My grandmother owned a mountain. Well, maybe not the entire mountain, but in the middle of Ohio, it is about the closest thing to a mountain as there is. And near the top of it, my grandfather built a huge farmhouse. He built it in two stages, and we called the pieces the old house and the new house. Even I did, and I had never known the house without both halves.
The house sat on the side of this mountain so that on one side it was one story and on the other side it was two. It provided for a beautiful deck overseeing acres and acres of forest. And below the deck was a walkout basement and courtyard. If you wanted to, you could climb up underneath the deck and see where the earth met the house. And I wanted to, all of the time.
I would dig up the arrowheads that laid buried in the soil where the house was set into the mountain. It was the coolest, dirtiest place a boy could find in the summers that we used to go up and visit my grandmother. I knew that with each handful of dirt that I sent down the hill, I was unearthing something that no other person had ever seen before. What I didn’t realize is that I was also weakening the foundation and eating away at the supports as well.
You could make the case that I did no damage and that all of my arrowhead hunting was simply not enough to make the house slide off of the mountain and into the ravine below. But, I would say that given the chance and enough summers, I would have dug that house right out of its home.
It is the same kind of digging that I seem to be doing now, with the same level of curiosity. I seem to be digging underneath stable houses in the hopes of finding my own treasure. I am digging underneath traditional education to see just how far the supports can hold. I am finding lots of trinkets and experiences in online learning. I seem to be making up stories of just how things could be in the same ways that I made up the stories for the rocks and roots I found underneath that old house. I am digging underneath technology just to see if it is worth anything. I am digging underneath business to find the most creative ways of solving my problems. I receive shade and a wonderful work environment from all of the things that technology and business have afforded me, but at the same time, I am actively trying to undermine the very thing that is giving me shelter.
And the people that live in the houses I dig under have no idea that this is happening. They seem to go along with their lives oblivious to the fact that it isn’t just me digging anymore. There are hundreds of thousands of people who would like to see the foundation be undermined. And not all for the same reason.
Some people are digging away at traditional schools because they aren’t working for their kids. Some people are interested in scooping out large pockets of earth in business because of the rejections they have faced in trying to break into a biased corporate culture. Still others are hacking away at the earth in front of them, trying to bring down the technology houses that seem to only provide a sterilized version of ownership and creation of content.
From MakerBots to Lean Startups to Charter Schools, we are all digging away at the house up above. And it may well crush us if and when it falls. And yet, we continue to dig, despite the danger. We continue to dig because we know that the stories of digging and the chance for finding a truly amazing artifact are more than worth it. We believe that what we learn in the shadows of a big house, getting our hands dirty and figuring out what is really holding the structure up is a much better education and experience than sitting up on the porch and admiring the view.
And if we survive the dig, we may go away from that mountain and start to build a house of our own. We may construct a sturdier and better house, with reinforcements on the foundation and a more hidden earthy exterior. But others will find a way to dig at our edges too. They will be just as curious as we were to see what really is really holding the structure up. They may want to know just what we covered up in our rush to build. And we will deserve it every bit as much as the folks that we are digging at now.
Because all houses on the side of a mountain have a cool underbelly. They are all playgrounds for curious people. And it is only those with the will to attack something as big as a house with nothing but their own fingernails that will succeed. It may take many summers to get anywhere close, but eventually we will start to expose everything. And that is a good thing.