How to turn educational system from “bottleneck” to innovation driver

How to turn educational system from “bottleneck” to innovation driver
By various estimates, the information volume is doubled every year or two. Technologies are moving the world at an unprecedented pace. It’s easy for a person to get lost in this stream.
How to preserve creative thinking and create something new in the field, where everything seems to have been already created? American author, business advisor and researcher Garry Jacobs is studying these issues for many years. He is currently holding the position of Chief Executive Officer of the World Academy of Art & Science — non-governmental organization that unites authors, scientists and community leaders. Among its members are science fiction writer Arthur Clarke, Nobel Prize winner in chemistry Frederick Sanger, former Director General of UNESCO Federico Zaragoza, and several more hundreds of public figures.

How to preserve creative thinking and create something new in the field, where everything seems to have been already created?

Innovation House met Garry Jacobs at Kyiv International Economic Forum and questioned him how the person shall survive in a new world supersaturated with information.
Garry Jacobs and Victoria Vlasenko

Garry Jacobs and Victoria Vlasenko

– You’re researching how social and psychological growth of individuals affects country, global or any other community. And I’m interested in technologies. So, I want to ask you: do technologies change our mentality?

– The technology is the result of changing mentality. It’s not the technology that created us, we created it. So it’s we who have become more and more innovative and more and more creative. And now, of course, the technology helps us to become more so. It’s our instrument, it’s our tool. Because now we can communicate and we have an access to information that we didn’t have. But I always like to emphasize that it’s the human being that does the creation.

The key to creativity and innovation is education

The technology can either help us be creative, or it can prevent us from being creative in the same way. It depends on us. What I think: the key to creativity and innovation is education. Human beings have the whole hierarchy of capacities, education is in the whole hierarchy of levels. And I think you easily understand that the most of the education we have today is not to make us creative.

– Yes, they teach us to follow rules, to learn “the right” answer…

– You understand the problem then. Most of this is to make us efficient, which is the opposite of creativity. Most of this is to get us to conform, to follow a rule — not to create a new rule, not to think out of the box. And that’s my message here in Ukraine. Because you’ve got a lot of highly educated people, enough science and technology, but what you really need is innovation. That’s why I’m really happy to see your project, Innovation House. Innovation is great, that’s what Ukraine needs.

Innovation is great, that’s what Ukraine needs

And that requires the different type of education, it’s not about pouring more and more information. When we pour more and more information, we become brain dead. And unfortunately this happens. I’ve just came from Southern Korea, where the kids study 18 hours a day. And you know what the biggest problem is? They have a lot of Chinese students, who study 20 hours a day.

– I’ve just read an article about journalist from Japan, who died at work. She overworked 159 hours a month.

– Yes, I know this story. That’s not creativity, that’s reducing a person to a slave animal. And in educational system everywhere we put so much emphasis on information, not on understanding. Information is only a tool.

– Now you can find it in Google, if you need it…

– Exactly! Now it’s all in the cell phone. Our educational system is based on a model which started in 1088 in the University of Bologna. If you want to teach the next generation, how do you do it, if there are almost no books? Because books, the printing press, were invented 400 years later. The only way you can communicate is to gather everybody together and let somebody, who knows, who has memorized it or at least has the book and can read it, to read this book for them. And to tell something else he knows. He cannot even share the book with everybody, because books were so rare.

– It sounds kind of funny…

– It’s really funny, that we’re still doing it in that way. We had books, newspapers, and telegraph, and telephone, TV, and then internet, but we still have the same model.

We still have the same educational model

And that was ok for the certain basic level of information. But we have a second problem now. Information is multiplying so quickly the amount of information. So, if you decide to be educated, you have to know all the information.

– But it’s impossible.

– It’s impossible. So what will we do? We specialize. We divide things up into smaller and smaller pieces, and we have experts in all the pieces. And the more we are experts in the pieces, the more we ignorant about the whole.

– It’s like you know everything about physics of solid materials, but don’t know where the Africa is?

– It’s even more than that. I’ll give you an example, which is much worse than that. I met a senior economist from one leading university a few month ago. And he introduced himself as a labor economist. I said: “Oh, you’re interesting in labor. I’ve done a lot of research on unemployment”, and ask him a question. And he said: “No, I’m labor economist, employment is not mine”. So, it’s not a difference between the physicist and the geographer. Within physics (there are 50 disciplines), within economics, the financial economist doesn’t understand marketing. The marketing doesn’t understand production. We’re more and more and more fragmented. That’s where our problems come from.

– So what should we do?

– To let them integrate. And that means that instead of trying to memorize everything we have to let people know: memorization can be a good basis. Even understanding is not enough. What I mean by that: I studies psychology, because I wanted to understand myself, to understand people, which is really complex thing. So I took a course of personality theory. Finally I meant to understand human personality, but what I found out — no. Because this course means “I get to know, what other people have understood, what famous psychologists have understood about people. So I memorized all the theories, I can get 100% on all this tests, and I still don’t understand myself. Because it’s an abstraction. It makes me think about what is to be a person, I simply memorize the theory instead of memorizing the fact. That’s what our education does.

I simply memorize the theory instead of memorizing the fact. That’s what our education does

If you read in a dictionary, what the thinking is, you’ll find it is “the process of understanding”. And what is the process of understanding? It’s “the thing we do by thinking”. But from my point of view, thinking is taking two or more things, facts, people, whatever and relay them to each other, trying to understand how they integrate.

So we’re talking about how do we involve up to scale from memorization, understanding, analytic thinking, synthetic thinking to integrative thinking.

– Can you, please, give me some examples, how does this integrative thinking works, how it’s connected with creativity?

– If you go after this discussion and read what great scientists said about the creativity, people like Einstein… They clearly said: creativity, whether it’s in science or any other field, is not the process of analysis. It’s the process of seeing the relationships, which doesn’t exists yet or was not ever seen by any others. And it often happens when people stop thinking. It happens by intuition. All the famous scientists were talking about intuition, not the mystics. That’s what the great scientific discoveries are.

Newton developed three laws of motion, and we take it for granted. We just understand what he told us. But at that time people thought that the object that is standing still inert and an object that moving quick rapidly – are two different rule laws, two completely unconnected things. Newton said that it’s the same principle. Here the resistance to movement is greater than the force applied to the object and therefore it’s standing still. When the force is greater than the inertial movement, the object is moving. Another example is Maxwell, who discovered that electricity and magnetism are related to each other and cause each other. Each of us, in common sense we know the electricity, because if you touch the wire will you get a shot. But magnetism — it’s something totally different. We don’t feel anything when we touch the magnet, we can’t see it, it doesn’t create sparks. But, Maxwell discovered a relationship, which was unapparent to us. Einstein did it between mass and energy. Scientists up to that times thought that mass it totally different and energy is totally different. Now everyone knows that E=mc2, that’s child’s play.

– So all these people saw the relationships, which were unapparent to others.

– Yes, and that’s creativity. It can be in business as well. When Steve Jobs invented the iPod, it was not a technological breakthrough — in some sense it was, but that was not a real genius of it. Because up until they were making microelectronics, music players and everything. So he said “No, I already make computers. And now we have the internet. So I’m, going to take computer, internet and small music player, that is so small, that they could even have no “on” and “off” button.” And when he connected all these things, he connected person to the whole world and to the whole market of music.

When Steve Jobs invented the iPod, it was not a technological breakthrough — in some sense it was, but that was not a real genius of it

The same we can say about computers. Jobs and his partner Steve Wozniak, who recently were here in Ukraine, they took the idea of keyboard from the typewriter, the screen from TV, and connected them through the microprocessors.

– In speaking of Steve Wozniak, what do you think, why he didn’t create anything outstanding but computer? This often happens with many creators. They create something genius, and then stop.

– Wozniak created computer working with Steve Jobs in particular point in time and space. They happened to be growing up as hobbyists in the place which later became called Silicon Valley. They were doing it as a hobby and they were thinking out of the box. When you go into a company they teach you to think analytically and systematically. And it becomes more difficult to see those relationships. Because you can do something and not know how you did it. It’s a general rule. Not every great athlete is a good coach. The good coach may not be a great athlete, but the good coach knows something, that the athlete doesn’t know. He has to understand what the athlete does in order to help other people doing it.

– In a general sense, there is a small group of people, creating innovations. The other group of people, slightly bigger, is early adopters — they are pioneers in using these innovations. And there is also a group of people, who are trying to stay away from the innovations. Because they don’t understand this “new world” and changes are difficult for them. And this is where the barrier appears. Someone may not use social networks, but this cuts down opportunities to find good job, if compared to people, who use LinkedIn, for instance.

So my question is, what shall we do, or what shall the governments do, to help these people to survive in “new technological world”?

– You are talking about people in the middle of their carriers, in the older years…

– Not just older. It happens to young people as well, especially in provinces.

– That’s a problem. But we cannot help these people unless they want to. They are a product of the educational system, which put a value on getting a particular competency of skill. Technology is going to keep changes even faster. Whatever you learn now won’t be relevant in 3-5 years from now. So what we really should be teaching is not a particular thing. We should really be teaching people how to learn and to get confidence in themselves to learn anything and enjoy the process of learning. The whole system has to be flipped over.

The whole educational system has to be flipped over

It’s difficult, but I’ll tell you one example. May be it’s a strategy what would work with some people. I went to a company as a consultant 25 years ago. They had one employee, who was the middle manager, and was in the company for 30 years, and came to a certain high level. And he was demoralizing everybody around him. He refuses this, refuses that, and spreading this content everywhere. The CEO of the company within UK changed, and the new CEO was brought in. The “old” CEO said to the “new” one: “I’m very sorry, but I’m leaving you with one problem — this man”. That was the time, when business was introducing the new computer systems. You should have start computerizing things, but no one knew how to do that. So, they have to send somebody to retrain him to become the expert for this computer system. And the CEO chose this person. When that man came back with the new skill, he became the cheer-leader, champion for changing the company. Because instead of feeling to be threatened by everything what was going around him, and every change that comes for so many years it was there, he was now the instrument for change. And having completely reversed from the bottom from the biggest problem he became the biggest asset.

So I think it’s a question if people are giving the competence, they think they can’t do it. The real answer is how we change the system so not to continue this problem.

The real answer is how we change educational system so not to continue this problem

The next generation — this is the real opportunity to develop a new approach to education, which is continuing even after the process of formal education.

– But you should find a lot of people, who are interested in those changes. Because if you’re a product of this old system, you will defend your old way of thinking and prevent introduction of changes, which will make you feel uncomfortable. In Ukraine we see such examples everywhere.

– In our organization we’re talking about culture changes. This society has already gone through the huge culture change since 20 years ago. It’s not easy to make that change, but it’s possible both for individual and society. Now you’re asking all the right questions, and that means a lot.

The permanent solution is to give this set of skills to youth, when they coming up, and then we will grow much faster with fewer problems.

– We, people, created technologies to make our lives better. Technologies were supposed to free us from daily routine and working up to 20 hours a day. But instead of this we got into rush and work even more. Why it happens this way?

– Because the whole economic system is disconnected from its purpose. Purpose of the economic system is human welfare, human well-being, not money for its own sake. We’re creating enough wealth for the world, but enough the stupid being, and the pressure on people, instead of giving greater economic security. Even in America the insecurity is rising. We have the economic power to create wealth for everybody, but we’re distributing the wealth in very unequal way, when people down by law are feeling more insecure and people on the top are accumulating more and more that they have no use for. They are getting separated from the very purpose of getting a rich man. It’s a stage, that we will grow in. But it doesn’t help us right now.

I don’t know how long it will take. But in 50 years people will look back and say: “What’s wrong with these people in 2017? Crazy people. Why they are working 20 hours a day while they could work 2 hours, and then learn, discover new things, grow and enjoy the life”.

Now there is a gap, that technology is more powerful, than cultural and social value

Now there is a gap, that technology is more powerful, than cultural and social value. But this value is on its earlier time, when you need to work. We don’t use technologies to elevate the lifetime, because we still don’t understand how it should be used. We haven’t revolved to that point and still learning. Sometimes it takes a hundred years to learn something. But realizing the need of it must be a better way.

The next generation will be different, I tell you.