Feb 18, 2009

On Education, Creativity, and too Many Rules

Is there hope for the US? I would love to think so but in my humble opinion the odds are not favorable for this country. I am not talking about the financial crisis, I am talking about the ethics crisis, the crisis in education and the lack of good creative thinking.

I have been in this country for more than 6 years now but I am still amazed by the amount of rules that are applied here and there without any common sense, for not talking about the amount of rules, regulations and judicial cases that simply put do not make sense at all.

So I felt almost relieved when I found this amazing talk by Barry Schwartz at TED. He makes a passionate call for “practical wisdom” as an antidote to a society gone mad with bureaucracy. He argues powerfully that rules often fail us, incentives often backfire, and practical, everyday wisdom will help rebuild our world. Check it out, it is worth every minute.

As you can see he makes several valid points about how -among other things- kids are educated in this country. Education as anything else needs rules but it also needs common sense and now and here -more than ever- needs to foster creativity. But how can anyone foster creativity in an environment that is more worried with rules and regulations than with common sense?

Advertising is a good example of how rules, regulations and the love to take things to court can cut the wings of creativity. A good example but not the only one, you can find examples everywhere.

High IQ and a great level of education will not be enough for the US in the coming years. Not that we actually have such a great level of education but even if it is attained, education as it is understand today will not make it or break it in the near future.

Just the numbers that you can see at the beginning of this post (from the latest version of "Did you know?") make it pretty clear to me that even if the US fixes the education problem soon it will not be enough. India or China will still have more people with high IQs and a great education than the US.

What is needed is a complete shift in the way that America thinks. The only hope is actually in going back to common sense on one hand and to creativity on the other, but it seems to me that except for a small number of "intellectuals" the average American still believes that there is nothing wrong with too many rules (and trials) constraining creativity.

Bush administration took this country into what I call the "Bananaland direction". No ethics were needed, you could get what you wanted by being the friend of the right people. With eight years of lies, greed and propaganda being the example set by the government and the big companies there is a need of change but not just in the White House. We, the people, we need to start thinking differently, out of the box of rules and into the world of common sense and we need to get back to praise hard work. If we do not do so, I am pretty sure we are doomed, with or without financial crisis.

On the bright hand though, creativity tends to flourish during hard times. There is nothing like having extreme needs to boost creativity. Nevertheless we still have one problem: creativity can be used for the common good or for evil. If ethics are not there, we can get more "creative" people like Madoff. The type of creativity that we do not want or need, the one that is born from greed and from the search of "easy ways".

Good things do not come easy. If you are not sure, ask your grandparents. They can probably tell you good stories of a time -not so far away- when common sense and hard work ruled, a time when creativity for the common good was also the engine driving the country. Bailout or not what we really need is to go back to those basics.

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