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Photo by Anny Chen her work can be found at http://annychen.tumblr.com/

A small group of us have been meeting regularly to discuss systems thinking, integrative thinking and design thinking for almost two years. This blog post is a reflection of some of the things I have learned in our most recent sessions.

Teaching creative problem solving is about increasing the adaptiveness of learning participants.

In our last session, we posed the question “How do we design a learning environment that is centred around relationships?” After suggesting the question, we tried to design an intervention that would address the challenge presented. In many ways, the question was not our focus. We are interested in understanding the problem solving process or approach. In the discussion, Eric Rosenberg mentioned a quote that had stuck with him from his personal readings that week.

“The choice is between whether a population seeks to enhance its chances of survival by strengthening and elaborating special social mechanisms of control or increasing the adaptiveness of its individual members.” (Emery and Trist 1973, p. 71)

What we are trying to design is an approach to learning that is counter to seeking mechanisms of control. We want to develop approaches that help participants think and solve their way out of these mechanisms. In returning to the question, we learnt that schools have always been centred around relationships. The question is, what kind of learning relationship? Is it relationships centred around mechanisms of control or is it relationships that support adaptive individuals? We want to design learning environments that increase the adaptiveness of the individual.

Pay attention to the voice of opposition in the room. 

Occasionally, members of our group feel uncomfortable with the assumptions being made in the room. I tend to believe that this person bringing forward their thought usually sees something that the rest of us are missing. The trick is to find a productive way to see what that person sees and then translate it to the group. This ideally goes one of two ways. After some discussion, the person concedes and says something like, “Okay I see it now, sorry about that.” Or, another person in the room shares the same opinion, and is able to articulate it in a way that the rest of us can understand. This process, although at times frustrating, has lead to some very interesting insights. Similar to the deep democracy approach, the learning for me has been that sometimes it is important to pay attention to this voice of opposition, because often it is this sidecar conversation that leads to the best insights.

For people to believe in change they must believe an alternative is possible. 

As simple and as cliche as it sounds, for people to believe they can solve a wicked problem, they must think a solution is possible. I have never really felt compelled to tackle the problems of CO2 emissions related to the climate change. I have always felt the challenge was too big. It was not until I realized that solutions exist that I could begin to think of ways in which we can lower carbon emissions. If the point of SIDELab is to develop ways to teach people to be the problem solvers of tomorrow, then it is important to demonstrate that solutions exist.

You can always start with a better question. How you frame the question determines the answer you get. 

One of the main lessons we have learned from SIDELab is that reframing a problem is perhaps the biggest step towards developing an insight that leads to a truly creative solution. For example, Nogah Kronberg pointed out in our session that bullying was not really about violence, but rather it was about better caring, and better relationships. What if instead of asking “how do we stop bullying in schools?” We asked, “how do we create better relationships?” The later conversation is likely to be very different. The two are intended to lead to the same objective, yet they take us on very different journeys.

Curiosity is what lead the cat to go exploring. Braingasms and a few other likeable cats are why the cat stayed. 

A long time ago, a mentor of mine said to me “keep it curious buddy. Keep it curious”. For the past two years, I have constantly been puzzled by the question: Why do busy, smart, and hard working people come here week after week to nerd out on various topics around thinking?

One day Franziska Beeler answered, “Braingams!”

Shauna Trainor’s thought was that you don’t go back for “gasms” if you don’t like the people. Just as Rita Pierson says in her TED talk, “Kids don’t learn from people they don’t like”. Our brains love to be stimulated, but people return for multiple braingasms because of the people. They love to be challenged, and this group of people suggests to me that with the right kind of engagement, learners will show up to the classroom ready to learn.

Curiosity would get them there the first time, but the people, combined with the braingasms, gets them coming back for more.

My biggest lesson has been, that everyone can enjoy learning if we tap into their interests. This question of how do we create better learning experiences has become an underlying question for the SIDELab. I am grateful we are able to continue to explore these ideas.

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