ever-more demanding, preassigned academic hoops.
Instead of developing a passion for one subject,
they're rewarded for becoming professional students,
getting great grades across all subjects,
regardless of their intrinsic interests."
Conservative columnist, David Brooks, makes some points which are spot-on about the confusion between competition and capitalism and relates them to education in the post, The Creative Monopoly. He begins with a quick back-story of Peter Thiel, founder of PayPal and early investor of Facebook, leading to this opening:
One of his core points is that we tend to confuse capitalism with competition.
We tend to think that whoever competes best comes out ahead.
In the race to be more competitive, we sometimes confuse what is hard
with what is valuable.
The intensity of competition becomes a proxy for value.
Thiel is also teaching a course at the Stanford Computer Science School:
His lecture points to a provocative possibility: that the competitive spirit capitalism engenders can sometimes inhibit the creativity it requires.
Brooks lays the groundwork describing the roots of creativity:
Then comes one of the money quotes:Think about the traits that creative people possess. Creative people don't follow the crowds; they seek out the blank spots on the map. Creative people wander through faraway and forgotten traditions and then integrate marginal perspectives back to the mainstream. Instead of being fastest around the tracks everybody knows, creative people move adaptively through wildernesses nobody knows.
Now think about the competitive environment that confronts the most fortunate people today and how it undermines those mind-sets.
The school and education connection is brilliantly laid out here. Parents and students will relate to the insanity we have created in schools all in the name of rigor, while killing other essentials along the way, as a part of the "game" of school:
First, students have to jump through ever-more demanding, preassigned academic hoops. Instead of developing a passion for one subject, they're rewarded for becoming professional students, getting great grades across all subjects, regardless of their intrinsic interests. Instead of wandering across strange domains, they have to prudentially apportion their time, making productive use of each hour.
Then they move into a ranking system in which the most competitive college, program and employment opportunity is deemed to be the best. There is a status funnel pointing to the most competitive colleges and banks and companies, regardless of their appropriateness.
Then they move into businesses in which the main point is to beat the competition, in which the competitive juices take control and gradually obliterate other goals. I see this in politics all the time. Candidates enter politics wanting to be authentic and change things. But once the candidates enter the campaign, they stop focusing on how to be change-agents. They and their staff spend all their time focusing on beating the other guy. They hone the skills of one-upsmanship. They get engulfed in a tit-for-tat competition to win the news cycle. Instead of being new and authentic, they become artificial mirror opposites of their opponents. Instead of providing the value voters want - change - they become canned tacticians, hoping to eke out a slight win over the other side.
Competition has trumped value-creation. In this and other ways, the competitive arena undermines innovation.
(Note: For those who regularly read my posts, you will know I am not against competition in its right place. However, learning is not a sport; much has to do with the right kind of motivation.)
He then lays out the skills of competitiveness - rigor, discipline, and reliability - as if they were mutually exclusive from the skills needed to be innovative (aka monopolist). I think not, even though they may manifest and appear differently. I don't think Thomas Edison or Steve Jobs lacked rigor, discipline, or reliability but it just wasn't your professorial Ph.D version. Creativity and innovation are not synonymous with random throwing paint on the wall. As abstract artist Jean-Michel Basquiat once said, "Believe it or not. I can actually draw."
Unfortunately, another disappointment by Brooks in this potentially full-power piece were the "traits of monopolists," which were simplistically reduced to three abstract, light-weight sounding skills (especially when compared to those he connected to competition!) that were elegantly referred to earlier in the piece: alertness, independence and the ability to reclaim forgotten traditions. It's as if he ran out of steam in the end which is too bad because he really was on a roll.
David, check out these skills that are inextricably connected to creativity and innovation.
And, what about doing the right thing?
Related The Daily Riff:
The oil spill: Is our education system creating a culture promoting every-person-for-himself?
Charlie Rose: The Creative Brain
Are We Creating Innovators? 22 Insights - C.J. Westerberg reviews Tony Wagner's new book
Is Learning a Sport?
Do Schools Kill Creativity? A new conversation with Sir Ken Robinson
And the beat goes on Cheating scandal