Tag expertise

The Thing Is to Become a Master & In Your Old Age to Acquire the Courage to Do What Children Did When They Knew Nothing …*

The Thing Is to Become a Master & In Your Old Age to Acquire the Courage to Do What Children Did When They Knew nothing ...* | rethinked.org - Photo: Elsa Fridman

I have been reading Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life-a treasure-trove of meditations on the creative life culled from Tharp’s long career as one of the world’s most acclaimed choreographers. Each chapter relates to a different aspect of creativity–think: Skill, Ruts and Grooves, Rituals of Preparation– and is accompanied by a handful of exercises to practice flexing your own creative muscles. It’s a quick, lovely and insightful read, which I highly recommend.

I’d like to highlight Tharp’s insights on one of the fundamental paradoxes faced by artists and rethinkers everywhere–that of finding the fragile equilibrium between seeking expertise and cultivating a beginner’s mind.

Every artist faces this paradox. Experience–the faith in your ability and the memory that you have done this before–is what gets you through the door. But experience also closes the door. You tend to rely on that memory and stick with what has worked before. You don’t try anything new. Inexperience is innocence, naïveté, and humility. It is a powerful ignorance that is summed up for me in an obituary I read of the All-American football player Ellis Jones. Jones, who died at age eighty in 2002, lost his right arm in an accident when he was eleven years old. But that didn’t stop him from playing guard offense and linebacker on defense in the 1940s at the University of Tulsa and later in the fledgling National Football League. “I played football before I got hurt,” said Jones of the accident that cost him his right arm. “It never occurred to me that I couldn’t keep playing. I guess I was too dumb to think I could not do it.” Inexperience provides us with a childlike fearlessness that is the polar opposite of the alleged wisdom that age confers on us, the “wisdom” telling us some goals are foolish, a waste of time, invitations to disaster. In its purest form, inexperience erases fear. You do not know what is and is not possible and therefore everything is possible.

It is that perfect moment of equipoise between knowing it all and knowing nothing that Hemingway was straining for when he said, “The thing is to become a master and in your old age to acquire the courage to do what children did when they knew nothing.” You cannot manufacture inexperience, but you can maintain it and protect what you have.

This balancing act–between confidence and humility, knowing and not knowing, fear and courage–is intimately tied to the concept of mastery.

Mastery is an elusive concept. You never know when you achieve it absolutely–and it may not help you to feel you’ve attained it. (Alexander the Great wept when he had no more worlds to conquer.) We can recognize it more readily in others than we can in ourselves. We all have to discover our own definition of it. 

I particularly love Tharp’s definition of mastery–mastery as courage and optimism to face the unknown and faith in your own capacity to transform your discovery into something of value.

More than anything, I associate mastery with optimism. It’s the feeling at the start of a project when I believe that my whole career has been preparation for this moment and I am saying, “Okay, let’s begin. Now I am ready.” Of course, you’re never one hundred percent ready, but that’s a part of mastery, too. It masks the insecurities and the gaps in technique and lets you believe that you are capable of anything.

Mastery then, in the creative realm at least, is more mindset than benchmark, like that of the child at the edge of the forest, excited and a little nervous to get lost in the woods but confident to face and transform what she will find.

Source: Tharp, Twyla. The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006. Print.

How Might We Ensure That Our Young People Thrive Rather Than Becoming Just Part of a Credentialing System?

“I remember David Levin, one of the founders of the KIPP charter schools in the United States and a co-founder of The Character Lab talk about dual-purpose teaching: the idea that you can teach “character skills” such as grit, optimism and self-control while one teaches disciplinary subject matter. Great teachers do this naturally. Most of us just have to plan more intentionally to foster good character simultaneously as we develop our students’ academic capacities. He represented this dual-purpose teaching as a double-helix, a double-helix that has become part of the icon of IPEN.

As we continue to work on implementing strategies and cultural experiences within our schools that have people develop character skills, I think it is a multi-purposed approach. We need to suffuse “character thinking” throughout schools. We need to change our school missions to explicitly focus on the development of character skills. Faculty members need to model these strengths in their own lives and their school lives. We need to understand how small moments and interactions, micro-moments, have such strong potential for learning about character, and we need to look at the system of school, the macro-structures, that support or diminish a focus on character skills development. This is important work. It is work that we have all done, but it demands more intentional focus and attention within all of our schools.”

Dominic Randolph

This excerpt is taken from a recent article, Butter Late Than Never, that Dominic wrote for IPEN (International Positive Psychology Network). In the article, Dominic raises three critical “how might we” challenges that we should all be keeping front and center as we collectively rethink learning for the 21st century:

How can we ensure that our young people thrive rather than becoming just part of a credentialing system?

. . . *

How might we develop a sense of permission in our students that allow them to develop as engaged and motivated learners? 

. . . *

How might we reframe challenge positively for young people and have them understand that positive challenges lead to expertise, purpose and meaning? 

. . . *

On Deep Learning, Transformative Change & Rethinking Bad Habits …*

On Deep Learning, Transformative Change & Rethinking Bad Habits ...*  | rethinked.org - Photograph: Elsa Fridman

Long time readers may remember Friday Link Fests of past, in which I curated links to some of the most intriguing things I had read, watched or seen that week. I’m thinking of bringing it back for 2015 but this time I’d like to experiment with some intriguing ways to pair and contrast the content instead of just sharing it in a list. What do you think? Any suggestions on how to do that well? Let me know * 

 

“We must always change, renew, rejuvenate ourselves, otherwise we harden.”

–Johann Wolfgang von Goethe ( 23 Powerful Quotes To Inspire A Successful Year)

{ OUTSOURCING COGNITIVE CONTROL TO THE ENVIRONMENT — WHAT IT MEANS FOR OUR ABILITY TO MULTITASK AND CHANGE OUR HABITS }

This week I read two articles–one about multitasking and the other about changing habits–which both dealt with the outsourcing of cognitive control to our environments when faced with repetitive tasks and behaviors. I enjoyed the contrast between the two lenses through which this tendency to offload cognitive demand can be a positive thing (it helps to make multitasking slightly less inefficient) and how it can be a highly detrimental thing (it can keep us stuck in bad habits).

– – – 

What Heroin Addiction Tells Us About Changing Bad Habits is that roughly 45 percent of what we do each day, we do “in the same environment and is repeated.” This is a problem because:

“People, when they perform a behavior a lot — especially in the same environment, same sort of physical setting — outsource the control of the behavior to the environment.”

So we stop making choices and react to environmental cues, like sitting on the couch at the end of the day, getting on Netflix, and reaching for the pint of ice cream without really thinking about whether or not we even want ice cream.

“To battle bad behaviors then, one answer is to disrupt the environment in some way. Even small changes can help — like eating the ice cream with your nondominant hand. What this does is disrupt the learned body sequence that’s driving the behavior, which allows your conscious mind to come back online and reassert control.”

– – – 

Consistently performing actions and behaviors in similar environments does have an upside however, especially when it comes to multitasking. While multitasking is counterproductive and should be avoided, it can be rendered more useful if you “practice multitasking when you learn it in the first place.” In The Curious Science of When Multitasking Works, Walter Frick reports on a new study published in Psychological Science, which shows that consistent context matters in our ability to multitask well:

“These results suggest the possibility that our ability to juggle tasks and recall information depends on the context in which we learned those things in the first place.”

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{ THE NEED TO CULTIVATE A GROWTH MINDSET & EMBRACE VULNERABILITY TO ACHIEVE DEEP LEARNING & AUTHENTIC GROWTH  }

“Learning is fundamentally an act of vulnerability. It is an acknowledgement that what one knows is not sufficient, and that new information and new thinking about that information is needed.”

So starts Jal Mehta’s article on Education WeekUnlearning Is Critical for Deep Learning. Across industries, from the boardroom to the classroom, we are becoming increasingly aware of the discomfort dimension of learning and the need to cultivate a growth mindset to transcend this discomfort and push through to achieve deep learning and transformative change.

“At the end of the day, the factors that facilitate unlearning are the same qualities that mark good organizations and good teaching environments: psychological safety, the normalization of failure, the recognition that rethinking core assumptions is critical for significant improvement, and the development of challenging, rigorous, but supportive communities that help people do this kind of learning. If school leaders organize their schools with the explicit intent of creating these kinds of environments for students, it will be much easier to do the same kind of learning with the adults (and vice versa). And if districts and states can fight their usual instincts to apply pressure and seek immediate results, and instead create the space for schools to do the kind of experimentation, unlearning, and re-learning that significant change entails, they will be more likely to see the kinds of qualitative change in teaching and learning that they seek.”

– – – 

Meanwhile on Harvard Business Review, Herminia Ibarra reminds us that You’re Never Too Experienced to Fake It Till You Learn It. While the idea of “faking it” may seem inauthentic to some, depending on one’s appraisal of identity,  it is a key learning strategy with tangible benefits.

“By definition, transformative learning starts with unnatural and often superficial behaviors. When we are working at improving our game, a clear and firm sense of self is a compass. It helps us navigate choices and work toward our goals. But when we are looking to change our game, a rigid understanding of authenticity is an anchor that keeps us from sailing forth. By viewing ourselves as works in progress, we multiply our capacity to learn, avoid being pigeonholed, and ultimately become better leaders. We’re never too experienced to fake it till we learn it.”

– – – 

Finally, in From the Editor: In Praise of Humility, Martha E. Mangelsdorf concludes her introduction of the MIT Sloan Management Review Winter 2015 edition of the magazine–which focuses on articles urging us to stay open and aware of what we don’t know–by reminding us:

“Awareness of our human frailties and fallibility shouldn’t discourage us. Instead, being aware of our own limitations creates opportunities to learn, to experiment, to change — and to improve.”

And to conclude this week’s Friday Link Fest, this wise, adorable and important PSA on domestic violence from Italian media company Fanpage.it.

Source: These Boys Are Told To Slap Some “Pretty Girls.” Here’s What They Do Instead. via GOOD, published January 7, 2015

{ Stanford 2025 } Design Thinking Major Paradigm Shifts For Future Learning Opportunities …*

Just yesterday, I was writing about an upcoming MOOC on the Science of Happiness that is poised to make online learning history according to this Forbes writer. MOOCs have sent the world of education into a bit of a frenzy as we attempt to collectively shape and understand the disruptive effects that online learning will have on future learning environments. Personally, I find the idea that schools have now been rendered obsolete by online learning misguided. It is a gross oversight of the critical need and function of social connection to deep learning. As Sophia Pink, daughter of Dan Pink, observed after spending a year of independent learning, using a mix of online learning courses and independent projects:

“classroom education shouldn’t be fully replaced by online courses, but it can draw on what works well online. Huge online courses have many virtues but need to do better at fostering the sort of side by side back and forth collaboration that we all need to learn.”

What might this relationship between social and online learning look like? And what types(s) of environment might facilitate and enhance this hybrid form of learning? Those are precisely the questions that Stanford’s d.school explored through its @Stanford Project, which ultimately generated the Stanford2025 exhibit and website. Noting the potential disruption posed by online learning and noticing that “many parts of the undergraduate experience are ripe for reinvention” prompted a team at the d.school to question how time, space, expertise, accreditation, and student agency may also change within higher education:

College has multiple aims: it’s a place to gain expertise and develop abilities, but also to come of age. These are entwined together in a residential college experience―a complex and special setting. Enormous energy and investment are now being placed in experimentation and pioneering in the online learning space. We wanted to complement these efforts with an exploration of learning and living on campus, now and in the future.

A design team from the Stanford d.school worked with hundreds of perceptive, creative, and generous students, faculty, and administrators over the course of a year to explore this territory. We considered many lenses—from how students prepare for a Stanford education while still in high school, to patterns of undergraduate decision-making about what and how they study, to the shifting needs and expectations from future employers. 

The project culminated with an experiential exhibit entitled “Stanford 2025,” held at the d.school in May 2014. To encourage an exploratory mindset, the event was staged as a time-travel journey. The community embarked to the distant future—and landed just at the moment when Stanford was looking back retrospectively at major paradigm shifts that “happened” around 2025. These possible shifts were shared as provocations—a subjective, student-centered imagining of what could happen as the future unfolds.

While the Stanford2025 exploration of future learning environments is focused on higher education, the provocations listed are critically relevant to K-12 learning as well. Head over to the website to dive more deeply into each of the four provocations and download the accompanying toolkit to “Make them your own. Try them, tweak them, push them, or even reject them.”

  • The Reflect Worksheets are excursions into imagined worlds inspired by the provocations.
  • The Imagine Cards are prompts to spark inspiration in your own work.
  • The Try Playbook is a set of activities and suggestions to get started.

reflect, imagine, try & rethink …*

{ OPEN LOOP UNIVERSITY } Bringing an End to a Society of Alumni in Favor of Lifetime Learning:

From: Students received four years of college education, front-loaded at the beginning of adulthood

To: Students received a lifetime of learning opportunities.

The perspective that the university could effectively serve its original mission while continuing to narrowly define the time in one’s life when learning would happen was challenged.

Open Loop Vimeo from Stanford d.school on Vimeo.

*

PACED EDUCATION } Abolishing the Class Year & Embracing Adaptive Learning:

From: Structured, 4-year courses of study advanced students by seat hours on a quarterly rhythm.

To: Three phases of varied lengths provided personalized, adaptive, calibrated learning.

Paced Education Vimeo from Stanford d.school on Vimeo.

*

AXIS FLIP }  Flipping the Axes of Knowledge & Competency:

From: Knowledge within a particular discipline was the criteria for graduation; skill development was secondary.

To: Stanford flipped the axes so that skill development became the foundation.

Axis Flip Vimeo from Stanford d.school on Vimeo.

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PURPOSE LEARNING } Declaring Missions, Not Majors:

From: Students declared Majors and focused their studies around set requirements.

To: Students declared Missions and coupled their disciplinary pursuit with the purpose that fueled it. 

“I’m a biology major” was replaced by “I’m learning human biology to eliminate world hunger.” Or “I’m learning Computer Science and Political Science to rebuild how citizens engage with their governments.”  

The goal was to help students select a meaningful course of study while in school, and then scaffold a clear arc for the first 10 – 15 years of their professional lives. It wasn’t about the career trajectory, but the reasons behind it.

Purpose Learning Vimeo from Stanford d.school on Vimeo.

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[ Hat Tip: Students Travel To 2025 To Question the Future Of Higher Education via PSFK, published May 9, 2014 ]

{ Rethinking Expertise, Part II } Reverse-Engineering with “Yes, And…”

The Doctor is... Insightful

The Doctor is… Insightful

 

In Part I of this post, I wrote about a habit I’ve recently discovered in myself. When someone makes a suggestion that doesn’t square with my own point of view, I reflexively dismiss it.

I call it the Yes, but… response.

I suppose a lot of people do this internally, but I do it out loud, and it’s strangely impulsive. When I examine the instant of Yes, but…, it seems like a tic, a brief unthinking blip in my otherwise rational state of being.

Becoming aware of this tendency has been eye-opening. As an educator, I take care never to dismiss a student’s idea. Regardless of how off-topic or simply incorrect the remark might be, I know that a dismissive response can lead a student to withdraw, get defensive, or shut down completely. I pay close attention to my students’ affect and body language so that I can track who is flagging and take positive steps to help them re-engage. By extension, perceiving and responding empathetically to others are skills I consider myself pretty good at. So recognizing my Yes, but… habit outside of the classroom — with friends, my daughter, my husband — has been a wake-up call.

Of course the tendency to assert one’s worldview to others — in order to dispute or correct things they have said — is not unique to me. It seems to thrive in people who place a value on knowing lots of things — ie, on expertise.

Though I’ve been somewhat aware of this tendency in myself, it’s seemed pretty innocent and benign until now. But as I’m beginning to understand, it often isn’t. The “expert mindset” can create challenges: missed opportunities and perspectives; broken connections with others; perhaps a narrower existence all around.

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Alan Alda is best known for playing one of the more memorable television roles of the 1970s and 80s: wisecracking surgeon Hawkeye Pierce of M*A*S*H. But in a New York Times interview published this week, Alda discusses a less well-known pursuit of his: a life-long passion for science.

After M*A*S*H ended, he served as the host of PBS’s “Scientific American Frontiers” for twelve years. On the show, he conducted hundreds of interviews with scientists, not as a laureled expert but as an enthusiastic amateur — in the true sense of the word, a lover of the very essence of scientific discovery:

Every experiment is a great story. Every scientist’s life is a heroic story. There’s an attempt to achieve something of value, there’s the thrill of knowing the unknown against obstacles, and the ultimate outcome is a great payoff — if it can be achieved. Now, this is drama!

Alda was consequently frustrated to find that some of science’s most accomplished practitioners were ill-equipped to convey to others — especially non-experts — the significance of their life’s work. And alienating their listeners with jargon had a serious practical downside for these experts: it hurt their ability to secure funding for their work.

Scientists often don’t speak to the rest of us the way they would if we were standing there full of curiosity. They sometimes spray information at us without making that contact that I think is crucial. If a scientist doesn’t have someone next to them, drawing them out, they can easily go into lecture mode.

After years of interviewing scientists by “drawing them out” with non-expert curiosity, Alda had a creative breakthrough bearing the hallmarks of integrative thinking: Thinking back to his roots as actor, he wondered if training in improvisation could make scientists better storytellers?

The answer is yes. Today, at Stonybrook University’s Center for Communicating Science, which Alda helped establish, he and others teach improvisation and other storytelling skills to scientists.

We don’t do comedy improvisation or making things up. The object is to put people through games and exercises that force them to make contact with the other player. You have to observe the other person, anticipate what they are going to do. You almost have to read their minds.

By teaching improv styles that require close attention to others, the Center’s workshops help scientists become more attuned to the people around them. Furthermore, it convinces them so deeply of the value of building connections with their audiences that many have started to incorporate personal anecdotes in their talks, despite previously believing them inappropriate in such an objective and academic context. 

In a related and equally fascinating article in Nature, Rachel Bernstein explains how the growing use of improv in the scientific community stems from the fundamentally collaborative and co-creative structure of improvisation itself. By insisting on a Yes, and… response model, improvisation eliminates the Yes, but… (and No, but…) tendency that is often deeply ingrained in scientists and other experts. 

Discussing the work of improvscience, a consulting group in Boston, Bernstein writes:

Researchers sometimes fall short in their communication with each other, despite the importance of collaboration. [Cell biologist and improvscience founder Racquell] Holmes thinks that improvisation offers a powerful tool to address this problem — through, for example, the ‘yes, and’ rule. This basic tenet of improvisation dictates that participants must say ‘yes’ to any verbal or physical cues that they receive and build on them, rather than trying to shut down a direction that makes them uncomfortable. The rule is important in a research context, in which a ‘no, but’ stance often dominates — such as when discussing a colleague’s results or critiquing a paper in a journal-club meeting.

From a scientific perspective, this critical approach may be appropriate and necessary. But taken too far, Holmes says, it can create a negative group dynamic and make some people hesitant to share ideas for fear of ridicule. And that, in turn, could slow research progress.

To illustrate this problem, in one of her games Holmes asks participants to get into pairs and work together to plan a party. First, members of each pair can respond to each other’s statements only by starting with ‘no, but’; they then repeat the exercise using the ‘yes, and’ rule. The ‘no, but’ approach made it “very difficult to have a meaningful conversation”, says Max Staller, a systems-biology graduate student at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who has participated in several improvscience workshops. In stark contrast, the ‘yes, and’ rule worked so well in planning the fictitious party that he now applies it to his research.

“I try to consciously think about, Is there a way to say ‘yes, and’,” Staller says. “I make a point in journal club of talking about what’s positive about the paper; sometimes we focus too much on the shortcomings, and take for granted the successes.”

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I’ll close by sharing two amazing conversations I had over the past few weeks that not only shed light on the problem of expertise but also strengthened my commitment to replace my constricting, unthinking Yes, but… with a more receptive and constructive Yes, and… 

In the first conversation, I was asking an executive coach and hands-on expert in emotional intelligence whom I deeply admire how best to support people who come to me in emotional tailspins.

“You and I are talkers,” she said. “But when someone is sharing something that is difficult, you have to sit back. You have to fight the impulse to jump in. When I was starting out, I used to remind myself of this with “W.A.I.T.,” as in W – A – I – T — or, Why Am I Talking?

In the second conversation, I was sharing the Yes, but… moment with my daughter, described in Part I of this post, with a child psychologist. She beautifully articulated the pitfalls of Yes, but… for parents.

“Kids need their parents to create safe and comfortable spaces for them to learn in. But adults know far too much. With kids, we actually need to know less. Sometimes it helps to act dumb. If you say you don’t know the answer to something, you won’t be able to tell her her guess is wrong. She won’t be afraid of being corrected. By knowing less, you create that safe and comfortable space for her to try out her ideas.”

So here to less “expertise” and more Yes, and…

Yes, and I’ll get more exercise walking those two-and-a-half blocks.
Yes, and do you have any art galleries you can recommend?
Yes, Amelie, let’s try that!

I’ll report on my progress in a future post.

Thanks for reading, and please share your thoughts.

{ And speaking of improv, check out Elsa Fridman’s post yesterday on Charlie Todd’s TED talk on ImprovEverywhere — another example of improv’s power to instill a child’s [ non-expert ] mindset. }

{ Rethinking Expertise, Part I } The Dangerous Seduction of “Yes, But…”

Lucy from Peanuts

My sister and I still laugh over something she said in passing, years ago. We were on the phone discussing the fact that our 60-something mom had just completed a long charity walk  — essentially a marathon and a half — over the weekend.

“I can’t believe she walked forty miles!” I marveled.
Thirty-nine,” my sister shot back.

Her retort — as though she couldn’t tolerate such imprecision — was hilarious to me. Through a self-effacing groan, she too laughed at her automatic correction. Ever since, it’s been something I’ve good-naturedly teased her about.

Fast-forward to this month. Three times, I’ve noticed myself doing something similar:

  • Talking to a friend about the possibility of moving to a new place, I say the location is a bit far from a commercial street.
    “Well, there’s Smith Street,” my friend accurately remarks.
    “But it’s two-and-a-half blocks away. Two-and-a-half long blocks.”
  • I’m leaving a birthday party on 21st Street in Manhattan with my five-year-old daughter Amelie. Another parent who is a relatively new acquaintance asks me what we’re planning to do next.
    “Not sure. I kind of want to wander around before we head home.” “You two could go check out some art galleries,” she suggests.
    “With Amelie, no. Maybe a playground.”
  • Amelie wants some help making doll’s shoes out of cardboard. I have traced and cut out a sole.
    “Now cut this and put it like this,” she says, holding up another piece at a perpendicular.
    “I don’t think that’s going to work. It’s not going to stay.”
    “But we’ll tape it!” she insists.
    “OK, but it’s probably not going to hold.”

It wasn’t until the third interaction that I noticed the similarities among them. When I nixed my daughter’s cardboard vision, she didn’t take it lying down. She threw herself down. In hysterics.

Her dramatic dejection, along with some insights from my husband, helped me see that my response to her shoe idea was fundamentally negative. Moreover, all of my responses were:

Yes, but those blocks are long.
Yes, but art galleries aren’t for kids.
Yes, but shoes aren’t made of cardboard.

Yes, but…

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Last night I attended a wonderful talk by someone you might call professionally curious.

Robert Krulwich is a longtime, award-winning science reporter and the co-creator of WNYC’s RadioLab. As I remember it, the last question of the Q&A session that followed his talk was, Where did you get your curiosity?  

Without hesitation, he answered, My mom. She was amazing: she could get anyone to open up about anything. Even a stranger on an escalator.

Though heartfelt and perfectly lovely, his response struck me as an oversimplification. Why? Because to embody profound curiosity throughout one’s life — openly, out loud, and particularly in one’s professional sphere — requires an intellectual humility that I’m not sure our prevailing sociocultural values reward.

Instead, expertise — knowing things, having the answers — is prized. Experts are sought out by business, media, and governments. In the west, expertise is a form of capital, quite literally. Experts are paid to provide answers to important questions. They aren’t paid to say, “Hunh, I don’t know” or “Gosh, I never thought of that.”

Exceptions to the primacy of expertise do of course exist. Several have crept into my consciousness recently. In graduate school, I encountered the view championed by Bruce Mau, Tim Brown, and other designers — and borne out by cognitive psychologists — that being a novice in a particular context can often boost one’s capacity to innovate in that context. At the same time, I was absorbing my now-colleague Elsa Fridman’s rethinked essays on shoshin (the beginner’s mind), and how it plays an important role in integrative thinking. And I was studying Japanese designer Kenya Hara’s concept of “exformation”: making the known unknown for the explicit purpose of seeing and interacting with it anew.

But outside of these specialized contexts, our culture generally views expertise as an unqualified good. And so, for the most part, it’s somewhat unusual to hear such phrases as “Hunh, I don’t know” and “Gosh, I never thought of that” — not to mention somewhat difficult (for many) to say them. 

And yet, Robert Krulwich has revolutionized his career (and some would say mainstream science journalism as a whole) in part by using those very phrases. In his talk yesterday he addressed this observation, comparing Walter Cronkite’s stentorian voice-of-God delivery to his own unmodulated voice, which often conveys sincerely perplexed reactions to Radiolab’s guests. (Check back for a link to the video of Krulwich’s talk, which took place at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan.)

By design, Mr. Krulwich’s approach to Radiolab is not as an expert but instead as an engaged and curious novice. This approach, he said, makes him a faithful and effective proxy for the people he hopes the show will enlighten: his own listeners.

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So why is being an expert a problem?

Of course it’s not, per se.

The problem I think is being the kind of expert who can’t be anything else.

The kind of expert who — consciously or not — avoids saying, Hunh, I don’t know and Gosh, I never thought of that.

The kind of expert who reflexively responds, Yes, but… 

Yes, but those blocks are long.
Yes, but art galleries aren’t for kids.
Yes, but shoes aren’t made of cardboard. 

Here’s the thing. In those moments I didn’t perceive my responses as negative. I sincerely believed my responses were more precise reflections of an objective reality. And in the case of my daughter’s shoemaking, I thought I was being helpful by steering her away from a doomed experiment. I suppose I assumed that each Yes, but… reflected a clear-eyed assessment of the situation.

Now my Yes, but…s seem impulsive and strange. They fill me with questions: What is that chronic hole-poking about? What is that mental blip, that unthinking tic? Is it a short-circuit in my reasoning? Is it the cause of the Yes, but…? Or the effect? Or, somehow, both? Do the Yes, but…s stem from overuse of my critical function? Or from an overinflated value I place on my own sense of expertise?

Hunh, I don’t know. 

But I do know this: Each Yes, but… I’ve described to you very effectively closed me off from an attractive possibility and a fresh point of view.

I didn’t stop to consider that a longer walk to the store would be a boon to my health. I didn’t contemplate the unique perspective I would gain by visiting an art gallery with a five-year-old. I didn’t realize that if I had just allowed that five-year-old to play out her shoe experiment, she would have discovered the cardboard’s deficiencies herself — and experienced deeper learning than my prepackaged “expert knowledge”  could ever instill.

This leads me to wonder: If the impulse to pounce on the holes in others’ ideas is a side-effect of expertise (be it a scientist’s expertise or an educator’s), what can be done to offset it? 

Part II: Yes, and… — How Openness and Receptivity can be Reverse-Engineered 

Friday Link Fest…*

Friday Link Fest...* | rethinked.org | Photo by Elsa Fridman

“I don’t divide the world into the weak and the strong, or the successes and the failures… I divide the world into the learners and the nonlearners.” -Benjamin Barber

READ

Five Ways that Games are More than Just Fun ~ They make us more social; They empower us to be creative; They help us develop empathy; They make us act playful and silly; They force us to tinker.  via GOOD, published August 1, 2013.

How Your Morning Coffee Can Make You a Better Designer ~ Tim Brown on how conscious observation, followed by iterating and testing potential solutions, can transform activities we take for granted. via GOOD, published August 2, 2013.

Why Some Great Ideas Catch And Others Don’t ~ Anesthesia caught on overnight, while antiseptic took decades. Why? via FastCo.Design, published July 30, 2013.

Literature Therapy Program Delivers Personalized Reading Lists ~ Bibliotherapy is a prescription reading service from the London-based cultural enterprise The School of Life that offers curated reading lists tailored to an individual’s struggles or personal situation. Patrons of the service book one-hour assessments with The School of Life for an in-person, telephone or Skype session with a well-read advisory team composed of an artist, a novelist and an independent bookstore owner. Instant prescriptions of recommended fiction, poetry and creative non-fiction are given at the end of the consultation, with a full prescription following within a few days. via PSFK, published July 29, 2013.

A Do-It-Yourself MBA? This Guy Did It–and So Can You ~ Victor Saad wrote his own masters-level education plan before becoming an entrepreneur. Now, he has founded an institute, The Experience Institute, to help others do the same. via Inc., published July 29, 2013.

The Daily Routines of 12 Famous Writers ~ via James Clear, published July 29, 2013.

Five Ways to Ease Your Envy ~ Envy is a state of desiring something that someone else possesses. It’s a vicious emotion that can crush self-esteem, inspire efforts to undermine others’ successes, or even cause people to lash out violently. It also just feels horrible. So what can we do to disarm the green-eyed monster when it strikes? Here are five suggestions. via Greater Good Science Center, published August 1, 2013.

How to Kill Creativity ~ Teresa Amabile on the three components of creativity and the six general categories of managerial practices that affect creativity: challenge, freedom, resources, work-group, features, supervisory encouragement, and organizational support. via Sage Publications,  published July 12, 2006.

Unstoppable Learning ~ Learning is an integral part of human nature. But why do we — as adults — assume learning must be taught, tested and reinforced? Why do we put so much effort into making kids think and act like us? In this hour, TED speakers explore the ways babies and children learn, from the womb to the playground to the Web. via NPR TED Radio Hour.

Organize an Office Recess and Create Your Own Game ~  A toolkit to organize an office recess and create your own game. via GOOD, published August 1, 2013.

LOOK

Babilawn: Ornamental Air Conditioning Attachments ~ American designers Daniel Licalzi and Paul Genberg have developed a solution to help aid the visual pollution caused by air conditioners sticking out from one’s window. Influenced by the hanging garden’s of Babylon, ‘Babilawn‘, the faux grass mat attaches to the top of the A/C unit, giving users the opportunity to decorate their ‘lawn’ with miniature ornaments such as a white picket fence, yellow or blue daisies, and even a garden gnome. via designboom, published July 30, 2013.

“Uncarriable Carrier Bags” Remind Us, Cheekily, Not To Carry Bags ~ Mother London really wants you to stop carrying plastic bags, and the ad firm will shame you into compliance if necessary. Their yellow Uncarriable Carrier Bags are overlaid with pictures of objects that you wouldn’t want strangers on the street–let alone your own mama–to see you with. via FastCo.Create, published July 31, 2013.

Cakes Shaped Like Planets Have Scientifically Accurate Cross-Sections ~ via design taxi, published July 31, 2013. 

14 innovative & practical solutions to today’s most urgent education challenges ~ The 2013 WISE Awards Finalists from around the globe represent some of the best and most creative work being done in education by non-governmental organizations, charity groups, cultural institutions and the private sector. The 14 projects demonstrate practical solutions to today’s most urgent education challenges. Selected by a pre-Jury of international education experts, the project Finalists showcase unusual approaches to issues of access, quality, and employment needs. via WISE.

Could This Cardboard Furniture Replace Your Ikea Chairs And Bookshelves? Cardboard furniture for the urban nomad. Chairigami’s furniture is made from recycled cardboard and there’s no assembly required: They don’t use any glue or fasteners.~ via FastCo.Exist, published July 29, 2013.

Nobel Prize Winners Are Put to the Task of Drawing Their Discoveries ~ “The idea was, basically, to portray them in a way that was fun, personal and creative,” says Volker Steger. “I wanted to visually link them directly to their discoveries.” via Smithsonian Magazine, published July 23, 2013.

Look, No Grid! NYC Reimagined As A Circular Metropolis ~ Mapmaker Max Roberts‘ original designs aim to challenge conventional map dogma, a lot of which he says are outdated. Rather than emphasize straight lines, clean angles, and geographical accuracy, Roberts’ maps embody a more nuanced approach to mapping, one that combines aesthetics with usability. via FastCo.Design, published July 29, 2013.

WATCH

Find Your Creative Flow State ~ “Happiness is absorption.” – T.E. Lawrence. via Jason Silva’s Shots of Awe project, published July 30, 2013.

8 Things We Simply Don’t Understand About the Human Brain ~Despite all the recent advances in the cognitive and neurosciences, there’s still much about the human brain that we do not know. Here are 8 of the most baffling problems currently facing science. via io9, published July 29, 2013.

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