If it is ‘location, location, location’ for estate agents, I believe it is ‘education, education, education’ where survival and advancement of humanity in the 21stcentury and beyond are concerned. As Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” I would think that there is not much doubt that change, at the systems level, is urgently needed. How else are we to address the challenges we are facing? While so many get excited about the progress and advancement in technology, where digitalisation and AI are the celebrated heroes, not enough consideration is given what these changes in the wider context mean, including for education. While some progress has undoubtably been made in bringing education into the 21st century, it is equally undoubtedly too slow and far too isolated to establish a mindset that is capable of embracing the challenges and complexities of the 21st century. Hence my wish for 2018: eduction for everyone everywhere that is appropriate and suitable to enable current and future generations to deal with the challenges and opportunities for the 21stcentury.
Back in October 2010 Sir Ken Robinson illustrated the shortcomings of our current education system in a humorous and poignant way. He pointed out that while our education system was entirely appropriate and adequate for the context of the 19th and 20th century, being aligned with the mindsets and requirements of the industrial age, it is entirely unsuitable for the 21st century. Indeed, I have shared my niggles with the education systems before, both education for our children (Is this what we want for our children Part 1 ; Part 2; Part 3:), and for upcoming executives as well as posted education-focused interviews on the ILF’s Wisdom page (Innovation in executive education and Innovation in education).
But what might education suitable for the 21st century look like, you may ask, and why am I writing about this in the context of innovation?
Let me start with the latter.
If innovation was a ‘nicety’ in the 20th century, it has become a ‘bear’ necessity in the 21st. How else are we going to address the problems and challenges we are facing? How else will be able to embrace opportunities? Surely, no one of sound mind will still use the popular argument that ‘we keep doing what we are doing as it has served us well in the past’. Such argumentation is ridiculous in the face of the ever faster rate of change, disappearing industry boundaries, and escalating environmental and social problems. Even those who were saying, ‘don’t rock the boat’ will have noticed that all boats have sprung some leaks, many are sinking. Hence what we needed is innovation, and lots of it – and not incremental but radical and disruptive innovation, and not any radical and disruptive innovation but the kind that leads us towards sustainability.
If this is what we need, we need to enable people to deliver this, which in turn means it needs to become part of our education.
The need to make innovation skills integral part of education has been recognised. Indeed, there are more and more examples of schools who seek different ways to educate. The story highlights of a CNN report from September 2017 read, “A new wave of schools are growing, many backed by tech executives. Project-based learning shifts the focus from grades to creative thinking.”
However, a 2016 report by the OECD titled “Innovating Education and Educating for Innovation” bemoans that “Despite the huge potential of digitalisation for fostering and enhancing learning, the impact of digital technologies on education itself has been shallow. Massive investments in ICT (Information and Communication Technology) in schools have not yet resulted in the hoped for transformation of educational practices.” While they acknowledge that “At the same time education can also foster innovation in society at large by developing the right skills to nurture it.” and continue, “These skills, including critical thinking, creativity and imagination, can be fostered through appropriate teaching, and practices such as entrepreneurship education.” the report does not offer much insight on what it means to educate for innovation! When I am talking about educating for innovation, creativity and imagination I am not asking for an improvement of digital technologies, nor the introducing of coding, how ever important this might be. This is nowhere near enough.
Innovation, and educating for it, is one of the 21st centuries ‘bear necessities’, and there are two more. Given the fast paced change, many of the things we were able to do consecutively we now need to do concurrently; it is not for nothing that approaches such as ‘agile’ and ‘scrum’, both originating in software development, have taken off like rockets.
If ‘concurrency’ is the second ‘bear necessity’, collaboration is the third. Disappearing (industry) boundaries, complexity with its interconnectedness and unpredictable interactions, and the nature of the challenges we face – no one individual, organisation, country can solve them on their own – make collaboration an absolute must. This is something that was acknowledged in the PISA 2017 report noted, “It takes collaboration across communities to develop better skills for better lives.”
If you follow my argument, then any education, be it for children or executives, needs to enable its recipient to engage in and with innovation and collaboration. I guess the latent awareness of the importance of both innovation and collaboration as well as concurrency is why design thinking is another approach that has taken the business world – and beyond – by storm. As IDEO co-founder David Kelley said, “Design Thinking isn’t just a method, it fundamentally changes the fabric of your organisation and your business.”
Here two key challenges for embedding innovation (and collaboration) skills into standard education:
The first is that we are not quite sure what it means to educate for innovation. While we have made great strides to educate entrepreneurs and have entrepreneur centres at many universities, educating innovators seems to be lagging behind. Do we really know how to teach for innovation, and collaboration? To quote from a paper that will be presented at the DRS conference in Limerick, Ireland in June this year, “Norway prides itself upon being an innovative and forward-thinking society. As such, the concept of innovation has been given great importance in Norwegian public schools. …. However, it remains unclear to both teachers and to the public school institution how to actually teach creativity or develop innovative skills in students.”
From their 2013 report “What’s stopping us? Barriers to creativity and innovation in schooling across Europe” by Shakuntala Banaji, Sue Cranmer and Carlo Perrotta (0riginally published in: Thomas, Kerry and Chan, Janet, (eds.) Handbook of Research on Creativity; Edward Elgar Publishing, 2013) report that, “The barriers to successful teacher innovation and creative classroom learning practices identified by our experts fall into varying categories in terms of who should and can address them. Long term and entrenched barriers arising from political and economic structures – lack of funding, poor pay for teachers, functionalist summative testing, teacher or school target regimes, orthodox transmission methods of learning, analogue uses of digital technologies and far more – are, however, somehow easier to think about dismantling and moving beyond than those which reside in philosophical or ideological mindsets. Such mind sets are to be found, for instance, in the belief that teachers are simply not able to innovate without digital technologies or that creativity is something which is only of concern to an elite minority of extremely talented students. They are also, of course, ideologically responsible for sustaining the worst practices in the former list of systemic barriers – notably the insistence on assessment of students as individuals for distinct, uninteractive, rote learning or reproducible knowledge-based tasks.”
Not surprisingly, innovation faces the challenges of any innovation that goes beyond the incremental…
The second challenge I see, somehow connected to the first, is that most of the topics and skills taught today, certainly at the primary and secondary education levels, can be conveyed theoretically, via textbooks and traditional classroom teaching and lectures. Innovation and collaboration on the other hand are best ‘learned’ and understood trough experiencing; by doing it rather than talking about it. I believe it was IDEO’s Tim Brown who once said, “Designers draw to think, whereas most other people think to draw.” The following is most certainly a quote by Tim: “I argued that exploring the world with our hands, testing out ideas by building them, role playing, and countless other activities are all natural characteristics of children at play. By the time we enter the adult world, however, we have lost most of these precious talents. The first place this begins to happen is at school. The focus on analytical and convergent thinking in education is so dominant that most students leave school with the belief either that creativity is unimportant or that it is the privilege of a few talented oddballs.”
I generally believe that there much can be learned from the education of designers – I have quoted David Kelley before when he pointed out that design thinking is not just a method. So good news is, that he is offering an online course on the basics, developed in collaboration between IDEO and Stanford. ‘Designing a future’, a report by the British Design Council, which includes an overview of skills used for design, some statistics on the value of design, and figures on the spending of design skills, might also be of interest here.
What it comes down to is that the challenge, at its very heart, is primarily a mindset issue, and only secondarily a skills issue. Progress on this font is hampered by the currently dominant world view:
- believing that we can use the past as predictor of the future rather than accepting that the future is emergent,
- believing that developments are predictable and linear rather than unpredictable and complex
- believing that we can take everything apart, analyse it and put it back together again without affecting the whole
- believing that there is right and wrong rather than understanding that for almost everything there are only shades of grey
- believing that there is one right way, rather than accepting that what is most appropriate will depend on context and time.
The mindset change that is required feels to me to be as big as the shift from believing that the sun revolves around the earth, to realising that the earth moves around the sun. It is a shift that lets go of the Cartesian worldview to a worldview of quantum mechanics.
As usual, I am not alone with my view that a mindset change is required. John Elkington’s opens his recently published report titled, “Is it time to retune our mindsets?” with the following, “A mindset is a damn fine thing, humming away in the back of each of our brains, channeling realities, dialling up certain wavelengths — and tuning out frequencies that could drown us in background noise. But equally, poorly tuned mindsets can endanger our grip on reality, overwhelming our senses with static. Once in place, mindsets are hard to reboot in any one individual, although normal service can be disrupted by stress, breakdowns or drugs. But every so often — as when our TVs shifted from analog to digital broadcasting — it is our collective mindset that needs retuning.”
Part of the retuning process is to determine how much of what we believe is actual fact, and how much is indeed just that, a belief, a culturally engrained assumption. If you are wondering what I am talking about have a look at the videos by Adam Connover who is ruining “everyday myths” on YouTube, for example why we believe that diamond engagement rings are so important. Perhaps you may also recall the example from the last mailout of the association of blue with boys and pink with girls? Not that long ago it was the other way around.
Despite Oscar Wilde’s view that “Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing worth knowing can be taught”, I believe that education is a critical factor in re-tuning the collective mindset. What might some key aspects of educating for a 21st century mind and skillset look like? After all, not good complaining about things without suggesting improvements!
Mindset for the 21st century
Openness & flexibility – as publisher Malcolm Forbes said, “Education’s purpose is to replace an empty mind with an open one”.
Resilience – which does not mean that one is not affected by change, it means to have the ability to recover quickly. or, as Andrew Zolli, former Fellow of the National Geographic Society put it, “Resilience is the capacity of a system, enterprise, or person to maintain its core purpose and integrity in the face of dramatically changed circumstances”.
Acceptance of connectedness – as Albert Einstein said, “A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”
Compassion – for self and other. As the Dalai Lama said, “When educating the minds of our youth, we must not forget to educate their hearts”.
Skillset for the 21st century
Interpersonal & collaboration skills – this includes an appreciation of, and ability to collaborate across, diversity. While most of us have a preference for surrounding ourselves with like-minded people, real value, in the context of innovation and beyond, comes from engaging with those who are different from us.
Critical thinking & questioning skills – this includes an ability and willingness to challenge the status quo as well as be challenged. Once we let go of the belief that there is one right answer we will feel much less threatened by the proposal of something new…
Synthesising & sense making skills – this includes an ability to assess information sources on and offline. While it takes us seconds to gather pages and pages of information on any topic, how to figure out which ones credible and trustworthy?
Systems & integrative thinking skill – which includes an ability to identify key aspects of systems. Too often we are playing games of whack‑a‑mole, fixing the symptoms without ever identifying the underlying causes, hence never reaching a sustainable and lasting solution.
Self-management skills – this involves an ability and willingness to take responsibility for one’s own actions, and beyond. After all, the only thing that we can control are our own actions and reactions.
Perhaps all of the above can also be summarised as follows: “All you need, whether in life or innovation, is an open heart and an open mind.”
Gosh, it has , again, become quite a long blog! And there are still a few more things I’d like to share:
- Some interesting Tools in the context developed by members of our community;
- Examples of programs and courses I believe lead the way;
- Books, from within the community and beyond;
- A couple of opportunities to get involved.
PS Did I ever mentioned that I do workshops, seminars and lectures around all of this stuff!