Saturday, May 23, 2009

Moving into the "Conceptual Age" where "data will be less important than creativity"

I've voiced my concern on many occasions regarding my fear that our schools are training a generation of students who are adept at taking standardized tests and following the status quo instead of thinking creatively and critically.

One question I continue to ask educators is why are we still using a system of educating our children that was developed to train industrial workers in the early 1900s? Especially since most of our industry has moved on.

Author and speaker Daniel Pink says that we've moved through the information age and are now in what he calls the "conceptual age." In this age it's creativity and the "ability to move smoothly between boundaries" that will pay off for our students.

I came across this Boston Globe article by Penelope Trunk and have excerpted a part of it below:

"We are entering a new age in economic history, and it will elevate those who are nimble and creative. When we moved from industrial economy to the information economy, jobs became more interesting; coal miners were unemployed, tech support centers hired like mad, and secretaries became small-time database operators. Now we're in the early stages of the "conceptual age" in which data will be less important than creativity, and jobs will be more fulfilling.

Daniel Pink presents this one-minute economic history in his book, "A Whole New Mind: Moving from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age." He says, "Key abilities will not be high tech but high touch," and we will value the ability to make meaning and connections in a world where information is a commodity.

According to Pink, the people who will do best in this economy are those who don't just take and give orders but also move smoothly between boundaries, like the technical guru who understands marketing or the accountant who speaks four languages. "But," Pink warns, "you cannot get a move-smoothly-between-boundaries aptitude test, so a lot of this is about self-discovery."

Here are some traits you need to develop to do well in the conceptual age:

  1. Empathy. Think emotional intelligence on steroids. The most empathetic people have the ability to see an issue from many different perspectives. And work that can be done without infused empathy begs to be outsourced.
  2. Aesthetic eye. Pink says, "Design sense has become a form of business literacy like learning to use Microsoft Excel. Smart business people should start reading design magazines."
  3. Ability to negotiate and navigate. The conceptual age will be filled with possibilities that point to no single truth. Pink says, "People must learn to do something that is not routine, that doesn't have a right answer."

Bottom line: You'll have to be creative to stay employed. But really, who doesn't want to be creative? It's inherently more rewarding to be creative than to be an information drone.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, professor of psychology at the University of Chicago and author of "Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention," says that, "Being creative is a way in which life becomes richer."

"But if you want to be creative you must learn to do something well. You need to learn a set of skills, and then, once you feel comfortable you can ask yourself how you can make it better."

Those with no patience for climbing traditional corporate ladders, pay heed: Innovation without a basic knowledge in that area is not creativity but dilettantism. Not that dabbling in topics you know nothing about isn't fun, but that lifestyle will not create the kind of value that keeps your job this side of the ocean. To find what you love to do, Csikszentmihalyi recommends exploration.

"A richer life is one in which you have access to different aspects of the world." Sure, you need to find your talents to figure out where you will put your creative energy."

One of the statements that really resonates with me is valuing the ability to "make meaning and connections in a world where information is a commodity." If this is the case, and I believe it is, then why aren't our schools spending more time helping students make meaning and connections in the learning process. Why are so many of our classes filled with long lectures, recall activities, and worksheets copied from mass produced workbooks that basically amount to busy work?

The answer is clear. We must change our teaching methods to include higher order thinking skills and tailor our lessons to the individual's learning styles while touching on all of the multiple intelligences. Integrating the arts is one way to achieve this goal, to energize our classrooms, and to engage our students. The time is now...it's actually past now.

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