, but a free individual.
From the content of the courses to their delivery, this process-over-theory philosophy is evident in every element of the program. Students at Acton learn from proven entrepreneurs, using real-world, hands-on problems, simulations, and case-studies. Acton also constantly evaluates this course material: cutting, updating, and re-working timelines based on student-rated utility and relevance. Their goal? To deliver the best version of the program, in the shortest time, at the lowest cost.
Taking on the responsibility of your future and success is hard. Hitchens once said that you cannot simply want to be a writer — it must be the thing you have to do — the thing without which you cannot live, or else you will not be able to survive all the rejections. With 100-hour work weeks, and constant intentional confrontation with uncertainty, Acton is not for the faint of heart. It requires commitment. In return, Acton offers the knowledge of how to make a difference; how to build an environment where you will thrive; how to control and target your drive to produce things that are not only beneficial to you, but to those around you. That is power. That is independence. That is freedom that will last.