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Idealog's Most Creative: Crimson Education's Jamie Beaton talks creativity

Jamie Beaton was one of the People's Choice winners for the education category in Idealog and Accenture's Most Creative People. You don’t create a company valued at $220 million in your early 20s unless you have something special, and the mile a minute whizzkid Beaton has done that with Crimson Education, which helps students from around the world get into top US universities. Here, he talks why some creative passions shouldn't be a full-time gig, resilience and how to tell a good idea from a bad one.

What does creativity mean to you?

Creativity means having the courage to visualise a concept or idea in a way no one has before and then having the conviction to share it with somebody else.

What do you think it is about your nature/habits/interests that makes you creative?

I am obsessed with learning and finding the intersection of different concepts. I have noticed that many great technologies or ideas from industries or fields could be widely applied elsewhere but aren’t, and strive to find these new applications. This forces you to think dynamically about how a technology or approach could be used.

What first drew you to your chosen field?

I wanted to help students break down information barriers and seize the best education and career opportunities the world has to offer.  That’s why, once graduating from high school, I founded Crimson Education with Sharndre Kushor back in 2013. Now, with an online network of over 2000 tutors and mentors, Crimson students have gained offers to every Ivy League, Oxbridge as well as MIT, Stanford and more.

What was your upbringing like, and how do you think that led you to where you are today?

I grew up in a three-generational family with my grandparents and parents all living with me. My dad is Chinese and my mum is European. My mum was my biggest cheerleader and supporter and worked closely with me in my younger years to inspire me academically, teaching me concepts and learning things alongside me. At the same time, she was running a company she had started. She inspired me to appreciate the transformative impact education can have on your life and also the grit and tenacity required to build a great enterprise.

Where do your best ideas come from?

There are good ideas and bad ideas. There are consensus ideas and non-consensus ideas. The best ideas are good ideas that are non-consensus - i.e. everyone else thinks they are stupid. These are the ideas that create game-changing impact. If I knew where all my best ideas came from, we would also have Crimson on Mars by now! Most of my best ideas come fairly serendipitously to me.  

What does inspiration look like for you?

I am inspired by those that are driven not by any extrinsic metric of success but by visualizing the impact they themselves think they can have on the world and constantly challenging themselves to beat it.

Is there an ethos/motto you abide by in your work?

Be the best me that I can be.” Fundamentally, I subscribe to the ethos that education is the most powerful weapon to change the world and the most effective way to drive self-improvement.

If there were a secret to success, what would it be?

Work harder and smarter than the other guy. If we work twice as hard as you, and 30 percent smarter than you, in 10 years our organization will be more than 10,000 times bigger than yours.

What were some of the challenges that you faced early on? What went wrong? Any regrets?

Looking back at my time in high school, I see now that I didn’t really understand what leadership was.  I have since recognised that and I’ve worked on adapting my style. It’s a case of constant of personal development for me.

Do you work a lot? Do you have an obsessive part to your personality?

You have to work a lot if you want to be successful - and you have to stay focused.  I think a healthy amount of obsessiveness is an inevitable part of that. But of course, there needs to be a balance.

What’s the secret to resilience?

The secret to resilience is a true comfort with yourself and a level of self-awareness that makes you proud of who you are and excited to be in your own skin.

Creativity means having the courage to visualise a concept or idea in a way no one has before and then having the conviction to share it with somebody else.

What have been some of the highlights of your career?

Over the last two admissions rounds, our students have secured 90 offers to Ivy League universities and 26 offers to Oxford and Cambridge. Crimson students around the world have also secured over $30M in financial aid and scholarships to study at top-ranked universities. I loved speaking at the United Nations recently on how you can combat poverty using education technology.

Academic highlights for me have included graduating from Harvard University magna cum laude with a double-degree in Applied Mathematics-Economics and Applied Math last year, two years ahead of schedule.  Most recently, I’ve just been awarded a Rhodes Scholarship to study at the University of Oxford in 2018.

What do you think New Zealand is like for creativity? Is there something about ‘Kiwiness’ that helps or hinders?

You have to ignore the “tall poppy syndrome”. I do think many Kiwis are modest by nature and have an inherent ingenuity.  It’s important to remind people they can dream big and reimagine what’s possible.  You can make an impact on the global stage, beyond NZ borders. All of New Zealand’s great success stories in recent years like RocketLab and Xero sought international funding, staff and markets very early on in their journey.

What would be the advice you’d give someone who wants to turn their creative passion into a full-time gig?

Many creative passions shouldn't be a full-time gig. Don’t be irresponsible. Your creative passion needs to also align with a clear need in the community. Wait patiently until turning your creative passion into what you do is an obvious decision not a challenging one.

What have been the biggest lessons you’ve learned?

I’ve learned that students need to realise that their education trajectory is incredibly meaningful for their career and future. The earlier you start to set clear goals and objectives, and realize that academic success is crucially important for most of the world’s careers (and becoming more and more so with fields like artificial intelligence rapidly growing), the more you will be set up to thrive. Our world is becoming more and more competitive. Don’t tell yourself it will all be okay - it is those that work the hardest, with the best strategy, and who embrace the most learning that consistently do the best.

Where to next? Do you have a goal you’re working towards?

At Crimson Education, we are continuing our exciting international push by expanding into large student communities in places such as Brazil and Africa, while also continuing to both refine and revamp our services as we help students get into universities. I am also looking forward to pursuing studies at Oxford on the Rhodes scholarship shortly - this has been a goal of mine for many years and I’m very excited to do it!

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