Education and Management are obsolete. Get rid of them!

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“Our education system has mined our minds in the way that we strip-mine the earth: for a particular commodity”, Ken Robinson

Education and Management are obsolete. They are two totems of the old wisdom, and there seems to be a sort of “Wisdom Spring” going on, an intellectual revolution to bring them down or, at least, rejuvenate them. In two of the most popular TED talks, Ken Robinson (Schools Kill Creativity, 2006) and Dan Pink (The puzzle of Motivation, 2009) make the case, respectively, for an education system that nurtures creativity and new management practices which build on what science knows about human motivation.

Our present-day education and management systems are deeply rooted on the needs of industrialism during 19th and 20th centuries. Public education is predicated on the idea of academic literacy and traditional notions of management are designed to assure compliance. Interestingly, neither management nor education did emanate from nature. They are not like trees or stones, they are more like a television set or a rocket. They are technologies: social technologies. Somebody invented them and there is no reason to think they are going to work forever. In fact, now their time has passed.

In the next 30 years, more people worldwide will be graduating through education than since the beginning of history. Suddenly, degrees aren’t worth anything. 30 or 40 years ago, if you had a degree, you had a job. Now kids with degrees are often heading home to carry on playing video games (see Spanish poster-child figures), because you need an MA where the previous job required a BA, and now you need a PhD for the other. Furthermore, a PhD commands only a 3% premium over a master’s degree (The Economist, “The Disposable Academic”). It’s a process of academic inflation!

Ken Robinson argues that creativity now is as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status. He defines creativity as the process of having original ideas that have value, and it seems that we all come with the potential to be creative. Picasso said that all children are born artists. The problem is to remain an artist as we grow up. Robinson thinks that far from growing into creativity, thanks to education we grow out of it: we get educated out of creativity.

Our education system has mined our minds in the way that we strip-mine the Earth: for a particular commodity. And for the future, it won’t serve us. We have to rethink the fundamental principles on which we are educating our children

In a similar way, our management practices alienate our natural will to be part of something greater than us. Too many organizations are making their decisions, their policies about talent and people, based on assumptions that are outdated, unexamined, and rooted more in folklore than in science:

If you want people to perform better, you reward them, right? Bonuses, commissions, their own reality show. Incentivize them. … But that’s not happening here. You’ve got an incentive designed to sharpen thinking and accelerate creativity, and it does just the opposite. It dulls thinking and blocks creativity.

Dan Pink examines the puzzle of motivation to conclude that there is a mismatch between what science knows and what business does:

  • 20th century rewards, those motivators we think are a natural part of business, do work, but only in a surprisingly narrow band of circumstances.
  • If-then rewards often destroy creativity.
  • The secret to high performance isn’t rewards and punishments, but that unseen intrinsic drive — the drive to do things for their own sake. The drive to do things cause they matter.

The experimental evidence supporting these assertions has been replicated over and over and over again, for nearly 40 years. These contingent motivators — if you do this, then you get that — work only in some circumstances. But for a lot of tasks, they actually either don’t work or, worse, they do harm. This is one of the most robust findings in social science, and also one of the most ignored. The solution is not to do more of the wrong things, to entice people with a sweeter carrot, or threaten them with a sharper stick. We need a whole new approach. And here’s the best part:

The science confirms what we know in our hearts. If we bring our notions of motivation into the 21st century, if we get past this lazy, dangerous, ideology of carrots and sticks, we can strengthen our businesses, and maybe, maybe, maybe we can change the world.

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