Crossing Boundaries…

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I remember being fascinated by a TV series from the late 1970′s called CONNECTIONS. Created and hosted by science historian James Burke, CONNECTIONS set out to explain how many seemingly small, disconnected historical events may have ended up becoming key factors in the shaping of the world we live in today. Here’s a clip from the first episode:

This show was an eye-opener for me. It was the first time I saw anyone take science, math, religion, geography, the arts, and culture, and weave them together into a seamless historical fabric. It took the disciplines I had been taught as isolated subjects throughout my entire educational career and combined them in a way that was so much greater than the sum of the individual parts. By demonstrating how the progress that took place in each of these seemly discrete disciplines was actually interconnected, Burke brought a context to the fields of knowledge I possessed that made them so much richer. Even more important, CONNECTIONS helped changed my thinking on a topic of critical significance to our future.

How we approach the process of education in our society…

If you think about it, give or take a few outliers, the entire population of the planet will have been completely replaced a century from now. And the one thing that everyone can depend on is that change will be a continuous and accelerating part of that process. It will sweep away old roles and institutions, and introduce new concepts and capabilities that would be difficult for us to extrapolate from what we know today.

In large part, it is the job of our educational systems to empower us with the wisdom, knowledge and tools we will need to operate effectively in this future world we can barely imagine. If you look at the state of education in the world today, it would be fair to say that it is struggling to keep up. While tools and subject matter have certainly changed over the past 100 years, the process and framework at the heart of how we educate has seen little innovation.

I’ve embedded an excellent talk given at a TED Conference a few years ago by Sir Kenneth Robinson – a deep thinker on the nature of creativity. During the presentation, Sir Kenneth focuses in on the shortcomings of our current approach to education – specifically the way it seems to elevate the importance of conformity while devaluing the role of creativity.

There are two great quotes from this presentation that I would like to call specific attention to. The first concerns a willingness to take chances:

What we do know is, if you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original. If you’re not prepared to be wrong. And by the time they get to be adults, most kids have lost that capacity. They have become frightened of being wrong.

The more our world changes, the less we can look to the past for clear answers. Success in the future will be far more dependent on our ability and willingness to creatively apply the knowledge we have to new situations that lack a precedent of action.

The next rather long quote talks specifically to the nature of intelligence and creativity in people:

We know three things about intelligence: One, it’s diverse, we think about the world in all the ways we experience it. We think visually, we think in sound, we think kinesthetically. We think in abstract terms, we think in movement. Secondly, intelligence is dynamic. If you look at the interactions of a human brain, as we heard yesterday from a number of presentations, intelligence is wonderfully interactive. The brain isn’t divided into compartments. In fact, creativity, which I define as the process of having original ideas that have value, more often than not comes about through the interaction of different disciplinary ways of seeing things.

The importance of a multidisciplinary understanding of the world that Sir Kenneth references in this presentation was also the key point made in the CONNECTIONS series. The truly great inventions and discoveries didn’t come from a linear progression of research and reason. They freely crossed the boundaries of academic thought, often forming from the chaotic confluence of passion, creativity, insight, and intellect. They came to be not as a single moment of brilliance, but as a series of smaller breakthroughs that ultimately culminated in something profound and transformational.

This process defined the course of our history.

And it will also define how well we deal with our future…

This entire presentation by Sir Kenneth is both insightful and thought provoking. While I recognize that this video is fairly long, it is well worth watching in it’s entirety.

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