Digital Media’s Impact on Children’s Creativity

Dr Howard Gardner, Harvard professor has been one of my most inspiring long term virtual mentors. It was a little amusing when he came to India and so many teachers got annoyed because he didn’t just talk about Multiple Intelligences. The reality is that whilst that’s the work they tend to know him for, he moved on from it a long time ago. I have particularly followed all his work about ‘Good Work’.

If there’s a common theme that runs through all his work I believe it’s an interest in deep thought in critical areas that can lead to insights that can lead to a better world, a better future. To me, his work on multiple intelligences was about enabling teaching methods in schools to benefit more students, more of the time. The good work project was/ is about striving for a more ethical world, especially in the realm of people’s professions and work. Earlier, he and his wife did a lot of work on creativity, including how the West and the East can learn from each other in education to enable people to be their most creative and to grow up retaining more of the innate curiosity and creativity that is there in small children.

Now, it’s no surprise that he’s turned his attentions, in collaboration with others, to questions about how Apps and the ‘always on’ wired world may be impacting children. The growth in access to smart phones and tablets and the proliferation of Apps has happened so fast that few have really stopped to understand the implications. Instead, children, parents and educators have all been swept along by the tsunami. So, it’s good to see such eminent academics turning their attention to this area.

The article linked below left me with more questions than answers. At times I found myself feeling that whilst the research findings found certain connections they didn’t necessarily prove causation. I think the concerns about lack of time spent in quiet reflection may well prove justified (maybe this is where today’s interest in mindfulness comes from – as a replacement/ substitute). It is also plausible that creativity will be impaired.

The Journal – Is the App Mentality Killing Students’ Creativity?

It seems that before we can draw hard conclusions or know exactly how to minimise the risks there’s going to need to be considerably more research in this area.

Dysfunctional People Can Be Contageous

Education, in most people’s minds is different to just any old ‘J-O-B’ in a company. Being responsible for the education of children is something fundamentally different to selling insurance or manufacturing widgets. However, most educators will share my view that that doesn’t change certain innate aspects of human nature when you look at schools as workplaces where people come together, charged with responsibilities to achieve certain ends individually and collectively as teams.

This ‘Fast Company’ article is written about companies, but I’ve known characters that matched all of the toxic stereotypes listed working in schools, and a few others besides;

Fast Company – 5 Most Dysfunctional Coworkers

Somehow, when people behave in the kinds of ways described in a school it feels worse – because there’s a kind of moral dimension to the work. I’m often left with a feeling that if they wanted to be that way, behave in such manners, they should have gone and taken jobs in environments where they wouldn’t be harming children and their education.

The ‘more understanding’ side of me, reminds that often these people are blind to what they’re doing and there’s a degree of needing to seek to understand them first, before setting out to have them understand that what they’re doing is wrong in educational environments.

Tackling such people takes courage and often is far from easy. In my experience, staff will complain incessantly about such people, behind their backs, but won’t tackle or confront them directly. The perception is that this is very much a responsibility for the management. Ironically, if the confrontation or challenge, when it comes, leaves the toxic individual feeling hurt, those same staff may even side with the hurt feelings of the individual and accuse the leadership of callousness! I stress here, I’m not looking for sympathy for leaders – just pointing out that teachers can be so empathic at times that they’ll even feel sympathy for a hurt trouble-maker!

However, almost always, these situations must be tackled and leaving them to get worse has far more serious implications for the school.

Of course, we know that human nature is such that nobody is going to read these 5 portraits and identify themselves – it will always be someone else!

Mindfulness – For or Against?

“What did people get before stress was invented?”

This was a joke I first heard some years ago, but always thought it certainly had a ring of truth about it. I find myself picturing a group of Neanderthal hunters who have spent a day and a half stalking a woolly mammoth. They begin to surround the animal. It’s jittery and restless as it senses danger. They have no body armour, little or no defence and only the most basic and rudimentary weapons. The hunters are starting to sweat, their heartbeats are raised. As they close in for the kill, suddenly the leader of the tribe calls all together, gets them to sit down in a circle and informs them to, “focus on your breathing, and be fully here, right now.” In the meantime, the woolly mammoth wanders away to safety.

In today’s equivalent ‘hunting’ environment, all employers would like their employees to be less stressed, to be able to focus well on their work, to not let conflicts derail their efforts and to work together in the most efficient ways as effective teams. In pursuit of these goals it’s inevitable that managers and leaders will search around for the next ‘silver bullet’. There is an all round sense that so much more could be achieved (so much more profit made), if we could just make the imperfect human beings somewhat less imperfect!

There is no doubt at all that when it comes to attempts by organisations to improve their people, the current flavour of the day is Mindfulness. You would be hard pushed to go through any magazine or leaderrship/ personal development shelf in a bookshop without seeing plenty of publications on the subject. It can sometimes seem like everyone’s talking about it. Now, you can call me an old cynic, but that alone is reason enough for me to feel the need for at least a bit of doubt and questioning. Is it all that it’s claimed to be? Is it really a panacea for workplace stress? Is it going to give us happier workers, more capable of tackling the pressures of their work to high standards? Some cynics would say, instead of advocating Mindfulness for employees to handle stress better, we should create less reasons for them to feel stressed in the first place (conflicting instructions, changes in deadlines, unfulfilled commitments and promises etc.)

At times when I read and hear about mindfulness I am reminded of the work of Mihalyi ‎Csikszentmihalyi on ‘Flow’, that I first read over 15 years ago. This is the idea that things become effortless when you’re working in the moment, engrossed in a task for which you have the requisite skills. It strikes me that flow and workplaces today are a challenge. Whilst an individual may reach flow states when working on a task alone, how many of us work alone for any length of time. Once you bring in all the ambiguities associated with interruptions, other people’s agendas and conflicting priorities it may become impossible to achieve any kind of flow state. Maybe this is really the root source of all that we call workplace stress. In which case, Mindfulness won’t make it go away, reduce it or solve the problems it contributes to inefficiency and under achievement. The best it can do is enable to stop and smell the flowers, maybe putting others’ actions, communication etc. in to a little better perspective.

I do buy some benefits, but not in some sort of cookey ‘flavour of the day’ kind of way. Maybe that’s just me. When the trendy set moved on from NLP, I’ve continued to explore it, to test and experiment with the many ideas encompassed within (that’s for another blog post on another day!). For example, I downloaded a mindfulness bell reminder to my mobile phone and tablet. It chimes at random times through the working day. When I hear it, it causes me to stop for a second, check what I am doing at the moment and ask myself the question whether I’m doing the right/ best thing at that time. If I’m not comfortable i shift to a new task. In that sense, i see it as a useful time management tool.

In the school group where I was in Delhi, a gong would sound over the tannoy system twice during the school day. It was a wonderful, soothing sound. The standard practice was that wherever you were, whatever you were doing, you stopped, focused on your breathing for a couple of seconds and then proceeded with your normal activities after it finished. We saw definite calming of the children, improvement of focus in lessons and less aggressive behaviour.

By my reckoning, those are benefits worth having.

So, I was interested to come across this article recently that shares some scientific discoveries about what is going on chemically when people practice mindfulness and conjectures about why those could be beneficial:

Harvard Business Review – Mindfulness Can Literally Change Your Brain

There’s an interesting debate that goes on in most countries when it comes to workplace training and professional development. There are many who believe that whilst the organisation/ employer can legitimately ‘enforce’ training related to the technical skills of the job a person does, they draw the line when the training is about changing or influencing them as a person. The alternative argument is that work today is so entwined with the rest of our lives that it is necessary for us to strive to be the best we can be in all the roles in our lives – not just the workplace, because we cannot isolate one role or domain from the others. If we are unfulfilled and frustrated in aspects of our health, personal relationships or some other part of life we’re not going to be able to perform at our best in our workplace.

As I suggested earlier, not everyone is ready to jump on the Mindfulness bandwagon or to welcome it as a panacea for all workplace ills.

Here are two recent articles that focus on the doubts, on the potential negatives;

Huffington Post – Is Mindfulness Harmful?

Fast Company – The Downside to Mindfulness Practices at Work

Ultimately, the personal development ‘industry’ is there to make money. Telling the world that what you taught last year is still the best thing to be doing today doesn’t pay. So, we need to be discerning about ‘flavour of the month’ solutions. When we find things that work for us, individually or collectively to be “my best me”, I believe what’s more important is to build the practice in to our habits and keep it there for the longer term – not to pick it up, do it, benefit, but then drop the habit because something new and shiny comes across the radar. In that, I believe Mindfulness practices can be a useful part of our long term habits.

The Orb – Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld

It's the weekend, so i just couldn't resist sharing a really cool, creative and imaginative album that I recently listened to again for the first time in a few years.

Enjoy!!

Welcome to Project Jacquard

Something to get your imagination going.

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From McKinsey: Heidrick & Struggles on the changing nature of leadership

Heidrick & Struggles on the changing nature of leadership – http://www.mckinsey.com/insights/leading_in_the_21st_century/heidrick_and_struggles_on_the_changing_nature_of_leadership

Tracy Wolstencroft, CEO of the global executive-search firm, explains the importance of authentic leadership, listening, and getting comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Sent from the McKinsey Insights App
Available in the App Store (https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/id674902075?mt=8) and Play Store (https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.mckinsey.mckinseyinsights)

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Thinking Systemically

I’ve become a big fan of these little, short videos from 12 Manage that deal with various issues of leadership and management. This one is particularly good:

12 Manage – Video – Systems Thinking

It provides an excellent, intelligent explanation of what systems thinking is and why it matters. I first came across systems thinking in the writings of Peter Senge of the MIT Sloan School of Management, especially his books: The Fifth Discipline, The dance of Change and Schools That Learn (compulsory reading for all educators in my view).

Watching the video I was provoked to think about the question – “why don’t more people think systemically, naturally?” My conclusion was that, as in too many other things, those of us in education have to take a big chunk of the blame. And, the clue lies in that word “chunk”. Schools deliver knowledge in sealed boxes called ‘subjects’. They test, assess and evaluate each one separately, as if there is no inter-relationship of knowledge across the boundaries of the subjects. In such circumstances and after so many years, should we really be that surprised if people grow in to adults who find massive discomfort if asked to deal with facts, issues, problems or challenges without defining a neat box that it belongs in, then simply applying formulaic solutions in accordance with the standard thinking practiced within that box.

We saw a classic and extreme example some years ago in the Indian education system. The Supreme Court in that country passed a ruling that every citizen growing up should be taught about the environment. Not a bad idea to believe that reduced ignorance of the citizens would lead to more responsible approaches to preserving the environment.

So, the Indian examination Boards rolled out curriculum for Environmental Studies and it was made a compulsory subject. However, the catch was that over the next few years students found high marks very easy to come by in this subject. As a result, universities and colleges refused to take account of results from this subject when considering children for admissions. So, masses of students, parents and teachers labelled the subject a ‘waste of time’. Then, one of the exam Boards proudly announced that they were terribly clever people because they’d discovered a loophole in the Supreme Court judgement that meant that it didn’t need to be taught as a separate subject. it was enough if environmental matters were dealt with, within subjects such as Biology.

So, this new subject was scrapped – and everyone rejoiced.

Now, should we wonder why we read headlines about 80 deaths a day in Delhi due to pollution? Should we wonder why everyone’s scratching their heads and saying the issues of environment are too complex to solve? Here was a classic lack of systems thinking and here is the price to be paid.

Incidentally, it was the most systemically oriented subject possible. It had the scope to blend science, humanities, the arts, sociology, psychology and many other areas in order to understand the interrelationship between aspects that contribute to environmental degradation.

When I wrote to the Board in question and pleaded with them to rethink their decision they told me I was the only person to have raised an issue, everyone else was happy – now students could focus on the subjects that would get the scores to get university places.

Because, after all – that’s what education’s for – isn’t it?

Nobody needs systems thinking more than educators!

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