I recently gave a speech that makes the case for Progressive Education teaching the right kind of creativity skills that startup entrepreneurs need. Take a look at the case and let me know what you think.
The Power of Progressive Education: Can Creative Thinking be Taught?
Bruce Nussbaum. 1/10/14
City & Country
Some years back, IBM did one of its annual global CEO surveys. It asked 1500 chief executives around the world what was the single most important leadership ability. The majority answered “CREATIVITY.” They didn’t say “Strategy,” or “Operations” or “Marketing.” They said “CREATIVITY.”
I was running the editorial page at Business Week at the time and I was absolutely stunned. Never before had creativity been seen as so central to generating economic value by so many leaders of big global businesses. So, being a good business journalist, I asked three questions:
First, why now? Why were a lot of middle aged white guys trained in B-Schools in the analytics of efficiency and problem-solving suddenly interested in CREATIVITY, which they usually associate with art, fashion, music, interior design, films and writing?
Second, what the heck is creativity anyhow?
And third, where do you go to get more creativity? How do you actually learn to increase your creative capacity?
In fact, how do you even measure creativity?
The answer to why is creativity is so hot in business today is VUCA. We live in an unusual historical moment of constant, cascading change. We live in a VUCA moment—a time of VOLATILITY, UNCERTAINTY, COMPLEXITY AND AMBIGUITY. VUCA.
We had a VUCA moment at the turn of the 19th century and we’re in one today. Most of historical time is spent slowly adjusting to one or two big technological or social changes over a period of many decades.
But when you have huge technological, demographic, social and global changes happening all at once, the problems are ever-changing and the solutions are OPEN-ENDED. Indeed, the most important problem-solving capability is learning to identify the right problem and then selecting the best of many possible answers.
As we will see today, that is precisely what PROGRESSIVE EDUCATION does. In fact, the blocks associated with progressive education are called OPEN-ENDED MATERIALS. Startup entrepreneurialism, of course, is also about open-ended challenges and solutions. The twin streams of entrepreneurialism and progressive education are merging. It is no accident that
Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and Google’s Larry Page and Sergei Brin went to progressive education schools where they were taught to be creative.
So what is creativity anyhow? I recently wrote a book called Creative Intelligence, CQ—as in IQ, EQ and now CQ In it, I define creativity as simply the making of the new that has value. Often, that originality has ECONOMIC VALUE. In stable times, making the same thing more efficiently squeezes out economic value. In VUCA times, making the new can generate huge economic value. Just look at the stock market valuations of Apple, Facebook and Twitter.
Let me tell you what Creativity is not. Creativity is not rare. It is not about individual genius. And it is not about brain waves. Creative skills and values and can be taught and we can ALL learn them. Creativity is mostly social—we do it in dyads, triads and teams—even as we often connect the dots alone taking that shower, running or spacing out over coffee. Above all, Creativity is about knowing what is meaningful in culture and harnessing technology to amplify that meaning.
So where do we go to get more of this creativity? Well, I teach graduate and college students how to boost their creativity right here at New School. We do Personal Creativity Mapping, Design Narratives and deep readings of Tanazaki and Cziksimahli. Around the block, City & Country, as we shall see, is coaching children to be more creative. What goes on in C&C classrooms is similar to what happens in the best high-tech labs or the smartest startups or on the hottest business development teams. They are all MAGIC CIRCLES OF CREATIVITY.
For example, the era of wearable technology was born not with Google Glass on the West Coast but here in New York, in Chelsea, at RG/A which developed Nike Plus in a creative process that mirrors what happens at City & Country.
Whether it is MIT, Stanford, Parsons or City & Country, learning 4 or 5 key creativity skills will boost your CQ, your Creative Intelligence.
Let me offer my version of these creative skills. The first is Knowledge Mining. In a world of VUCA, the most important thing in business — in life — is knowing what is meaningful to people. Not just their NEEDS but what Frank Knight, Chicago School economist, calls “higher order wants.”
You can Mine for these higher order wants two ways. First, through immersion—those 10,000 hours of study that makes you expert, but, more importantly, shows you the deep patterns. Once you get the patterns, you can see the new, create the new.
I am a birder. I am trained to look for the odd duck. It’s not an anomaly, not unusual. I’ve put in my 10,000 hours in the field and always look for what is NOT there. When I saw a Black Swan in Singapore, I was not surprised. I mined the patterns.
The other way to mine for meaning is mining OURSELVES—what we embody as a generation, a gender, a region, a religious group. Look at the young entrepreneurs who have given us Facebook, Google, Airbnb (founded by a RISD grad, BTW). Why are they successful? They mined what is meaningful to their generation— the values, technology, and aspirations of their friends.
How do you get ZipCar? Connect the dots of wanting a cheap ride, a value system of sharing, not owning, and new online technology. Very simple. Instagram? Connect the dots of a value system of sharing to new technologies of easy image taking and posting online. Spotify? Match.com? The same. Mining what we ourselves embody as a group.
A second creative skill and perhaps the most important is Framing and Reframing. We frame our narratives—the story of our lives—in different ways to different people. And we frame our social engagements—how we relate to people—differently in different social mediums. Knowing this—you can reframe and change and generate the new. To my 95-year old mother, medicine is about disease and cures, with the doctor at the center. To me, medicine is about wellbeing and maximizing my abilities to do what I want. I am at the center of my health care. Very different frames.
A third creative skill is Play. Play is serious. Entrepreneurs, scientists, jazz musicians, stand-up comedians—all MESS AROUND. They use the processes of Play to generate the new. And what is that process of Play? You follow a game, with rules and constraints, doing it with people you trust. You succeed or fail in any number of ways—it is OPEN ENDED. You try and try again—you iterate. Serious Play is a 21st Century creative competence.
So is Making, my fourth creative skill. Thanks to new low-cost social systems like Kickstarter, technologies like 3-D printing, and networks like Etsy and Amazon, each of us can be makers not only of things but of global businesses as well. The cost of being creative in America is plummeting.
The final creative skill is Scaling. Taking creativity and scaling it to actual creation of things and services is the heart of generating economic value. The skills of Scaling are different from the skills of Creativity—but to me, they are essential to the process. I call the people who scale Wanderers but they are really CURATORS—the General Managers, the coaches, the teachers, the angel investors, the gallery owners, the bloggers—the people who decide what is truly creative for their circle. Steve Jobs, Peggy Guggenheim, Mrs. Hewlett and Packard, Fred Wilson, Mark Pinney—all great curators of creativity.
Now let me show you a clip from City & Country that shows nearly all these Creative Skills in action in the classroom. For those of you in the audience who haven’t been over to look at what happens inside a Progressive Education classroom, this will blow you away. ROLL VIDEO—CLICK.
So what have we seen? We see children learning by doing, not memorizing. We see them mining for meaning, framing and reframing, PLAYING and MAKING. The store is real at City & Country. The kids really run it.
Let me end with question I am frequently asked — Isn’t it impossible really to measure creativity. Well, really, you can. Many of the best companies, the best schools, the best sports programs and the worst TV reality shows assess creativity all the time and pretty much in the same way. They do it through Portfolio, Performance and Expert Juries.
I call it the Julliard School methodology.
The smartest companies and the most cutting-edge startups don’t care if you went to Harvard, Stanford or Yale. They want to see what you can do and how you do it. They want to see your portfolio of projects first. And then they want you to actually perform in front of them—to work a challenge with others in real time. The outcome is open-ended and the result doesn’t matter. They want to see how you play.
And they judges? Research shows that an expert jury in the specific field does a great job of identifying excellence and exceptionalism. Whether its Dancing with Stars, the Olympics, or Google, you can assess creativity—but first you must value it.
Let me now get my friend and mentor Tucker Veimeister up here…