Are Schools Killing Creativity?

November 9, 2012

In his brilliant 2006 TED talk, Sir Ken Robinson argued that our education system kills creativity. The talk is funny, engaging, and makes a powerful argument that quickly became  a staple, even a cliche, in education circles.

I recently showed the video to Gould’s administrative support staff during a lunch gathering. We sat and each of us shared stories about a strikingly talented friend or relative who found little support or opportunity for expression in their educational experiences.  Robinson’s talk wasn’t an abstract educational argument, as it can often be seen, but a description of what had happened to important people in our lives.

Ken Robinson is an arts educator. I’m the head of a small boarding school. Our administrative support staff are keen problem solvers and essential to our daily operation. The importance of creativity makes sense to all of us.

But what’s the thinking beyond academic circles? Is this a core educational issue?

Fortunately, our friends at Big Blue have provided some help.

For the last 10 years, IBM has conducted a biannual survey of CEOs and public sectors leaders to “gauge their perspective on emerging trends and issues.” The 2010 study identified creativity, integrity, and global
thinking as the top three leadership qualities of the next five years.

In the 2012 study, leaders were asked for the top four personal characteristics “most critical for employee’s future success.” At the top of the list were being collaborative, communicative, creative, and flexible.

Here’s how the 2012 study explains the results:

“For years, organizations have been embroiled in the so-called war for talent. The challenge has historically been a shortage of particular skills. But today, it’s virtually impossible for CEOs to find the future skills they will need — because they don’t yet exist. Bombarded by change, most organizations simply cannot envision the functional capabilities needed two or three years from now. Conventional training faces some of the same challenges. By the time courses are designed and delivered, the subject skills are already becoming outdated.

Instead, CEOs are increasingly focused on finding employees with the ability to constantly reinvent themselves. These employees are comfortable with change; they learn as they go, often from others’ experiences. As a healthcare CEO from Australia explained, “Today’s connected economy is full of ambiguity, and the characteristics required to navigate that ambiguity are collaboration, creativity and communication.”

The story here isn’t that creativity et al. now trump reading, mathematics, writing, analytical thinking or technical skill.

The  story is that times of rapid change require a different mix of tools and competencies than times of slower change. Virtually free access to information and expertise has changed the relative value of knowledge and creativity. And, the fact that  hundreds of millions of educated  minds are now able to participate more fully in the world has changed the competitive landscape for all.





6 Responses

  1. Avatar says:

    I agree with the words of Robinson, Many schools are just working for the results, they are not even trying to improve the knowledge of the students, they are not giving chance for the students to share their creative thoughts with the institution.

    Boarding schools

  2. Avatar Sara S says:

    As kids get ready to perform at the end of term assessments, it’s fun for me to think about what I’d highlight or add to IBMs personal characteristics that are “most critical for employee’s future success.” At this stage of the 9th graders I teach, I’d exchange collaborative for confidence. Many kids have not had opportunities to showcase their strengths in a classroom because of a one size fits all model; therefore, they are nervous to collaborate, communicate, and create. As types of assessments and ways of demonstrating proficiency broaden, I witness kids open up, get some traction, and bloom.

  3. Avatar Dr. Don says:

    A captivating, fascinating, thought-provoking talk, delivered with great wit (and sense of timing). BTW, did you notice the grand piano in the background of this “set” for the conference?! Imagine Chopin or Liszt walking out to present one of his latest “creations”!

  4. Avatar Rob M says:

    Great Talk. As a person who believes there is never and end to learning, I have been moved by this presentation. I found myself taking the following notes; Play – Passion – Purpose (PPP Method); Give back, Make a Difference. I have always had a strong desire to learn but as a person with learning challenges I was never very good with “Old School” – traditional schooling or at least with the metrics involved. Lol. I adopted the PPP Method (though I didn’t call it that until now) early on in my life and am really excited to see that this line of thinking a learning has come together in this presentation and was made available through the Gould’s site. I just LOVE it! I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that the leadership of Gould encourages continuous and forward thinking educational methods and concepts. Is there a student age limit to attend the Academy?


Leave a Reply