A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to observe the EdgeMakers workshop, led by John Kao, with the entire ninth grade class of the Riverdale Country School. EdgeMakers is a new organization, founded by Kao in November 2012, with the mission of empowering young people everywhere to become innovators and make a difference. EdgeMakers hopes to be a resource for young innovators, giving them “a new set of “edge capacities” that include the ability to create and manage the creativity of others; communicate with empathy; be a proactive catalyst; collaborate with a diverse, global, ever-changing array of partners; innovate; and to cultivate the emotional intelligence needed to manage, lead, and inspire.”
The students were broken up into eight groups for the day-long workshop and spent the morning rethinking and designing the perfect book bag by following the Lean Startup method. In the afternoon, the students gathered again in their groups, this time to identify opportunities for rethinking throughout the school, and worked collaboratively to design solutions to their chosen challenges.
The workshop was a resounding success, with the students learning and practicing some key tools and techniques necessary to affect positive change in their lives and environments–rapid prototyping, giving and receiving feedback, identifying pain points, and collaborating in diverse teams.
It’s great that these students are being equipped with the tools and processes that they need to transform their dreams and ideas into impact but, in my mind, the most valuable contribution an initiative like EdgeMakers can make, is to give these students the right mindset and confidence to be change agents; the sense that they do not need to wait for permission to take control of their environments and rethink their lives and those of others for the better.
A couple days prior to the EdgeMakers workshop, I attended a book party with Tom and David Kelley for the launch of their new book, Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All, and although I have not yet had a chance to read it, the Kelley brothers’ assertion that we are all creative and that it’s just a question of removing the blocks that we acquire in the process of growing up so that we may realize our creative potential resonated deeply with my own experience. In my life and creative endeavors, I have come to realize that the issue of permission has often gotten in my way and kept me from fully exploring my potential or pursuing in a tangible way many of my ideas. Growing up, I was fortunate enough to attend eleven schools, both public and independent, in three different countries before even reaching high school. Yet despite the wide range of learning models that I was exposed to, the sum total of my education left me with a sense of ingrained obedience and hesitancy. I have had to unlearn the idea that someone else knows (or can know) better than me what I can or cannot accomplish, or that I should wait for someone more knowledgeable to give me the go ahead to pursue my hunches and inclinations. This is why EdgeMaker’s mission and curriculum to empower children and adolescents to make their mark on the world and to translate their ideas into impact is so critically on point and urgent. Education should be about giving learners the tools and mindsets they’ll need to shape and navigate their ever changing world, not to fill them with blocks they have to unlearn in adulthood.