We May Know What We Want to Do, But Do We Know What We Need To Do?

When I was an adjunct professor, one of my students in my Web design class asked me to define “creative,” because they said they weren’t very creative. I didn’t believe that. Everyone is creative.

1984-1985 was my first official year in the classroom, and I gave my 7th grade students an exercise. Each student was presented with a paper clip and asked, “What is this?” Everybody said in unison, “A paper clip.” I said, “You are correct. Now, your assignment for this class is to make something else out of it.” Proof that 7th graders are just dying to exercise the right side of their brain, one student twisted it into the letter of her first name. Another simply straightened it out and said, “I might be able to pick a lock with it” (which demonstrated the mindset of some of my students). Yet another straightened it out and then curled it around his finger, making a spring-like structure, saying it was “a replacement binding for a spiral notebook.”

As for the student in my college course, I shared my definition of creativity with her: The ability to find the connection between two items that seemed to have no connection whatsoever.

Creativity is incredibly important today, since creativity leads to innovation. Just as those 7th graders figured out something to do with a paper clip other than clip papers together, today’s students need to be able perform creative problem solving exercises. Going back to the “basics,” raising scores in math and science and focusing on the left side of the brain may provide some advancement in requirements to manufacturing and process improvement, or development of innovations which have already been created, but cutting programs like music, art and other right-brained activities means that they’ll be hampered from actually coming up with the innovation in the first place.

How important is the “idea?” Consider “Windows.” There once was a young man named Bill Gates who enjoyed computer programming.  Even though Bill Gates purchased, and further developed, the DOS operating system and sold it to IBM, another young man by the name of Steve Jobs took a tour of Xerox to see what they were working on.  From this, Jobs incorporated the Graphical User Interface into the Macintosh computer, and invited Bill Gates to see it.  Gates took the idea and ran with it, creating what became known as the Windows operating system, allowing multiple programs to run simultaneously.

Ideas come from the connections you make, and, interestingly, not in the places you expect them to be found.  Peter Hutton is the Head of School at Beaver Country Day School in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, and authored this article several years ago regarding where innovators get new ideas. http://bcdschool.org/2011/09/where-do-innovative-organizations-get-new-ideas/

What does this mean for schools?  They may not necessarily be the place where innovative ideas for education will come from. Peter Hutton contends in another blog posting that what’s required of all students today in order for them to succeed in the workplace they’ll enter is the ability to write code. Indeed, he was on to something, since schools across the country are now teaching children to write code.  But there are differences that should be noted, especially as we prepare students for the future they’ll be entering.

Firstly, the classroom isn’t usually the place that code is written.  It’s usually done in a cubicle.  If you work for Google, however, and write code for a living, your work environment is completely opposite of  that of the classroom.

Secondly, In the 6 years I’ve had my iPhone, I’ve come up with ideas for several apps that are not available on the market in the form that I would like to see. For instance, it took me several weeks of research just to find an app that would take a photo of receipts so that I could track amounts spent on different credit cards for the month. I didn’t need a full-blown accounting software package, or an expense report tool. I finally found it…and yes, I was willing to pay $3.99 for it. There isn’t only a market for the complex – there is a market for simplicity too.

It also proves what Peter Hutton may be trying to say, which is, “We really don’t know what we need to do.” It reminds me of the phrase that I heard when I was in the automobile industry in the early 1990’s: “I don’t know what I’m looking for, but I’ll know it when I see it.”

May I be so bold as to offer a system of five statements that support this interesting dichotomy:

1) People don’t know they need a product or service until an innovator creates it. Witness the iPhone and the iPad. These are items that no one had experienced prior to their invention and introduction to the marketplace. It’s hard to believe that the iPhone made its debut in 2007, and the iPad came along only 3 years ago in 2010. The most important person in the process of innovation is not the creator, but the first adopter.

2) Today’s students don’t know what a career is. They’re looking at ways to generate revenue, and aren’t afraid of nor opposed to moving into completely different business verticals to earn what they believe they need.  “Company loyalty” is an outdated concept, especially when they see people that have given their lives to a company to be downsized just a few years before they’re eligible for retirement.

3) If we can’t imagine the future, we are lost, for as Scripture says, “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18). We need to set the vision, not solve the problem. Remember, there are no problems…only opportunities. Unfortunately, our schools math classes pride themselves on problem solving.  Knowing that STEM focuses on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, the “artistic” is missing from the acronym.  Witness the first microcomputer.  It had no keyboard, it had no monitor.  It was a rectangular box with lights and switches.  Only those computer hobbyists knew what to do with it.

4) A liberal arts education does not prepare students for today’s jobs. It does, however, prepare students’ minds to be able to develop creative connections that lead to innovations.

5) A liberal arts education promotes the “4 C’s” of 21st Century Skills Education, namely Creativity, Critical Thinking, Communication and Collaboration.  I really like this article – http://blog.entrepreneurthearts.com/2010/05/06/the-four-cs-of-21st-century-education/ – about the 4 C’s, but I’m sure you’ll see why education is important after a quick glance at it.  Remember, there are 4 C’s, and a great guide to them can be found at www.nea.org/assets/docs/A-Guide-to-Four-Cs.pdf.

Interestingly, in a text by Scott McKain titled “Create Distinction: What To Do When ‘Great’ Isn’t Good Enough To Grow Your Business,” he also offers his 4 C’s of Distinction, with distinction referring to how to stand out in the marketplace:  Clarity, Creativity, Communication, and Customer-Experience Focus.  I believe that the 4 C’s as they pertain to the 21st Century Skills are of importance to the work that goes on in the classroom, but McKain’s 4 C’s also pertain to your school’s advancement efforts.  If they are not afforded equal importance as you move forward, then your school may be destined for an even more difficult road ahead than you’ve experienced during the previous decade.

© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2012-2017