The American education system is fundamentally broken.
Authors Tony Wagner and Ted Dintersmith (Most Likely to Succeed, 2015) provide a compelling portrait of the American educational landscape, and it’s not pretty. They argue, rather convincingly, that our educational system was designed in 1893 “to educate large numbers of immigrants and refugees from farms for basic citizenship and for jobs in a growing industrial economy” (25). The system has not undergone any fundamental change in the past 130 years, despite the major shifts to an information economy and now an innovation economy.
In short, we’re still teaching students how to meet standardized expectations (factory-line stuff) and how to perform rote (and repetitive) tasks. And in the midst of this, we have successfully stifled creativity and quenched innovation.
The great irony, of course, is that Wagner and Dintersmith’s blunt analysis will require great creativity and innovation to change the monolithic K-12 and higher education juggernaut. The system is inherently designed to stay stuck.
As I’ve been reading Most Likely to Succeed, it occurs to me that many of us in leadership do the same thing. We design systems that favor stability, predictability, and consistency. We create workplace policies and practices (and even family environments) that help us maintain control and keep all things steady. The cost? The incalculable loss of creativity and innovation.
Our aversion to risk, whether in churches or businesses, makes us resistant to new initiatives and untried pathways. When failure is not permissible, innovation is rarely possible. When we over-commit ourselves financially our risk tolerance diminishes dramatically. In the home, creativity may require both mess and flexibility; more than tired parents can sometimes bear.
The suppression of innovation can only lead us backwards. It makes us fit only for rote tasks. It stymies real growth and progress. It makes us managers, not leaders; responders, not initiators.
One of the well-researched and well-established pillars of transformational leadership is “intellectual stimulation” (creativity and innovation). Scholars and practitioners alike have known for forty years that creativity and innovation lie close to the heart of the strongest leadership. “Business as usual” was a great motto for the industrial age, but it will not suffice in the twenty-first century.
How are you encouraging and releasing creativity and innovation in your children, workplace, church, or favorite organization? List three ways you’ll promote innovation this week, and try it out. But know this, it may take both time and effort to re-ignite the creativity (in both ourselves and others) that has been all but stamped out.