There’s no script

Continuing yesterday’s thread, it’s important that we teach young people how to ask the right questions and instill confidence to answer those questions. (Confidence is gained through continually encountering problems and then solving those problems.)

If you have time, scroll to the 9:53 mark in the following video:

Many people see themselves as “puzzle builders.” They need the pieces given to them in order to produce. But what if a piece or two is missing?

The above video posits that we must all be “quilt makers” to be truly innovative. We must leverage the materials that are readily available to be successful.

There’s no script. The future is not laid out neatly before us. To be successful in 2014 and beyond, students must be taught to answer questions without all the resources on a silver platter.

Creativity in education

I can’t think of a better way to help students solve 21st century problems than to give them tools that foster creativity. A 1:1 device is great, but it’s not the end in and of itself. It’s a means to an end, and the “end” includes–but is not limited to–learning, problem solving, and reaching higher levels of thinking.

If you haven’t seen the following video, I highly recommend it:

Sir Ken Robinson is right on. We are born with creativity. My four and three-year-old children draw, pretend, sculpt, decorate, (play) cook, ask questions–and then ask more questions–all the time. Creativity fosters better learning, but it’s also helpful for living a happy life. My children are most happy when they play. I’m most happy at play.

Creativity is critical to our existence in many different ways.

Lifelong learning

Recently I’ve been using the internet to learn about Google Apps for Education in order to pass at least five tests to become a “Google Educator.” (Fortunately, I just passed the fifth test!)

I’ve spent the last two months studying, and one of the biggest takeaways upon reflection is how important it is to cultivate within young students a willingness to learn on their own.

With so much information at our fingertips, developing new skills has never been easier. Young people must understand that learning never stops. Too many programs are being created–and changed–on a continual basis, making it impossible to exit college and never participate in another lecture, tutorial, how-to book, etc.

Learning is not always easy. Sometimes it’s very difficult, so the educational system must instill a willingness to keep learning so students will never cease their intellectual and skill set growth.

How is this done?

That’s the trillion dollar question. The best place to start is to teach content the students find relevant–even enjoyable. Give them tools that foster creativity. Allow them to publish their work to a wider audience than just the teacher or classroom. Make learning 24/7. These are essentials for today’s young generation.

You need to read to write

In order to write, you’ve got to read. Reading is essential for acquiring new thoughts and perspectives. It widens your vocabulary and helps you find your voice as a writer–especially if you’re diving into books by great writers.

The words dry up in my mind when I’m not reading. This is because books are the spring from which all my creative juices flow. It’s interesting how when I read non-fiction, I blog about non-fiction stuff. When I read fiction, I write flash fiction entries and work on novels. I can push myself in different creative directions by reading various books. They’re like oars, so to speak.

Unfortunately, reading many times takes a back seat to everything else going on in life. In order to be creative, it’s important to remember that reading is part of the creative process. Taking time to open a book is like taking time to type at the computer.

The beginning of the project

Ed Catmull writes about what he calls “ugly babies.” These are projects that start out really rough and get more refined and polished with time; think of an ugly baby who grows into a charming youth and then graceful adult.

Catmull says most Pixar movies follow this pattern. You wouldn’t want to see the early sketches and stories because they’re so bad. Movies like Finding Nemo and Toy Story 2 emerge out of a lot of work and a ton of iteration–they don’t begin with the same resonance the finished products embody.

This is very important to remember when starting a project. It’s OK if things begin ugly. You have to start somewhere. Great work emerges after additions, modifications, and a lot of collaboration.

Creativity, Inc.

Last night I began reading Creativity, Inc: Overcoming Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration. It’s written by Ed Catmull, who’s the current president of Walt Disney Studios and Pixar Animation Studios. I’m only a quarter of the way through, but I must say the book is thoroughly enjoyable.

Creativity, Inc. is quotable on almost every page. Here’s an excerpt close to the beginning:

What makes Pixar special is that we acknowledge we will always have problems, many of them hidden from our view; that we work hard to uncover these problems, even if doing so means making ourselves uncomfortable; and that, when we come across a problem, we marshall all of our energies to solve it.

This is so true; problems always lie just over the horizon, and it’s up to leaders to identify these problems (hopefully before they’re too big) and do everything possible to solve them.

Here’s another gem about making movies:

If we made something that we wanted to see, other would want to see it, too.

I totally equate this to education–specifically lesson planning. If I create a lesson plan that I’d like to learn as a student, then my plans are usually successful. If I put a lesson plan together that I know I wouldn’t enjoy participating in as a student… well, it’s probably not going to turn out very well.

I also like Catmull’s humility, which is evident throughout the book:

I believe the best managers acknowledge and make room for what they do not know–not just because humility is a virtue but because until one adopts that mindset, the most striking breakthroughs cannot occur.

That’s powerful. Too often we fool ourselves into thinking we know all we need to know, when the reality is there’s always something new we can learn that will help others or ourselves.

There are so many other excerpts I could include, but I’ll end by saying that I highly encourage you to read this book. Catmull is a great leader, and if nothing else, the success of Pixar and even Disney’s recent endeavors prove it.

A business against regular business?

Sensory overload is real. With a smart phone in our hands, it’s difficult to distance ourselves from the constant bombardment to read, watch, listen, and consume.

This makes starting a business tricky. It’s true that right now there are more platforms to market products than ever before. Social media, when used by a savvy businessperson, can reap a huge following and profit. (No book does a better job of illuminating this claim than Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook.)

But there are many components necessary to help the signal cut through the noise. A great product and intelligent accounting are no brainers. But what about being funny? Getting consumers to enjoy the product and like the people who make it?  Maybe even, at times, giving the product away for free?

Cards Against Humanity is a game that’s not for the faint of heart. Imagine an R-rated Apples to Apples, and you’ve got the concept. That might not be your cup of tea, but what’s interesting is this article by Christine Lagorio-Chafkin. She does a good job illuminating the Cards Against Humanity founders’ business philosophy. Money quote:

I called Temkin, the 26-year-old Chicago-based game designer and graphic artist who’s something of a ringleader for his co-creators of Cards, to ask if what he and his friends have created is merely an extraordinarily profitable hobby. He tells me the company behind Cards is indeed incorporated and that the company recently obtained a business address–a sort of small-scale co-working-space Temkin manages. (Temkin also takes graphic-design freelance gigs and designs other games.) But as a company, Cards Against Humanity isn’t trying to emulate corporations.

“To me a ‘company’ seems to be something with cost-benefit analysis, and that tries to make a profit at every turn,” he says. “Our main priority is to be funny–and to have people like us.”

The article is fun to read in its entirety. The game creators definitely run a unique business. I love this excerpt from the article:

On Black Friday this past year, Cards ran something of an anti-sale, pricing the box at $30, with a note, “Today only! Cards Against Humanity products are $5 more. Consume!”

Counterintuitive, and it worked. More orders were placed on 2013’s Black Friday than the year before.

The tools are out there to create a business, market products, and communicate with consumers. But successful people need creativity–now more than ever.