Tuesday, 9 April 2013

An Evening With Sir Ken

Grand Rapids has some great colleges in and around it which attract speakers so I was able to go and see Sir Ken Robinson do a lecture on Culturing  Innovation.

Apparently his TED talk on 'schools kill creativity' is the most viewed and after seeing him speak I can understand why.

He started off by saying you cannot plan your life - and used his own life as an example. Born in Liverpool in the 50s, not knowing what he wanted to do as a 'career' he now finds himself living in LA.
Totally resonated with me - I grew up 20 miles from where he grew up, 2 years ago I wouldn't have been able to point to Michigan on a map and now here I was sitting in a lecture hall in Grand Rapids listening to him speak.

His talk was on creativity and how the current education system stifles rather than encourages it with the result that most people dont look inside themselves and realise their potential.

His son took classics at uni which didn't seem to be leading to many career prospects, he then changed to... philosophy and art which caused even more concern in the Robinson household. The result ? His son ended up in an auction house, travelling the world, doing a job he enjoyed and for which classics, philospohy and art provided him with the background and skills that were a great match
( testers come from all sorts of backgrounds and almost all found it 'by accident' - see also a recent post from Michael Larsen about the real value of a liberal education )

Sir Ken has a real belief in human creativity and learning. How does a child learn to speak ? Parents dont sit down with a list of words and teach them, the child learns from experience. Give them opportunities and encouragement to learn and to practice.
( how do you teach testing ? give them a list of 'standard testing terminology? )

To illustrate his belief in potential he told the story of people he knew who once owned a farm in Australia. They fell on tough times and had to sell the farm to the State. Years later they returned to see what had become of the farm and were not able to find their farmhouse and dust road leading to it. Instead there was a highway and large new structures. Their farmland had massive deposits of nickel just below the surface. If only they had dug below the surface...

Is there the need to be creative and innovative ? Sir Ken said that it was vital as we are living in unprecedented times

1) Rate of change is incredible - 10 years ago there was no Facebook or Twitter,  no tablets, no App Store, no Android, no YouTube, Hulu..

2) Population growth and numbers are at levels never seen

Back to the topic of tech change
When he was growing up, Best Buy ( if there had been a Best Buy ) would have had 4 gadgets - record player, telephone ( wired to the wall and often on a party line ), TV and radio.
Today you can search 200 billion web pages on your handset whilst out walking and if you don't get an answer back in 10 seconds you get aggravated

The consequences of this new tech is unknown - when Edison recorded sound he did it to record a telephone call not music. Why would anyone want to do that ?
( that phrase so beloved of testers )

Apparently there is an App that emulates a blues harmonica on the iPhone - was that part of the spec ? ( another beloved tester phrase ) Did Jony Ive and Steve Jobs sit around discussing how the iPhone could cater for depressed businessmen who just wanted to play the blues at the end of their corporate day?

Speaking of depression, Sir Ken then presented the fact that by 2020 the second leading cause of death is likely to be depression. A recent Gallup poll of Americans had more than 50% saying they were not happy and fulfilled. The biggest growth in drugs is in depressants and anti-psychotics
( he trotted out these figures, a bit of Googling found the depression article)

What about the kids, how are the coping ? Not too well according to Sir Ken with many dropping out of school, 30% of kids starting 9th grade don't finish 12th - which rises to 60% in places such as Houston.
Sir Ken thinks education is failing the kids, it should be to facilitate learning. Life is creative, non-linear organic - so why is education so rote, linear and non-creative? Lots of 'education' going on but very little 'learning'

What does the school system do for imagination? Sir Ken thinks of this as one of the most potent forces available to use as it:
1) means we can empathise
2) can anticipate ( but not predict ) the future - especially when it comes to human behaviour.

When TV first came out the experts said it was not going to replace radio as people were too busy doing things to just sit in a chair and look at a screen...

Moving onto maths ( I loved the way his talk covered so many areas ) Sir Ken talked about how a maths PhD is assessed. Do you just look at the last page and is there an = sign and you check the answer is correct ?
Nope, the person he talked to about this said there were 2 basic criteria:

1) Is the work original?

2) aesthetics - math describes the laws of nature, nature is beautiful so math must be

He then started on his summary and wrapped it all up with the idea of being innovative which to him meant:
- putting ideas into practice
- we all have potential and all have imagination
- we should work in teams and collaborate
- foster a culture where this is encouraged
- stop thinking mechanistically
- stop with the standardised tests

Great ideas but left me wondering if he also had ideas on how this vision could be put into practice and how the current education system could be overhauled. Maybe I need to read his books to see.

and to finish off he told the story of Death Valley - one of the most brutal inhospitable places in the world ( hence the name )
Except it isn't actually dead.
In 2005 rain fell onto Death Valley and it bloomed with flowers.

If conditions are right, people flourish
Create a climate of possibility

For the entire talk it was just Sir Ken on stage. A couple of slides which showed his books and that was it. Just a man and his ideas and his visions. 

( Follow-up:
As I was writing this post I came across this teachers resignation letter... )

1 comment:

Rosie Sherry said...

I love Sir Ken, seen him talk live in London before, fairly similar to what you have written, but always good to be reminded and always very inspiring. He has a new book out now, must read it!