Friday, August 12, 2005

The Da Vinci Formula


Leonardo:The ideas man of all time? Posted by Picasa

There is a big gap between improvement and transformation – between making things more effective and creativity. Ever since the educational transformation that resulted from a toxic mix of market forces, accountability and choice of the late 1980s the Ministry have been forever patching up the model they imposed. They have ‘revised’ NAGS, ‘stock-taked’ their Learning Areas, placed more emphasis on teaching and learning, tried to sort out their NCEA , encouraged schools to work collegially, and now they are now ‘collapsing’ the curriculum. I am not sure what the latter means yet.

Talk about 'spin' – or shifting the deck chairs on the Titanic!

And schools and principals are welcoming all the changes. All a bit ironic since they are thanking the Ministry for saving them from Ministry imposed ideas – and all the ‘new ideas’ are not new at all. All a bit back to the future. Even Learning Competencies’ is only an ugly phrase for ‘learning how to learn’.

What we need are some better ideas. In a Fast Company e-zine a number of creative individuals were asked to say where they thought new ideas came from. I thought it worth sharing some of their ideas as businesses have given up on improvement; they appreciate we are living in a world that requires new thinking!

The Nike designer, Tinker Hatfield, said creativity was a two step process that starts with listening to the needs of a user, like Michael Jordan, and then everyone works together to create a road map to design the shoes.

So what, I wonder, are the needs as expressed by our students?

Dorothy Leonard, Professor of Business at the Harvard Business School, believes there are four ways to encourage creativity : creative organisations expose themselves to a wide range of perspectives and she recommends organizations hire opposites who won’t agree but will spark ideas; organizations need to create diverse teams with different ways of seeing; they need to invite people in from alien cultures; and they need to visit alien cultures themselves.

They certainly don’t wait to be told by last century’s experts! And if primary schools want to visit an alien culture they should visit the local high school and vice versa!

David Kelly, from Ideo Development Palo Alto, believes that ‘enlightened trial and error beats the planning of flawless intellect. 'In other words, we fail faster to succeed sooner.’ He says, ‘it is much easier to bog down in elaborate planning exercises…but this is a prescription for failure. Learn to let go…the more you experiment, the more you learn, and the more you create.’

Pretty hard in our risk averse compliance culture!


Bill Flannagan, an Editorial Director New York, contributed that ‘Hemmingway once said there are no failures of talent, only failures of character People who are consistently creative can face the blank sheet of paper even when they don’t feel like it.’

Laurie Dunnavant, from 3M, could be thinking of a 21stC school when he wrote, ‘You can’t force feed creativity. But you can create an environment that encourages it…..we (cant) urge people to think outside the box without giving them the tools to climb out.’

This is the model that the Ministry ought to creating – building a culture of trust, innovation and creativity. Helping ideas emerge and spread.

Steve McCallion, of ZIBA Design, says you just, ‘can’t be creative just by trying to be creative. You need a deep understanding of the problem you are trying to solve.’


We need to be creative about disengaged students. All we are doing now is tinkering while students fall through the cracks – currently about 15% leave with nothing to show for their time! Schools as they are currently structured cannot solve the problem! You can't get tomorrows students from yesterdays schools.

Suzanne Merritt Senior Creatologist of Insight Out says, ‘There is no creativity without authenticity – a core sense of purpose that drives your creative endeavors’. To make that sense of purpose explicit she suggests four questions: What am I here to create? ; What are my talents, abilities and resources? ; What might I have to let go to create what I want? ; What real need in the world will be met by what I create?

Good question for anyone. She recommends you start with the personal because without intrinsic motivation you will never survive the ups and downs of the creative process. Then, she says, to look at everything with fresh eyes. You will be amazed by what you see.

Just to look at the life a secondary student for a day might develop some amazing ideas!


Clar Evans, of Hallmark, mentioned ‘creativity is the art of bringing intangible ideas to productive life. It requires absolute persistence. It also requires a generosity of spirit to include others in the action’. She thinks of creativity as ‘civilized tenacity.’ ‘You have to defend your ideas, educate colleagues and recruit allies. You also have to be willing to rethink and revise.’

Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi ( Educator) said that Dr Ashley Montagu once wrote that, ‘Your goal in life should be to die young- as late as possible’ Mihayli said that the most creative people he knew live life by that maxim. They are curious, engaged, and innocent as children .They keep asking questions, wrestling with interesting problems, looking at the world with ever changing lens.

They refuse to do anything they don’t want to do. That doesn’t mean they never do unpleasant tasks but they manage to transform those tasks into something that comes closer to their interests.

Many teachers and principals know exactly what he is taking about!

Theresa Brelsford, of the US Patent Office, an unlikely place to find creativity, set about designing an environment where people were free to express their ideas and creativity is exactly what they got. Rather than imposing a top down change programme the Patent Office allowed a number of people to go off two days a week for several months. This allowed people to lose their inhibitions and resulted in a radical design of the patent process.

We need lots of local school trying out new ways to engage the students that concern us so much. Good ideas will emerge!

David Hardy, of the Institute for Learning ( Bank of Montreal), writes that the key to creativity is clarity and suggests that the problem should first be written as question to be posed to those involved, and reminds us that if we don’t knew where we are going any road will get you there.

What are the current problems that face education – the system (or lack it) must be the most important one. How can we create a 21stC education system that develops the creativity and talents of all students and teachers? That would be a questuion to start!

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Great ideas - I hope you sent a copy to the Ministry or the Minister!

Bruce said...

No I didn't - they will be too busy worrying about their immediate survival, with the elections coming up, to think of the future!

Anonymous said...

Interesting thoughts. I think you will agree the worse thing you can do, or what has often been done, is to underestimate the natural ability of children to make sense of their own world. Similary, to underestimate the importance of the role of the teacher when 'allowed' to respond in a creative way to their students.

Bruce said...

I am coming to the conclusion we do more ( even with the best of intentions) harm than good to the learning power of all our students - particularly with this obsession on testing literacy and numeracy. I would put my faith on a group of teachers simply dedicated to creating the conditions to inspire every student to learn what they want to learn, as determined by their talents, interests, passions and natural curiosity. We don't just turn kids off learning we kill their inborn desire to make sense of their world.