Ten years later and we’re not only still getting education wrong, we’re making it worse.

I originally wrote and posted the following on January 31, 2011 (it was titled, We Are Between Two Worlds). Almost a decade later, I have some further thoughts. But first, have a look at the original post: We are in a deep experience of liminality, of living between two fundamentally different worlds. The first is the … Continue reading “Ten years later and we’re not only still getting education wrong, we’re making it worse.”

I originally wrote and posted the following on January 31, 2011 (it was titled, We Are Between Two Worlds). Almost a decade later, I have some further thoughts. But first, have a look at the original post:

We are in a deep experience of liminality, of living between two fundamentally different worlds. The first is the world ushered in by the Gutenberg printing press and later, and more forcefully, by the Industrial Revolutions (yes, plural; there were two of them). It is a world of control and predictability, specialization and expertise, cause and effect; it is a world focused on Transaction, Content, Efficiency, and Resources.
The other world is the one that is emerging in the confluence of: the interconnection created by digital technologies, the democratization of access to knowledge and information, and the breakdown in a role-based, hierarchical view of work and life. This world is a one of complexity and interdependency, transparency and social capital, breakdown and breakthrough; it is a world focused on Conversation, Context, Effectiveness, and Source. Much more on these concepts in future conversations. For now, consider that:
If you are over the age of about 20, you have been prepared almost exclusively for the first of these worlds. All of your formal education, the vast majority of your work experience (including, most likely, the kind of work experience you are currently getting) is grounded in assumptions about work and life that haven’t been questioned in at least 200 years. You have engaged in a life-long process of being Trained, of internalizing all of the things that you needed to know in order to maximize the potential of your being able to produce predictable, repeatable outcomes. Whether you are an Engineer or a Pilot, a classroom Teacher or a Bartender, an Insurance Salesman or a Marketing Manager, have no doubt, your job is to create predictability and control within your sphere of influence and accountability. The point of all of your Training is to prepare you against the possibility of any type of surprise, any type of outcome that isn’t predictable, isn’t able to be planned for. In fact, the depth and breadth of your training, the level of Expertise we judge you to have, is in direct proportion to the degree to which you can eliminate surprise, eliminate the unplanned outcomes, from your results. This is useful almost beyond measure…in the Industrial Era world; and certainly, it will continue to be useful in the 21st century. However, if you plan to engage in the world of work for much more than the next 5 years or so, your Expertise – your ability to generate predictable results – will no longer be sufficient to succeed, grow and contribute.
In the world that is emerging, preparing against surprise will be a liability; said more directly, being overly Trained will be a liability. The world that’s emerging contains significantly more opportunity for those who are prepared for surprise, for those who are Educated.
Education is distinct from Training in that the end point of Training is to be able to repeat, and perhaps improve upon, what has been said before you. You are trained in Computer Science to the degree to which you can reproduce those processes, analysis, etc. that constitute the discipline. Traditionally, you were successful to the degree to which you could reproduce these things with greater and greater levels of predictability. In contrast, the end point of Education is to be able to create that which only you are capable of creating, to speak the words that only you are capable of speaking. You are educated in Computer Science to the degree to which you can bring something into existence that is an expression of you, something completely unplanned and unpredictable. But you can only do this if you are prepared to be surprised, to abandon the script that Training provides and follow what is calling, even though you have no idea about how it will turn out or even how to move forward.
This is about creating versus manufacturing, engaging in inquiries versus seeking answers, being willing to find your voice versus taking on the voice of Expertise. It is the central consideration with regard to what is currently missing in our understanding of work, education and organization…and it is the bridge that connects the world of the past 500 years to the world that is emerging.
This conversation site is devoted to inquiries and considerations on what it is to be Prepared for Surprise, to be Educated, to engage in the work of Creating in our careers, our organizations and our schools. I hope you’ll share what you see as Conversation is essential to Education.

We Are Between Two Worlds, published on bhattstudios.com blog, 1/31/2011

7 thoughts on “Ten years later and we’re not only still getting education wrong, we’re making it worse.”

  1. As someone lucky enough to be in the creative field, surprise is what we work so hard to achieve. Once in conversation with an organization, we tend to find success in cultivating surprise and guiding our clients through the complex path of interpreting surprise into opportunity. Our biggest struggle is how to engage clients in the earliest explorations of our relationship that has an unknown end and an unknown deliverable. A new set of tools are needed to create the business relationships of the future that can be compensatory based on the value of the unknown and unplanned. There is yet to be demand for the organization that is relevant in the future. That said, the value of pre-cognitive thinking, the space before creation becomes an idea, needs to be established. If we can figure that out, I see a lot of promise for, selfishly, our national social economy and that of the world.

    1. Brent, how are commissioned Artists paid? While I don’t think that we can or should adopt that model, it’s useful to consider ‘business models’ from areas outside business – and in particular from purely creative fields – as we consider what a business relationship might look like for folks who provide the kind of value you and your colleagues do.

      With regard to your last sentence, I couldn’t agree more; I don’t think I’m being too extreme – or terribly original – in saying that innovation is the ONLY path to maintaining our economy. However, what I see is that we need a much more rigorous understanding of innovation. The word itself is very quickly becoming commoditized and, like ‘Leadership’, ‘Strategy’ before it, is losing meaning as everyone looks to jump on to the next great consulting opportunity. In my experience, the vast majority of the conversation around innovation has collapsed into industrial-era emphasis on control and repeatability: the 7 Principles of Innovation, the 12 Steps to Innovation, etc. I.e., formulas for ensuring Innovation, which is as productive as a formula for ensuring Leadership.

  2. This concept of existing in a liminal state, described ala Van Gennep as “not what it was and not what it will become” is so unsettling for most of us. We know the past because we lived it and can find answers in the postmortem. We want a clear picture of the future because that feels like we’ve yet again found answers or at least can shapeshift them into what we want them to be.

    “Answers” are pesky little buggers. They’re that last piece of cake that you think is going to be so satisfying because it looks, smells and tastes like it’s everything you want. Yet an hour and a Rolaids later and you’re existing in a completely different frame of mind.

    Lately I’ve discovered that if I convince myself that something is right — that it’s a definite, a “lock” — then I’ve slid down the slippery slope of investing in the wrong energy channel. But, if I take time to question what’s happening around me and create something that starts a new conversation, connects someone with someone that they can learn from, show kindness where there could have been ill will or anything that is the spark for something interesting to happen then THAT is progress.

    1. One of the recurrent themes/conversations that comes up with clients is the nature of ‘certainty’. Without getting into the whole thing, what your post re-presences for me is the observation that certainty is the boundary beyond which we are no longer willing to think. As a simplistic example: we are all absolutely certain about gravity and how it works; somewhere in elementary school we received an answer for why things fall when we drop them and we were told – and accepted – that this was a solid, concrete fact…and it does not ever occur to us to engage in original thinking about the phenomena. Of course, in this example, not be willing to think beyond this certainty is fairly safe, there are no negative consequences. In the context of the social, economic and interpersonal environment we live in however, certainty is quite problematic.

  3. I once attended a workshop run by photographer/artist/writer/teacher Sean Kernan. It was about creativity and play. He called attention to a societal norm that I hadn’t considered before. It’s how we slowly and consistently inch play away from our kids as they are lined up and marched off to be obedient boys and girls at school and other formalized organizations. In the process, play is stripped and whipped out of us.

    A two-year old plays to play. He doesn’t just learn something through play in a linear do this/that happens type of action. He also creates through play, and doesn’t consider an end. He doesn’t look for a definite answer or confirmation of whether or not the play is right or wrong. We teach kids that play and work don’t mix because we can find certainty in work while play seems frivolous. Yet, I see play as the real mentor to work, not the other way around.

  4. At the SB3 conference Tom Kennedy (ex Wash. Post, Nat Geo.) gave a keynote, in which he said that model of media function was based on scarcity. In other words, only Geo or the post had the resources to get its representatives out into the far world and then get their reports back and distribute them.
    Now the model has shifted to one of abundance, in which hundreds of people with iPhones can get into the fray and send back what only the Post or the AP used to have.
    The big questions that leaves are: what is the quality, what is the digestibility, and how are the distributors supported. It seems to apply across many different reaches…cars, extruded plastic lawn furniture, photos, etc.

  5. Sean, you’re pointing to something really critical in terms of background assumptions we would benefit from examining. The model of the past 500 years has had the production of Content – wether an automobile, a photo or a pizza – as the source of value. What is emergent is that the production of Content is ubiquitous; from photojournalism to violins (http://tinyurl.com/4o2uj5g), the means of production are accessible to everyone. What I can see is that the source of value in the emerging economy/society is the production of Context, the creating of compelling frameworks that infuse Content with Meaning. The issue of ‘digestibility’ is addressed directly by meaningful Context and I think that the ‘distributors’ of the future are not masters in Transacting Content but rather in Facilitating Context.

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