Employers Get What They Attract, Not What They Say They Want

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Firstly, I share here an article and would ask you to read it before going on. It shares the best six attributes of a CV/ resume according to a top head hunter:

Inc.com  – Best Resume Article

When I read this piece, my heart sank for two particular reasons. The reality is that this headhunter isn’t really saying anything that comes as a surprise to most employees in companies or potential job hunters. However, there are two aspects that stand out as going directly against what so many companies claim they want in today’s fast moving and creative work environments.

Let’s remember that the review of a CV by a headhunter or their employees will determine which candidates get called for further interviews and exploration. A CV doesn’t land a person a job, nor is it meant to. Likewise, nobody can claim that the issues I’m about to flag up can be discussed out in the face to face discussions – those won’t happen if the CV/ resume is rejected at the pre-selection stage.

The first issue is in point 2 in the article – a clear story of progression. According to the article, attractive candidates have nice linear careers with every step logically thought out and all steps thoroughly thought out and in the control of the candidate.

Companies and employers today claim that they are crying out for people with creativity and the willingness to take risks. Some also claim that people should be willing to take lateral or even backward steps in order to gather knowledge and experience so that they can move forward armed with strong skills and abilities. Such a route won’t look nice and linear, with logical progressions all in ‘the right direction.’

What the article says is an admission that whilst companies say this sort of eclectic gathering of knowledge and being able to bring new and innovative ideas to the table is what they want, their actions tell a different story. It says we reward those who are masters at climbing the greasy pole in nice logical self-directed increments.

Secondly, as highlighted in point 4 of the article – we want CVs/ resumes that are honest and reflect integrity on the part of the applicants – no untruths or exaggeration. However, points two and three represent a reality that makes it almost inevitable that large numbers of job applicants will embellish and expand on reality when it comes to their achievements – especially when you take the two points together.

According to this piece, you have to be able to show this lovely linear career progression, with unmitigated success at every step. Yet, we tell employees that they shouldn’t be afraid to fail, that failing is a great way to learn.  We also tell them to subsume their personal identity in the interests of teams. So, if you’re part of a team where the project takes too many risks, doesn’t succeed or is curtailed by the company (even perhaps for political reasons), to admit so on a CV would be the kiss of death.

Yes, employers have to do a massive sifting exercise to decide shortlists for who to interview. But, if their actions tell everyone that the people who get interviewed are those who have trodden a safe, predictable, politically crafty career, especially if prepared to polish the apple a bit – then that’s what they will have to choose from.

Ant then, they can keep bemoaning the lack of fire, creativity and risk taking entrepreneurship in their employees.

Shame.

 

Creativity – Key Skill

Wired to Create Crop

“The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this: A human creature born abnormally, inhumanly sensitive. To him …..a touch is a blow, a sound is a noise, a misfortune is a tragedy, a joy is an ecstasy, a friend is a lover, a lover is a god, and failure is death. Add to this cruelly delicate organism the overpowering necessity to create, create and create – so that without the creating of music or poetry or books or buildings or something of meaning, his very breath is cut off from him. he must create, must pour out creation. By some strange, unknown, inward urgency he is not really alive unless he is creating.”

Pearl S. Buck
Winner of Pulitzer and Nobel Prizes

Educators today are very fond of parading and selling the emphasis given to the development of creativity in their schools. Many have declared its importance through values, mission or vision of the school. This has been partly a response to the work of people like Dr Ken Robinson (highlighting the ways in which education kills creativity) and the recognition that creativity figures highly in most lists of the core skills that employers look for both now and in the future from their workforce.

However, I’ve really seen very little attempt by most educators to define what is really meant by creativity, what it would look like if a student had it and the best ways to ensure that school experiences nurture and cultivate it. How many schools could give an honest appraisal of how well they are achieving this aim?

The picture and quote above come from the best book I’ve read so far this year. As I read it I was continually mindful of this inclination towards creativity that is espoused by educators, but how the lack of detail or clarity suggests that these are simply nice words given little deep thought or introspection

The starting point is to acknowledge the types of creativity the world, business and schools want. in addition, as Dr Ken Robinson has highlighted over many years, the young infant doesn’t lack for creativity. A small child doesn’t need to be taught divergent thinking. When a child runs around the house or garden with a stick that is one second a gun, the next a flying broomstick, the next a walking stick and the next a cricket bat they show all the attributes of creativity.

The reality is that a lot of divergent thinking is not welcome in the classroom. Teachers fear the divergent thinking child. In fact, one chapter of the book shares research where children who were more creative divergent thinkers were among the least popular with their teachers, while their more compliant, obedient and passive peers were top in the popularity stakes. So, the child who is going to retain their creativity will need the resilience to deal with unpopularity and the treatment meted out to them by all around for ‘not playing the game.’

I had a very personal experience of this in primary school. I moved in to the classroom of a teacher I found incredibly frustrating. Her attention was all on power and control. It was a place where you spoke when ordered to do so, where obedience was the golden rule. I dared to ask questions and even after being given all the visual warning signals I continued to ask questions when dissatisfied with the dismissive responses i was getting. As time went on, the relationship between me and that teacher became more and more adversarial. Worse, she sought to turn my classmates against me with sarcasm and hints that I was stopping the class from moving forward (and the perception being that progress forward through the syllabus is what everyone’s supposed to care about). It all escalated to the point where the teacher suddenly took out a large roll of sellotape and taped my mouth shut. The sense of humiliation and belittling was horrendous. I received the message loud and clear that my curiosity, my desire to know things and understand some things deeper was not welcome in a classroom. Rather, classrooms were places where ‘playing by the rules’ counted above anything else and the punishments for daring to step out of line could be barbaric.

Creativity is challenging by its very nature. In 1959 Isaac Asimov pointed out that, “The world in general disapproves of creativity.” Many companies have had to take hard looks at their cultures to understand how they can create more ‘safe space’ for creativity. However, the focus on getting stuff done, continual movement of all in a common, shared direction in schools means that it’s majorly stifled in both teachers and students. Therefore, I conclude that any school that glibly declares it applauds creativity, but doesn’t ask itself serious questions and introspect continually is likely to be short-changing students.

Sadly, this gets brushed off by pointing out the inclusion of music, art and drama in the syllabus of the school and even that students can take these subjects through to examination levels. Also, much of the ‘creative time’ is pushed to extra curricular activities. A keen eye watching most schools’  annual talent competition would notice two significant things;

a) The levels of real, true creativity exhibited are minimal. The fact that a child can produce a reasonable rendition of a popular song or dance is hardly representative of creativity, and
b) Almost all the talent on show will have been acquired by the child outside the school, not in it.

The ability to point to a handful of children with some degree of mastery playing the piano or violin, putting on a staged musical or writing a poem for the school yearbook or displaying a watercolour of three pointy mountains and a rising sun does not represent proof that the school inculcates creativity in its students. The fact that many of those things might be done in very formulaic, pre-precribed and predictable ways may actually be indicative of quite the reverse.

As the various chapters of the book highlight, creativity is not neat and clean and certainly not formulaic. Rather, it comes out of daydreaming, mindfulness and developing an awareness of the working of one’s own mind. Invariably (but not exclusively) it flows from and is most often found in those who have undergone some suffering and had the strength to battle through to the other side of their personal challenges. If schools are truly positive for creativity they need to think carefully about how they support students to build resilience and grit.

As the quote at the beginning highlighted, creativity often flows from heightened sensitivity. All too often, today’s schools teach such sensitive children to tone down their emotions, to put a lid on strong feelings and to learn to conceal or bottle up those feelings that would make them stand out.

In fact, this may highlight the area that requires most effort in schools. All too often, it’s just not cool to stand out, to be different or to show behaviour or thinking that is outside the norm. Instead, school cultures emphasise conformity, fitting in and complying. many spend way more time drilling children for ‘march past’ etc for sports day than in activities that develop and expand on ability to think differently.

Visions, missions and values are not meant to be just nice phrases that are tripped out, displayed on websites, brochures and hall walls. Rather, they should be treated as touchstones against which a school community is continually testing itself.  The work of school leadership around these driving principles is never done. They should be continuously introspecting and leading the debate, encouraging a willingness to publicly challenge, question and innovate – a process akin to peeling an infinite onion.

It’s time to get creative about how we develop creativity in schools.

RIP Tony Buzan

This isn’t the next blog post I expected (or wanted) to be writing. However, one of my personal heroes has passed away and I wanted to take a little time to share my recollections of this formidable man. I understand that Tony was still actively working. He had moved in to a new home from where he hoped and intended to produce lots of new creative work. Regrettably, that was not to be. A massive heart attack and a fall resulted in complications from which he was never to recover. He passed away on 13th April.

tony_books

I graduated from college at the age of 22 with a degree in law. I had been schooled in vast amounts of information and material, memorized enough of it, spewed it back in exams and been granted passes. However, it had left me cold about the whole process of learning and with rather mixed feelings on the potential of my own mind/ brain.

Then, in my mid twenties I was introduced to a few important books. These included “Accelerated Learning” by Colin Rose and a couple of the books written by Tony Buzan for the BBC. I was blown away. Suddenly, here were people sharing information with me about how my mind worked, how to make the learning and creativity processes more effective. Whilst I was excited, I was also more than a bit angry. This material had all been in the public domain for over 10 years. It was all as available to every teacher who ever taught me as it was to me. So, why had they denied me this critical learning about how to use my mind most effectively and how to maximise my potential as a learner? I felt like i’d been cheated, but had now opened Pandora’s box and there was no looking back.

That took me on a journey that was all essentially about learning, whether it was becoming a trainer in British Junior Chamber, training to teach English with CELTA, being a University visiting faculty, and then over time towards leading, setting up, turning around and overall trying to change and improve schools as places where others would be as inspired and excited by learning as I am.

So, in many ways, i owe so much to Mr Tony Buzan and it is with some little sadness today that I think I shall never get the opportunity to meet the man. There was a time, around 9-10 years ago when he was due to come to India and it was likely that I was going to get the chance to meet him. however, he got ill and had to cancel the trip, so the opportunity was lost.

I believe he was ultimately responsible for writing (or co-writing) over 80 books. I believe one of the reasons he was able to be so prolific was because of the learning, creation and ideation methodologies that he had developed.

Mind Map

Of all Tony’s work, to me, the stand out will always be mindmapping. However, whilst I saw and experienced the benefits so much, it was often frustrating to say when others treated it as though it was something a bit ‘weird’, a bit out there. I still use it for every speech or presentation, every major piece of writing (including most of the posts on this blog), any times when i need to unleash my creative juices or to formulate ideas. I’ve used them collectively in groups as well as on my own.

I remember an occasion when some teachers did extensive work with students of Classes 6 and 7 to familiarise them with the techniques and benefits of mindmapping. Responses to a short immediate survey were that students found it exciting, interesting and intended to make it a natural and regular part of their study and learning approaches.

However, we then went back to do a further survey with those same students after about 6 months and found that less than 10% were still using mindmapping at all, and even some of them only sporadically. What was most disheartening was that the most significant reasons why students had stopped were associated with the fact that others weren’t doing it. Children were uncomfortable to do it if everyone else wasn’t doing it, or it wasn’t being imposed. There was a “people like us don’t do stuff like that” inertia that meant the students had largely dropped this very promising set of techniques. Worse, what were they doing instead? Spending hours using highlight markers to mark out significant sentences in textbooks – a method scientifically proven to be a very poor and inefficient way to learn. However, people like us do that, so we blindly do it.

I’m not sure whether Tony or his companies around the world conducted research on the stick-ability of their methods and techniques. I suppose it wasn’t really in their interest to do so if the results might have been weak. However, I personally would love to see more work in this area.

At this time as Tony has passed away, my thoughts are with his family, friends and all his colleagues across the world who have lost a leader and inspiring teacher. I hope that the best legacy for Tony Buzan and his work will be a renewed interest and enthusiasm for his ideas and their application to bring about better learning and greater creativity. People will readily jump in with phrases like ‘being a lifelong learner’. We haven’t yet done nearly enough work around what this means and how, most effectively, people should learn most effectively throughout their lives and how to harness that learning creatively. There is much work to be done.

Online Inspiration

I’ve been a regular follower of the K-12 Online Conferences over the last few years.

There’s an energy that flows through so much of the material, visible when you dip in to the (now extensive) archives. This is a pure ‘teachers sharing with teachers’ platform, with some fascinating examples of teacher creativity, courage and pushing the boundaries of what’s possible, especially when harnessing the power and potential of ICT.

The conferences have been able to harness the ideas and inputs of some incredible educators spread across the world. It’s incredibly refreshing to find these being shared openly without any financial cost. This aspect of educators freely and openly sharing their ideas, experiments, innovations and trials has a long history and is vitally important to preserve. through the power of the internet and online collaboration it is given new energy and momentum with the potential to reach far bigger audiences. each incident of sharing is worth so much more when so many more can be inspired and helped on their journey as innovative, creative educators.

The 2016-17 Online Conference had a different format. Instead of happening in one short burst of time, it was spread out over some months, with three major themes. These were;
(i) Learning Spaces
(ii) Design Thinking
(iii) Creativity

K-12 Online Conferences Website

I would also thoroughly recommend checking out material from the earlier conferences, all archived on the website.

Being An Original

I mentioned a few weeks ago in a blog entry that Adam Grant’s new book ‘Originals’ was high up on my reading list. Well, in the last few days his TED presentation on the topic came out – and it’s increased my enthusiasm for reading the book.

In it he shares some great research based findings on what marks out the most original and creative people. He shares some refreshing and interesting ideas on the value (within reason) of procrastination and the willingness to fail many times in order to get great ideas.

I believe his ideas merit particular attention and study by educators for the implications in terms of how we teach children, how they spend their time in school. Especially, we need to take a cold hard look at the issue of failure, seeing as most children see avoiding failures as one of their most vital and important tasks in school.

More Creativity, Please.

In our schools – at least the more progressive ones – we tell children that we want them to be creative and that creativity is a vital skill to grow up with. However, I believe we don’t do nearly enough to explore with children what creativity is, where it comes from/ manifests and how a person can develop a higher quantity/ quality of creativity. It’s almost treated as ‘you’ll know it when you see it.’ Further, i think all too often, the actions of the adults in our schools frequently send conflicting messages. On the one hand children are told that creativity is a good thing, but on the other hand when they choose to be creative or to act creatively in the way of their choosing, this is actively discouraged or sometimes even punished.

The reality is that one person’s creativity can often sit uncomfortably with others. Creativity, by its nature doesn’t run along neat pre-set lines like a train running on tracks. Rather, it has a random and uncontrolled aspect to it and this is likely to be even more the case for a child within whom their creativity and it’s counter-balancing elements of self-control are still developing.

Another issue is that a person’s creativity requires an element of separation and distancing from others. The reality today is that the more progressive a school is, likely the more students are encouraged to be actively engaged with their peers through projects, group work or even pair work or peer tutoring. Introvert habits of isolating the self fro others are frequently actively discouraged. Here’s a very interesting article that explores the role of isolation and solitude in creativity.

Lifehacker – Is Solitude A Key Element Of Creativity?

It makes a number of references to the work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and I would thoroughly recommend his book on creativity for anyone who wants to delve further in to this area.

I believe that, as in so many things, balance is the key. We need school premises and infrastructure that provides for both group and individual space and activity. We need to build the flexibility and balance in to timetables to ensure that students have the freedom to be with themselves, to explore inside as well as to work in groups and collaborate. And, we need educators who understand the balanced needs of both interpersonal activity and solitude. We need to actively help children to understand how this aspect of their mind works, the role and value of daydreaming and we need to respect when they open up and share the material of their daydreams. To acknowledge isn’t to agree.

My guess is that, right now, in most schools we’re probably doing a better job of the engagement and busy activity of projects and group work than we are of the solitary aspects of creativity. Both are needed to develop key citical skills for the Twenty First Century.

Sad State of American Kindergarten

When supposedly rational, trained professionals do things which are increasingly bizarre and showing ample evidence that they are actually harming children in the longer term, you have to wonder what’s driving the whole process.

Edweek – Kindergarten Today, Less Play, More Academics

This article shares, very visually and starkly how much has changed in the US approach to Kindergarten between 1998 and 2010. The two big issues are, firstly, the inclination of KG teachers to expect that children should already have mastered many academic skills before starting school and secondly, how much more time they allocate to academics once those children are in school.

And, let’s not forget, this is a 12 year period during which the US has shown little progress on international comparative standardised assessments like PISA – indicating that it hasn’t even worked to raise academic standards and performance compared to other countries.

However, in my opinion, the damage of this strategy will show through in many ways other than failure to progress in PISA. I fear a generation of children who avoid learning except when it’s ‘done to them’. I also fear that this will be a generation of children within which the winners and losers in life will be determined by the chance factor of whether they happened to be a lucky or an unlucky one in terms of whether their brains’ neural networks were ready for this early onslaught of academics. Further, if evidence from research is right I fear this will be a generation that experiences higher levels of criminality, drug and alcohol addictions, marital discord and rates of failure in the softer aspects of living a successful life.

Overall, unacceptable prices for these children to pay for skewed logic and foolish treatment.

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