School and Work are the Gravesite for Innovation

We live in a world where education is a synonym to brainwashing; we're clearly doing something wrong.

No matter where you come from or who you are, I can be sure that at some point in your life you have experienced the drudgery that is an average work or school day. From beginning to end, you wait for that clock to strike the allotted time so you can flee that hellish place. Is this the way things ought to be? We only live once, so why should we make half of our life unbearable through menial tasks?

Some people argue that this is the way things have to be, but in reality it needn’t be so. In school, not much has changed in the form of learning since the beginning of the public education system back in the nineteenth century. There has always been a teacher and there are pupils who learn to regurgitate some facts they are taught. Critical thinking rarely enters the lesson and whenever it does its done in a rather half-hearted manner. Besides this glaring omission, each subject is taught in a completely different realm. There is no such thing as interdisciplinary thinking.

The lack of interdisciplinary thinking in the education system is the reason as to why it took over a hundred years to successfully mix psychology with economics. The resulting mixture was behavioural economics for which Daniel Kahneman, PhD received a Nobel prize in economics back in 2002. In other words, the study of the human mind (which controls all aspects of an economy) had never before been linked to the study of production, distribution and consumption of goods and services. I’m not going to downplay the achievements of Kahneman but it should be obvious to anyone studying a social science that if the human psyche isn’t taken into account then anything you learn is useless.

All of these faults in the education system worldwide can be reduced to one single factor – lack of involvement from the students. Pupils cannot decide to focus themselves on one area of knowledge, especially if it’s the arts, because the education system is more concerned in creating workers rather than individuals with differing interests. Moreover, even if they could decide to focus on an area of knowledge, they aren’t shown how to use their knowledge. They are only taught to memorize facts.

Some of you may think that at present I’m contradicting myself because I’m advocating interdisciplinary activities while also saying that pupils should have the ability to focus on an area of knowledge. Let me make myself clear; what I’m proposing is a system where academia is centred not in a curriculum, which must be strictly followed, but in the interests of an individual. Schools would switch to a system which isn’t grade driven but project driven. At the start of each semester (or year) students would choose a project they’d work on for the period and in that time they’d have the option of attending lectures on all manner of subjects to help them gain the necessary knowledge to complete the project. At the end of the period, the project would be reviewed by a board from different areas with a certain set of guidelines. These guidelines would be flexible enough to allow creativity in any shape or form but strict enough to ensure that the pupil did, in fact, gain knowledge. Nonetheless, we still have the issue of maintaining interest in such a project for a long period of time. The trick to achieve interest in such projects is simple. It’s the same mechanic that allows games like World of Warcraft to have over nine million paying subscribers and it’s also the reason why everyone you know and their dog are inviting you to play Farmville.

80 million people prefer literally watching the grass grow than doing any work.

The reason why those games are such gigantic hits and are so addictive to some players (leading some people to even go to rehab centres) is because of three aspects, which Malcolm Gladwell mentioned in his book Outliers, that are needed to have a satisfying job:

  • Autonomy: If you have this, you invest more time in your work because you have a say in the final outcome and thus you care for it more.
  • Complexity: If a job is difficult enough to keep you interested but not enough to dissuade you from doing the project then, you’ll find it to be a much more satisfying experience.
  • Connection between effort and reward: This way, you receive proof that your work actually means something and you get more emotionally invested.

The method I’m proposing can also be applied to work, and we can already start seeing it in place. Companies like Google or Atlassian are giving engineers 20% of their time to do whatever they want. This small percentage of time is responsible for about half of Google’s yearly products.

Imagine a world where the artist could be an artist without fear of repression, a world where scientific intrigue was cultivated, a world where the wage isn’t the determining factor in deciding one’s career. Simply try to visualize how many people could become a Linus Tovalt, founder of Linux, or a Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, or a Shawn Fanning, founder of Napster, under the right motivation. All of the examples I’ve given changed the world from their dorms because they had the will to fight against the tide and they had a vision for the future. We live in a world where the seemingly impossible is becoming possible. Why then do we constrain ourselves for the sake of tradition?


EDIT: Since I wrote this article I’ve come across certain school systems which are similar to what I proposed.Such an example can be found here, and it seems to be very successful.


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5 Responses to School and Work are the Gravesite for Innovation

  1. nookhan says:

    I really liked the article, thank you very much.

  2. Excellent post. I especially like, “if the human psyche isn’t taken into account then anything you learn is useless.”

  3. mic says:

    I like it!

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