A “Clean-Sheet” Perspective for Education: A Rationale Derived from Hagel and Brown

Interesting HBR article: Innovation Blowback: Disruptive Management Practices from Asia (Hagel & Brown, 2003).

Their main point

Companies offshore production to cut wages, gain access to skills and capabilities and seek new markets, but they fail to gain more than a small affluent segment of these emerging markets because they do not seek the level of innovations to target the demands of the larger low-wage market.  Long-term they then are often undercut by the local companies that do seek this level of innovation.

What do the authors recommend:

  1. Specialize, develop partnerships and orchestrate the resulting process network to extend your capabilities.
  2. Develop open collaborative environments and orchestrate innovation within these partnership networks.
  3. It is not enough to strip costs from existing products.  Instead, redesign products and processes from a “Clean-sheet” perspective in a way that amplifies your own distinctive capabilities and those of the partners in your network.

Relevance for Education

Whether it’s high school dropouts, workers needing re-training, organizations with new learning demands, higher expectations from graduates, or a multitude of other new demands for learning; we too are facing new and different “markets” for learning.  It is not enough just to make small adjustments to existing systems that were designed for other demands.  We need to redesign our educational products and processes by innovating within our own capabilities and by seeking open network partnerships to extend those capabiities.

The Search for a New Common Sense

I’ll begin where I left off in my last post.  Our task (as educators) is to find a new common sense for how to operate in a 21st Century economy (Hagel and Brown).

The Current State of Affairs

Here is my big picture view of what is going on in the economy today.  Globalization, digitalization, standardization and other productivity improving factors are decreasing general labor requirements; a first level of economic restructuring.  Some of that labor is falling to low wage and low skill service jobs, but there is a significant effort being directed to developing totally new forms of value.  Hagel and Brown’s call is consistent with the call of Drucker to improve the productivity of knowledge workers.  What is this new common sense; this new source of productivity:

Living on the edge will help you build the strongest core.

What do we mean by this? The edge is where the action is – in terms of growth, innovation and value creation. Companies, workgroups and individuals that master the edge will build a more sustainable core (Hagel and Brown).

The bohemian spirit has defined the edge.  That doesn’t mean we should adopt old bohemian models, but we should be wiling, in various ways, to help people explore their boundaries and boundary conditions.

From Push to Pull:

Over the past century, we have been perfecting highly efficient (push) approaches to mobilizing resources. . . . In education, we design standard curricula . . . In business, we build highly automated plants or service platforms supported by standardized processes . . . In technology, we write massive enterprise applications specifying activities . . . (but) powerful forces (increasing uncertainty, growing abundance, intensifying competition, growing power of customers) are at work shaping the need for an alternative approach. . . pull models help people to come together and innovate in response to unanticipated events, drawing upon a growing array of highly specialized and distributed resources. . . . pull models seek to provide people on the periphery with the tools and resources (including connections to other people) required to take initiative and creatively address opportunities as they arise (Hagel & Brown).

Note: this is not the death of standardization.  It is alive and well and plays an important function, but economically speaking, it is playing a decreasing role as a differentiator, a role that is now falling to creativity and innovation.

A Need for New Forms

This is the place for new forms of Personal Learning Environments;  personal environments that we create collectively.  It’s also about developing the resources to be able to pull to you, what you need, when you need it.  It’s also about helping people to find and pursue their passion to creating value, change their thinking and perceiving, and it’s about changing the functions of institutions and organizations in order to fit with this new pull model.

I believe this pull model will increase knowledge work productivity, it will enlighten us on the connections between the economy and the creative industries and it will play a big part in helping us to securely face the future.

The Focus of Education

American Design Schools Are a Mess, and Produce Weak Graduates by Gadi Amit

In this fast company article Gadi says:

The first five years in a designer’s career are absolutely critical and the true educational experience. A young designer must appreciate that opportunity to mature while on the job and take nothing for granted. A willingness to do anything and everything he or she can to get experience and learn, from the ground up, should be reinforced by the schools.  . . . — your first job is your true MA, your best chance to establish a career path, your opportunity to work on the coolest projects . . ..

First a revision to the thoughts behind my posts of 11-23 and 11-12.   Schooling and development are very important and much of the structure to our educational institutions is appropriate.  We need to introduce students to traditional ways of thinking and knowing and then help them find new ways of thinking and knowing.  But this is the beginning of education, not the end.  Students, and indeed, all of us need support as we address real world context and achieve Morin’s contextualization principle of knowledge.  This is what Gadi is referencing, contextualization from the ground up.  This is where we need personal learning networks in the broadest of conceptions.  Peers, mentors, coaches, customers, digital acquaintances from around the world, textual friends from our readings; we need all kinds of help to find our ways and we need institutions, learning structures, designed environments and the like to help us achieve this type of learning network.

This is the task assigned to us by Hagel and Brown: to find a new common sense for how to operate in this 21st Century Economy.

The Cultural Economy Moment: Reading Terry Flew’s Article

Terry Flew (2009). The Cultural Economy Moment? Cultural Science, Vol 2, No 1.

Terry is charting an expanded course for research in cultural economics.  (If I’m understanding correctly) His main points are:

There is no longer an effective way to separate culture from economic activity, especially in terms of “the information and knowledge economies, fostering creativity, embracing new technologies, and feeding innovation’ (Throsby, 2008: 229).  Most current discussions of economics and culture fail to account for this view in a way that moves research forward in a productive way.

He recommends 4 areas for collaborative interdisciplinary research to develop the discussion:

  1. Value of information – . . . “who has it, how it is distributed, how it is produced, and how it is used”.
  2. Value of networks – Networks are a primary means of coordinating behavior (along with hierarchies and markets) and also of coordinating ideas.
  3. Motivations for participation and collaboration in online social networks – . . . “an information-driven economy with digital technologies at its core places a premium upon non-market activities with non-pecuniary motivations, as it values a non-proprietorial approach to information as a metapublic good, with many implications for intellectual property, labour markets, the formation and maintenance of networks etc.”
  4. The relationship of culture to the wider economy –  “many economists and policy makers have not only failed to adequately register the rise and growth of the creative industries, but have failed to understand their changing relationship to economy and society”.

In summing up Flew says:

there is much potential for collaboration but . . . some serious rethinking has to be done in relation to the one-dimensional caricature of economic discourse that is found in many influential analyses in the field.


Throsby, David (2008) ‘Modeling the Cultural Industries’, International Journal of Cultural Policy 14(3), pp. 217-232.

Some Factors that Support Creativity and Innovation

A couple articles relevant to my 12-6 post, which may also form the beginnings of a partial psychological explanation of Richard Forida’s Spikey World and Creative Class theories.  (Note – Florida’s data is primarily a correlative macro-analysis, however, these theories must also function and be analyzable at a micro level in a way that represents people’s everyday relationships.)

First, the opposite perspective – What will not help Education

Recent news is reporting on America’s falling test scores and the potential dire consequences if improvement is not found.  Now, I really can’t make a judgement without delving deep into the data, but I suspect that the most direct route to improving test scores will be some form of discipline and it will be exactly the opposite of what would help us devise a competitive advantage vis a vis the rest of the world.  Test scores are not the answer.  The answer is innovation for business and economic success.

How to Create Innovation and a 21st Century Economy: Play

I’ll examine 2 articles that make the case for the importance of play and a positive playful attitude for creation and innovation. Furthermore, read below the surface and you will find that this is not just for children.  A playful attitude is important wherever creativity is needed and today that is almost everywhere.

Tracing the Spark of Creative Problem-Solving by Benedict Carey

Main point –

. . . people were more likely to solve word puzzles with sudden insight when they were amused . . . positive mood, is lowering the brain’s threshold for detecting weaker or more remote connections” to solve puzzles.  . . . “It’s imagination, it’s inference, it’s guessing; and much of it is happening subconsciously,” said Marcel Danesi, a professor of anthropology at the University of Toronto and the author of “The Puzzle Instinct: The Meaning of Puzzles in Human Life.”  “It’s all about you, using your own mind, without any method or schema, to restore order from chaos,”. . .

Those whose brains show a particular signature of preparatory activity, one that is strongly correlated with positive moods, turn out to be more likely to solve the puzzles with sudden insight than with trial and error . . . “At this point we have strong circumstantial evidence that this resting state predicts how you solve problems later on,” Dr. Kounios said, “and that it may in fact vary by individual.”

The second article is from Fast Company’s Design Blog; Frog Design: The Four Secrets of Playtime That Foster Creative Kids

There is a myth, common in American culture, that work and play are entirely separate activities. I believe they are more entwined than ever before. As the Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget once said, “Play is the answer to how anything new comes about.” A playful mind thrives on ambiguity, complexity, and improvisation—the very things needed to innovate and come up with creative solutions to the massive global challenges in economics, the environment, education, and more. . . . How then can we get our youngest generation to embrace the role of designer rather than (game) player? Fundamentally, it starts by letting children be the inventors of play.

The article recommends 4 ways to make this happen.

  1. Open Environments – open environments are those in which the child gets to be the author and the medium is open to interpretation.
  2. Flexible Tools – Part of being open is being flexible. Technology has given us a whole new set of tools, though they’re being used in ways not necessarily planned for.
  3. Modifiable Rules – Being open and flexible within parameters is necessary and even helpful, but what happens when the parameters themselves no longer fit our needs?
  4. Superpowers – the physical and mental skills that we develop to adapt and thrive in a complex world while exploring the creative opportunities made possible by global progress.  . . . It’s crucial to understand that we aren’t born with playful minds, we create them.  . . . When 85 percent of today’s companies searching for creative talent can’t find it, will more focus on standardized curriculum, testing, and memorization provide the skills an emergent workforce needs? Not likely. Play is our greatest natural resource. In the end, it comes down to playing with our capacity for human potential. Why would we ever want to limit it? In the future, economies won’t just be driven by financial capital, but by play capital as well.  (Emphasis added)

The Play Ethic

In the Afterword to the book Education in the Creative Economy (Play, the Net, and the Perils of Educating for the Creative Economy) Pat Kane speaks of a new basis for work informed by the play ethic (and a new common sense):

(A)fter the obsolescence of the work ethic . . . (t)he play ethic is an alternative belief-system that asserts that in an age of mass higher education, continuing advances in personal and social autonomy, and ubiquitous digital networks (and their associated devices), there exists a surplus of human potential and energy that will not be satisfied by the old workplace routines of duty and submission.

Kane calls neoteny (the retention of juvenile features in the adult animal) the basis of our biological non-specialization that allows us to respond uniquely to unusual circumstances.

(W)e are not determined by our environment, but make and construct our worlds? This is mirrored by the “permanent precarity of jobs,” where we wander nomadically from one cloud in the nebulous world of labor markets to another.

While this state has the potential to produce anxiety, it also holds the possibility to unleash the “constitutive power of play” that can be productively used, especially if we can wed it to a resilience and supportive infrastructure

Testing can be for Learning: The retrieval Effect

Tests get high marks as a learning tool by  Anne Mciloy — Science Reporter for the Globe and Mail

This article reports on a testing effect – testing students improves their learning.  It’s also called a retrieval effect and can be achieved in other activities that demand recall.  I would say it is also active learning in that students are using information in a different type of activity (answering a test questions as opposed to the original task such as listening to a lecture or reading a book. ) (The article claims the same effect for a good pedagogical activity where students pair off after reading a book or passage to summarize the reading and then to to criticize the summary and exchanging roles for the next reading)

Note – This supports the validity for testing, but it does not justify the validity of using testing for other purposes.  Most testing is for rating, ranking, segmenting student into groups or planning instruction.  The fact that testing is a good learning activity doesn’t justify its use for these other purposes which should be judged for their own purposes.  Testing should be use as a way for achieving success for students, not a way to rate their final success.  I saw this effect in my daughter’s schooling.  She learned through testing activities and often had decent command of the content after a test was completed, but the grade and often her identity was already assigned.  This identity is not about empty self-esteem.  Identity is deeper and more important than self-esteem.

Economics and Creative Cultural Spaces

Where have all the Artist Gone?

Yesterday, a NY Times article (Freelance Musicians Hear Mournful Coda as the Jobs Dry Up) chronicles the decline of the freelance music industry in the New York Area.  It is a theme that is being repeated across the country.  The work is just drying up.  There are many potential reasons: bad economic times, an over-saturation of entertainment options, technological displacement . . ..  Substantial responsibility must rest with contemporary classical composition.  In my opinion, classical composition studies have not even tried to connect with audiences for a hundred years.  Without the talent development of a viable modern classical composition field, we’re seeing Broadway (America’s Classical Music) increasingly turning to rock ensembles and simpler song forms.  The worst aspect of this article; it offers no way forward.

These artist represent the soul of our culture.  Mass culture (eg. Hollywood) caters to the lowest common denominator.  At best, mass culture is nothing more than a weak reproduction of culture.  It is not the cutting edge and does not show us the the way to the future.  What is to be done to rescue the artist and restore their place in culture?

The Answer: Creating New Space for Cultural Work!

I believe the answer will be found in understanding how the world is changing.  Peter Drucker, a “self-described ‘social ecologist’ . . . coined the term ‘knowledge worker’ and later in his life considered knowledge work productivity to be the next frontier of management”.  Productivity in knowledge work consists in improving our ability to create new things like shared frameworks, understandings, processes, markets and social organizational forms.  These things may look like they are created out of thin air, but that is not the case.  They are created within cultural constraints.  Therefore, the source of much of this creativity is found on the creative cultural edge.

Culture, in its fullest creative sense, is the foundation or the “stuff” of knowledge work.  If you want to improve knowledge workers’ productivity, surround them with other people who are exploring and testing the boundaries, forms and shapes of culture.  In short, surround them with artists.  But, and this is a big but, art and culture can no longer be considered a spectator sport. Knowledge workers need to be intimately involved with cultural creativity.  They need to be “in the artists’ heads” in a way that allows them to experience the artist creation and to explore what that experience can mean in their own cultural lives.  Dedicated fans may have achieved something like this in the past, but artist should now focus on creating shared experiences.  Breakdown that fourth wall, the one separating the artist and their audience.  Help them to share in your creative nature, for in the end, knowledge workers are the artists of their own worlds.

Where Would Such a Space Be Found

Yesterday I saw a TV news segment on a new artist space in Cleveland (Ohio), 78th Street Studios.  It’s described as a character-filled location: the former American Greetings Creative Studios building, converted into studio spaces  that forms an “arts mecca”.  It looks like a great place and I think these spaces should be the mecca for all kinds of knowledge intensive cultural workers.  A place like this could be an economic engine where all kinds of cultural workers are able to integrated the cultural edge throughout their daily lives.  Now artist have always been in the vanguard of urban development, and are usually displaced as arts meccas become expensive fashionable destinations for the well heeled.  It’s because the well heeled can sense the importance and vibrancy that artists bring to their lives.  This is a great time for developers to recognize the importance of artists as an economic force and to find ways to integrate them as an integral part of economic spaces.

Content vs Pragmatic Knowledges

A McKinsey report  Addressing China’s Looming Talent Shortage states:

China’s pool of university graduates is enormous . . . Consider engineers.  China has 1.6 million young professionals . . . But the main drawback of Chinese applicants for engineering jobs, our interviewees said, is the educational system’s bias toward theory.  Chinese students get little practical experience in projects or teamwork compared with engineering graduates in Europe or North America, who work in teams to achieve practical solutions.

I believe this is another example of a lack of knowledge transfer based on the difference between content knowledge and pragmatic knowledge.  The memorization of content knowledge becomes pragmatically useful for completing educational assessments, but it lacks the contextual component that makes knowledge useful in other activities outside of education.  Contextually relevant pragmatic knowledge is necessary for being successful in everyday problem solving activities.  The practical solutions that the McKinsey report considers important in western engineering education do not support the accumulation of knowledge, but they do expand the capabilities of students to work in similar activity systems.  The rap against Chinese students is that they excel at testing (an educational activity system), but not at the capabilities needed for workbased world activity systems .