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.

Richard Florida needs John Hagel

Richard Florida needs John Hagel.  Florida and Hagel have been referencing each other recently (here and here) and that’s a good thing; at least I think it is for Richard’s ideas.  Florida’s work has been very popular, but has also received a fair amount of criticism.  The best founded of the critiques (in my opinion) refer to the generality of his data.  It is correlational and very general, you might say it paints a picture with too broad of a brush.

The issue is that we know two things:

  1. We know a bit about how individuals can be creative and
  2. We know how creativity and innovations correlate with clusters of people, but

We don’t know other things like:

  1. We don’t really know much about the network ecologies and interactions that drive this increased creativity and
  2. We don’t have specific experiments to demonstrate and validate any kind of intervention and
  3. We don’t know if there is a critical mass for clusters to spur innovations.

Enter John Hagel who’s concept of “pull” begins to specify some of the ways and mechanism that may be behind the effects described by Florida. I think the next step is to describe in detail how individual environments work to spur innovation.  Many of the interventions inspired by Florida have semed a little like shooting in the dark.  What is needed is a little more specificity in how things work.  Maybe not to a prescriptive level, but just so we understand what can be successful and in what ways.  There have been a number of projects inspired by Richard, and I believe that his ideas are valid, we just need more causal analysis and measures of success to drive things forward; and in the proper direction.

From Push to Pull: It Will Change What Education Means

Ever since I first read about the concept of post-fordism in the early 90s, I have felt that there was a new educational world taking shape; one that would have a profound effect on society.  Hagel, Brown & Davison’s The Power of Pull (2010) provides the best explanation I found yet that gives voice to and makes sense of this feeling.

The idea of pull logically grows out of the author’s conception of how the world is changing, which they call the “Big Shift”; change that is coming in three waves.

First Wave – Access –

  1. The growth of the digital infrastructure and open trade policies provide access to instant information, communication and allows economic activity and the means of production to easily flow anywhere around Thomas Friedman’s flat world.
  2. Why it is changing things – The opposite of pull is push; predicting where information and resources will be needed and pushing it out to those locations.  This is becoming a problem because:
    1. the world is changing faster than organizations are able to predict and
    2. people who have mastered the methods of pull, and are supported by the 1st wave, are able to allocate resources more effectively and efficiently.
  3. What does it mean – Organizations that continue to push in critical areas will find it increasingly difficult to compete with organizations that can reorganize around pull.

Second Wave – Attract –

  1. How do you make use of 1st wave capabilities?  Just because you can access the worlds information does not mean you can tell what’s important and how to use it.  People are the resource that helps us to interpret and make use of 1st wave capabilities, but it is a resource that can’t be predicted.  What is needed are robust networks of people in which knowledge is flowing freely enabling the ad-hock connections that make information useful.  The knowledge you need is out there, but you need a network to help you find it an form it into a useful form.
  2. Why it is changing things – More than knowledge, you need access to the knowledge flows that are at the heart of networks of people committed to solving the same problems that you are.
  3. What does it mean – The knowledge stocks you possess are depreciating rapidly and are already less valuable that the ability to tap into knowledge flows.

Third Wave – Achieve –

The wave is not yet clearly formed because it is just beginning.  Hagel et al have predicted that, as more and more organizations harness the power of pull, it will have a transformative effect on general society.

How Will Pull Change Education

The idea of “Pull” (Hagel, Brown & Davison, 2010) will change the way we orient ourselves to just about every aspect of education and learning.  Here is a list of some:

  • Leadership – Most discussions of leadership focus on how to develop individual leaders who then lead (push out change toward) other people.  Simple models of leadership risk over simplifying what is a complex, collaborative and integrative process.
  • Curriculum – Most curriculum pushes knowledge out, but what is needed is the ability to join in with robust learning networks that can attract the most valuable knowledge flows toward us.  Skills are needed, background knowledge is needed, but collaborative networking is the real source of value.
  • Educational Institutions – These bodies previously nailed down the core knowledge that professionals needed, but Hagle et al argue that today’s important knowledge flows on the edge where people are wrestling in creative spaces “with how to match unmet needs with unexploited capabilities and uncertainty” (p. 53).  Institutions need to become “platforms to amplify (the quality and diversity of) networks of social and professional relationships” (Hagel et al, p.107) and to encourage people to identify and pursue their passions. (parenthesis added).  We need institutions that can serve as creation spaces to “scaffold scalable colaboration, learning and performance improvement” (Hagel et al p. 139).
  • Being an educated person. That used to mean knowing a lot of stuff, but to pull something different is needed:
    • A disposition for exploring the new, the unexpected, and the patience and listening skills to perceive what is going on at a deeper level.
    • finding ways for people to find us and for us to find relevant others,
    • relationship skills for deepening our networks,
    • a comfort level for living on the creative edge.

If anyone reads this and thinks of more, or disagrees, please comment and thanks!