The advances in technology that are creating this exponential change in our world are staggering, from how we communicate, do business, manage our health, education and our leisure. Now is not a good time to be afraid of change – in fact, if you thrive on change then this is the most exciting time in the history of the world. In order for businesses to stay relevant and for individuals to grow and develop quickly enough to ride the change train, we need to throw away the shackles of convention, to unlock the path to creativity and innovation and embrace them with genuine enthusiasm.
How school kills creativity
I watched a fantastic, funny and very informative TED Talk recently by Sir Ken Robinson (2006). The premise of the TED Talk format is that an individual has an idea (hopefully of substance) worth sharing and they do this though their presentation. Sir Ken Robinson’s idea, as I interpreted, was that current global education systems are killing creativity in children. Controversial? Yes, since this challenges hundreds of years of seemingly proven tradition.
Over the course of the week of TED Talks, when Sir Ken spoke in 2006, one of the many realisations was that given the rate of change we are experiencing now, no one could predict what the world would look like in 6 years let alone 60 or 70 years’ time. He then points out that the children of today will be working right through this century into the 2060s, 70s and 80s. We can only hope they’re not subjected to flared jeans, leotards, legwarmers and permed hair as my generation was. Sir Ken said that the world education systems are steeped in the traditions established in the dim dark beginnings of formal education and that these were based on what was required to get and be successful in work at the time. A good educational diet should consist of reading, writing and mathematics.
Readin’ and ‘ritin’ and ‘rithmetic,
Taught to the tune of a hick’ry stick (Cobb & Edwards, 1907)
And a good dose of discipline.
Is there Life on Mars? – there soon will be
In fairness, I think we could accept that the current system with its focal subjects have stood the test of time until now. However, with the rate of change in technology, the sky, which used to be a worthy goal to aspire to, is no longer the limit. Heck, they are really planning to send a fleet of pioneers to Mars in the next couple of decades. We are now fast becoming limited only by our imagination and our creativity, and in a very small way by the universe beyond our planet. In years to come they will laugh at us for laughing at those who thought the world was flat – our ignorance is equivalent. It’s not enough anymore to just be right, we need to risk being wrong.
“…if you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original…” Sir Ken Robinson
Just one more successful failure
There wasn’t much I enjoyed about school when it came to the learning aspects. The staple subjects didn’t grab me at all, Maths, English and Science. My English exercise book had almost as much red pen in it as blue and frankly my teacher’s commentary was of no more value than mine. I already knew I was a disruption that was running late and could try harder, no educational revelations there. I still have the exercise book today. It’s a monument to wasted time and missed opportunity.
When I retrace my sloppy footsteps, I find the signs I left the education rails in about 5th grade in primary school when I was first formally identified as a distraction to other class members. I am not suggesting I was the worst student by any means. My older brothers had already blazed that trail before me, leaving little to gloriously conquer. But I was less than inspired, even in the subjects that I know now to be those where I most naturally had talent and aptitude. And no, I have to admit, you wouldn’t assess me as gifted, unless of course you were my mother (fathers are more realistic), but I had much more ability than ever surfaced whilst at school. I was plain bored. The way in which the information was presented didn’t mean anything to me at all.
Horses for courses – You a galloper, or steeple chaser? Whichever, it’s the same race?
Sir Ken describes how different people learn and this is of course critical in adults and children alike. We now have a much better understanding of the differences in how genders learn and under what conditions, and we also appreciate that some people are suited to same-sex schools and some to co-educational. By way of example, Sir Ken describes a young girl who was identified as a problem in class in the 1930’s and who was lucky enough to have a practitioner identify her as having a propensity toward music. In fact, he identified her as a dancer. Dame Gillian Lynne was soon after enrolled in a dance school, went on to have a career in the Royal Ballet Company, and later as a choreographer whose successes include Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats and The Phantom of the Opera. As he said, another Doctor may have diagnosed her differently and provided medication and methods to calm her down. Sir Ken tells us that conventional education points children away from creativity.
“I think math is very important, but so is dance. Children dance all the time if they’re allowed to…
…as children grow up, we start to educate them progressively from the waist up. And then we focus on their heads. And slightly to one side” Sir Ken Robinson
What does this all mean in the work place?
To me, it means we need to put a lot of effort into how we recognise and enable creativity. I thought I might like to put a bean bag near my desk where I could sit occasionally and read or just think, but imagine the comments I would get. There’s Peter, he’s obviously got nothing to do. He’s a bit whacky and so on. You might say, “a bean bag, what difference does that make to creativity?” And I might agree. It’s not the bean bag that matters, it’s simply a symbol, it’s the freedom to do something different that is important, how big or little that may be. It’s the courage to make mistakes. When we are children we are not afraid of mistakes. Sir Ken suggests of children, if they don’t know, they are not afraid to give it a go. But as adults, we are taught that getting it right first go is the best result, so we learn to fear failure.
Crack open the company culture and convention
Company culture and office behaviours are usually pretty well defined, whether consciously or subconsciously and are a reflection of the collective mindset of all of the employees. You might go as far as to say, this defined culture imposes a degree of convention upon us all, whatever your corporate convention may be. The very essence of creativity is to do something different. This basically means you are challenging the norm. You are therefore creating risk and that makes people feel vulnerable. In a work environment, a manager’s role is often to reduce or control risk, so when they get the vulnerability trigger, they’ll do whatever they can to bump the carriage back on the rails. This is when creativity is stifled and opportunity is missed. It is creativity that is defining the way forward and it is creativity that is determining how we respond to the way forward in this rapidly changing landscape.
Gotta go, I’m off to buy a beanbag. Will let you know how I go.
What do you do in your workplace to empower creativity? How do you ensure that the should-have-been dancer with enormous potential doesn’t become a casualty of normalising?