Complexity and Creativity

Something Herold Jarche wrote yesterday  made me think I needed to continue on from my last blog:

Today’s digitally connected workplace demands a completely new set of skills. Our increasing interconnectedness is illuminating the complexity of our work environments. More connections create more possibilities, as well as more potential problems.

On the negative side, we are seeing that simple work keeps getting automated, like automatic bank machines. Complicated work, for which standardized processes can be developed, usually gets outsourced to the lowest cost of labor.

On the positive side, complex work can provide unique business advantages and creative work can help to identify new business opportunities.

However, complex work is difficult to copy and creative work constantly changes.

Our current enormous educational systems, from K-12 through to HE, are designed to deal with large numbers of learners, and conformity is a core principle. The business of gathering learners together, organising them, teaching them, testing them, and then classifying them is a mammoth task, and the system is designed to do just that. And, hats off to the system, it does a pretty good job of it with minimal resources and maximal output. However, this is where the rub lies: the teaching them part. What do we teach them, and how well is that job done.

The focus in K-12 is a C19 curriculum that is based on a factory/church model. Bring them together, have them memorise, and send them out with all the same skills and all the same knowledge. In HE, the institution has a reversed basis with church coming before factory, but similar otherwise. In HE, we try to provide them with an understanding of an area that provides an illusion of expertise, and a basis for specialism.

In the past, the HE foundation provided enough specialised skills that the workplace was willing to pay a higher dividend for their labour, which put a premium on a degree. As HE scaled up to meet the demand for this premium, the church/factory model of education has become prevalent. As the amount of information available has exploded, the definition of a foundational understanding has expanded, and memorisation has become the fundamental requirement for a degree.

Our current educational system is excellent at preparing people for simple, automated tasks, and complex tasks that can be standardised. there is little room for creativity amongst all the information that needs to be memorised, and reducing complexity so it can be compartmentalised for memorisation is the job of HE lecturers. As a result, graduates of our institutions are not prepared for the real needs of todays workplace, and the degree premium is loosing its shine.

There are those who emerge from the system and figure it out, there always have been. But, what we need is a system that prepares individuals to meet the real challenges of todays world, not feed the commercial/industrial complex of yesterday.


3 thoughts on “Complexity and Creativity

  1. Hi, love your blog. Very thoughtful and erudite. I am a sociologist of learning and teaching currently working in India (Dean of Academic Excellence and Innovation) in a large rural engineering college. Your piece on teacher cognition (Jan. 2012 i think) really hit the nail on the head, and expresses clearly the difficulties experienced by academic developers (a position I held at various Australian universities till recently but mostly with little job satisfaction). Keep up the good work.


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