Imagination, Creativity and Innovation

By Wayne Rawcliffe on 2014-03-23

I have been reading Sir. Ken Robinson's book on the skills of the future and why our current approach to education is not sufficient. In fact, our current model of education was designed to serve the needs of people coming from the countryside into the cities to work in factories. It makes sense when you think about factory work, that is looking for consistency, conformity and fairly rudimentary skills. You do not want factory workers with too much education. Too much education results in people asking questions about what they are doing, how it can be done differently. Factory work, for the most part is linear. That is why we have been putting children into rows and telling them to be quiet. And, remember, math is not English and English is not social studies and social studies is not science and science is not art.

However, if the future skills are imagination, creativity and innovation, then linear thinking, isolated topics and conformity will not work. We are facing unique problems that are complex and serious. The thinking that has brought us there will not provide the solutions we need. Imagination is the ability to picture in our minds things that do not yet exist. If I asked you to think about pink elephants in a tutu, you could. Not that such a thing would be desirable, but that we have the ability to imagine things that do not exist. We have the ability to imagine great changes in what we do and how we do it. 

Creativity is the ability to put things into being. We do not consider someone has been creative if they have not done anything. I have been writing a book in my mind for many years. Great imagination, but not so creative. At least not as long as it stays in my head.

Finally, innovation is about applied creatively to positive improvements in what we do or how we do. These improvements may be brand new innovations or improvements to existing things. If you have been near a photocopier recently, you know what I mean. The repair person shows up, unannounced because the machine emailed in that it needed servicing. That is an innovative improvement on the old photocopiers. But the iphone, that is new. It is not an improvement on an earlier technology. It has spurred a whole range of innovations and started the APPS movement.

But, where do imagination, creatively and innovation fit into our school system of education. I am including university here. If you say to your parents, oh, I know what I want to be...I want to be a musician, dancer, artist etc. You can hear the response. But that is not practical. There are no jobs for artists. AND no one wonders about a degree in science or math. How many mathematician or scientist jobs are there? oh, you mean APPLIED sciences.

Robinson talks about a discussion at a university over promotions. Once lecturer's name was put forward and declined by the committee for promotion. Evidently, he had only published three papers in the last few years. However, he had written two  novels (one award winning), two plays (one award winning and the other on in London) and poetry. He was a literature professor. He was supposed to be publishing 'about' literature, not 'doing' literature. He only had credibility when he published about 'other' authors. His contribution to the body of human literature what not counted as important in academia. Not this is funny since scientists spend their time in the lab 'doing' science. Mathematicians spend their time 'doing' math. But the arts? Literature? Fine arts? dance? No. It does not count. It does not count to be a dancer. As a professor, you must publish 'about' dance which means other people.

One more comment. There is a split in the curriculum between the arts and 'important' subjects: math, sciences, and social studies. If there is a need to cut programs due to funding, it is never the math program. It is never the science program. It is always the dance or art program. But the future demands that people have imaginative, creative and innovative abilities. these come from a blend of the left and right brain approaches to solving complex problems and finding unique solutions. Anyone who has a background in music, understands the connection to math. Anyone who has a background in art, knows the connection to science. Anyone in science knows the connection to imagination. Anyone in dance knows the connection between physics, physiology and creativity

It is time we demand a change in how we are educated. Not the topics, but the methods. This calls for a transformational change in how we learn and what we learn.  

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