It’s interesting how the same painting can look quite different when placed in a different frame.
There are times when we really just aren’t particularly excited about having to meet a particular person (again) or having to try a new experience perhaps.
When we button up our protective vest, cross our arms, and scrunch up our face, the interaction is guaranteed to be non-productive.
But when we open ourselves to the possibility, at least, of a positive experience, we change the frame. You never know what effect this might have.
There was a time, not long ago, when ‘knowing the correct answer’ was the pinnacle of education. Information was stored in encyclopaedias or in your head – and so there was a premium placed on memory recall.
The world has changed. Education is changing.
Our students’ future success will depend less on reciting what they know and more on asking what they don’t know.
Whilst creativity and innovation begin with a foundation of knowledge, their life-source is curiosity. The ability to solve interesting and important problems begins with the skill of asking interesting and important questions.
So it’s critical that educators consider how effectively their students are learning this skill? How often are they practising it? How much lesson time is dedicated to this skill? How is it being assessed and how is feedback being provided on this skill?
All, it would seem, very interesting and important questions.
PS Here is a little sample of interesting questions students are exploring in a school I visited recently:
- Why don’t you do the things you know you should be doing?
- What don’t you know about ________?
- If you weren’t scared, what would you do?
- Is it possible that what you know about _______ is wrong?
- What would happen if we ________?
- Is it possible that there’s another way to ________?
I have a one-year old daughter who is quite playful. She likes to pick up objects and experiment with different ways of using them. She is too young to have any clear purpose underpinning her play. This is tinkering.
I also have a three-year old son who is quite playful. He likes to play with toy cars. He has a favourite purple Hotwheels car that he loves to zoom across the lounge room floor. He enjoys experimenting with different techniques with the clear purpose of trying to maximise the travel distance of the car. In a recent extended play session, he realised that using a ‘backhand’ technique allowed the car to travel straighter and therefore further than a ‘forehand’ technique. Now, he only ever uses the backhand zooming method. This is innovation.
Both tinkering and innovation are sparked by curiosity. But innovation alone, in car zooming or schools, is guided by purpose – by a bigger ‘why’.
Until you have a clear purpose, stop tinkering.
It’s a weird feeling isn’t it, déjà vu. I vividly remember, at the age of about nine, visiting my Nan’s new house for the first time and having an overwhelming sense that I had been there before. Whilst a number of studies are trying to unravel the psychological and neurological mechanism of déjà vu, there is also growing interest in the exact opposite concept.
Stanford University’s Robert Sutton and others refer to ‘vuja de’ as a key to unlocking innovation and creativity. When we engage vuja de, we are able to walk into a very familiar situation and ‘see’ it for the first time. Because we are experiencing an old situation anew, vuja de decouples us from the status quo and therefore wills us to ask, ‘why is it done this way?’.
And this question of ‘why?’ matters because innovation and creativity begin with curiosity. When we idly accept the status quo, we have no desire to challenge established norms, approaches, and behaviours. But when we seek understanding through ‘fresh eyes’, we have no alternative but to be curious.
School systems, social systems, communities, teams, families all have ways of doing things. It’s when we bring an optimistic, hopeful curiosity – a sense of vuja de– that we foster the preconditions necessary to spark innovation. And then, who knows, we may just find a better way of doing things.