Good Sense and Creativity (or lack of)

Good Sense and Creativity in Schools

Pablo Picasso once said, “The chief enemy of creativity is good sense.” Good sense is that stabilizing factor that comes along years after the creation of a new idea, a new process, or a new system.

Take, for example, IBM. Since it’s early founding in the 1910s, IBM has innovated the way we do business. They streamlined time cards, expanded the use of electric typewriters, and created the computing revolution with the mainframe computer.

But their “good sense” and lack of continued creative innovation resulted in a cruel twenty years during the 1980s and 1990s. In 1993, their losses exceeded $8 billion and now (2018) they’re no longer ranked in the top 10 tech companies in terms of valuation.

How IBM fell, Good Sense and Creativie @mafost

“Good Sense” is a blanket that quells the need for creativity. It appeals to our primal need for security, safety, and stability. As I’ll show further in this post, “good sense” covers our education systems, specifically, our curricula.

Picasso would never be accused of creating art that made good sense. No, he knew that all of life is an abstraction. To him, cubism was no less a real representation of reality than a photograph, a video, or even you, in person covered with the expected attire.

Picasso, like most creatives, embraced fluidity – the constantly changing reality. His cubism could be considered more realistic than other art forms because he embraced the fact that multiple perspectives play with objects simultaneously.

What does this mean for learning?

What does this mean for schools?

Schools that function in the industrial model are designed to create compliant workers. Clock-watchers. Literalists. Safety-seekers. @mafost

Creativity (and lack of) in Schools

Schools that function in the industrial model are designed to create compliant workers. Laborers who seek time off on the weekend. Laborers who have just enough skills to complete a task day in and day out.

Quantity is the focus.

As the economist, Adam Smith (a founder of capitalism) wrote in Wealth of Nations, the economy achieves its optimal growth when tasks are broken down into discrete pieces performed with very little artistry and thought.

The trade-off, in the industrial model, is – give us your time, we’ll give you security. Clock-in, do a job, and we’ll provide stability for you and your family.

Schools during the 20th century sought to produce compliant students who followed rules and performed tasks given to them.

But this model no longer works.

The industrial model of schools sought to create “good sense” in compliant workers who followed the manual and performed basic, discrete tasks. @mafost

The Industrial Model is Dead

The tech revolution at the end of the 20th century brought an end to the industrial model. This topic could be debated in further detail, but suffice it to say the advent of the information age changed how we think about jobs and security.

The promise of security no longer exists. Pensions, social security, and teacher retirements do not provide the stability that they once did. But the school models that prepared workers for these promises, remains largely unchanged.

Employees, in 2018, no longer seek the trade-off of mundane work for financial stability. They know the trade-off doesn’t exist. The new workforce is seeking meaning. They are seeking work that is meaningful, that is human.

Likewise, schools that prepare students with the promise, “Do good, get good grades, go to college, and you’ll be happy” are sending a lie to students.

That’s right, a lie.

Schools that prepare students with the promise, “Do good, get good grades, go to college, and you’ll be happy” are sending a lie to students. @mafost

The Unhappy Young Professional

In a 2017 study, most young college graduates working in professional careers reported that college loan debt was a “significant” source of stress in their lives.

Here are a few stats from a different 2015 survey:

  • 41% of young professional have postponed home ownership because of debt burden.
  • 25% of young professionals still live with parents because of college debt burden.
  • 20% of recent graduates do not work in their field of study.

These stats are not alarming, per say. But they add to the story that the “Good Grades + College = Happiness” promise does not add up. That industrial age promise is dead.

It’s a curriculum for compliance, for average, for good workers – a curriculum and system designed for a bygone era. @mafost

Curricula for Compliance

Think about the history of curricula. No details, just in broad sweeping terms.

When did our core Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic curriculum develop? Was it in the 1800s? Or was it with Plato?

I don’t remember, but it was certainly generations ago!

It hasn’t stood the test of time because it is creative. Rather, it makes “good sense”. And this is precisely the problem. It’s a curriculum for compliance, for average, for good workers – a curriculum and system designed for a bygone era.

How can a core curriculum such as this, and a school system built on it, actually prepare us for a world in which…

  • Google can calculate for you,
  • voice typing can “write” for you,
  • AI will work for your,
  • Mechanical Turk will fill your intelligent labor needs,
  • Amazon drone-delivers,
  • Pixel* makes foreign language learning irrelevant, and
  • audiobook* reading is on the rise?

This is not to say the “three R’s” are irrelevant. They are certainly relevant for specific pathways. But they are increasingly irrelevant for many, if not most, pathways in life.

Don’t believe me?

When was the last time you:

  • Used Pythagorean theorem?
  • Calculated acceleration of a falling object?
  • Analyzed pre-Victorian literature?
  • Needed to know the causes and effects of the War of 1812?

On the flipside, when was the last time you:

  • Googled information in a casual conversation or at work?
  • Videoed or photographed a human interaction?
  • Reached out to another human on social media?
  • Looked up how to do something on YouTube?

Yes. I thought so.

Information is easy. Skills are ready to be learned as needed. Human connections are paramount. In the information age, it’s about community, sharing, collaborating, and mostly creating.

The three R’s curriculum is ancient. It is heavily tested. It is mandated. It is a way to rank students and schools (read more on the dangers of ranking) on how well they comply. Not how well they question or create.

The three R’s curriculum is ancient. It’s tested and mandated. It is a way to rank, not a way to empower questioning or creativity in students. @mafost

Curricula for Creativity

What is there instead of teaching Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic? What is a core curriculum for creativity?

At it’s most basic level, a creative curriculum is one that focuses on big ideas, uses a variety of approaches to demonstrating learning, and creates a meaningful sense of continuity as a way to stimulate students, teachers, and communities.

Creativity in schools looks like:

  • Students working on meaningful projects that connect to community needs.
  • Students preparing for non-academic work life (think CTE and STEAM schools).
  • For academic pathways, students creating unique questions, analyzing each others’ research, and generating tested ideas about the problems in the world.
  • Learning how to connect humans in productive and beneficial ways.
  • Learning how to create products and services to fill human needs.
  • Learning to create and shape culture.

There are a few key understandings needed to create a curriculum for creativity. Among them:

  • How and why people connect.
  • The nature of the current problems people face.
  • Prior solutions that failed in history.
  • Skills required to execute an idea.
  • How to gather the needed information and how to learn the needed skills.

Curricula for creativity focus on the creative process (obviously). Knowledge and skills are merely the tools needed to complete the creative process (read more on how and why skills should be a focus in schools).

In the 3 R’s curriculum, knowledge and skills are the focus. If you look at your state standards or the CCSS, you’ll see this to be true. Why is this a problem?

The answer is easy. There are no universal sets of knowledge and skills required to be successful. This is the essence of Picasso’s creativity. His art embodied the fact that there are multiple pathways to the same endpoint and/or to various endpoints.

There are no universal sets of knowledge and skills required to be successful. And schools that recognize this, prioritize creativity. @mafost

Compliance, Divergence, and Subversity

Let’s wrap up this lengthy post with three related concepts that might help to visualize my point.

Picasso showed us perspectives matter. IBM showed us how bureaucracy and “good sense” are the routes to compliance and big losses. These two create a continuum with “good sense” compliance on one side and creativity way down near the other side.

Creativity in Schools is Easier than you might think!

Compliance seeks to average out ideas. It’s interested in black and white. Literalism. It’s the mindset that seeks to make divergent ideas and projects more palatable to the most number of people possible. Usually, it operates from fear and a need for stability.

Divergence seeks differences. It’s the basis for questions, requires multiple perspectives, and values process over quick answers. In a classroom, this might look like students working on projects that allow multiple pathways to learn and multiple ways to demonstrate learning.

In schools, divergence might look like collaboration instead of committees – a type of collaboration that respects and values a variety of approaches and opinions. It allows for equifinality, the belief that there’s more than one way to get to the same result.

Creativity. We’ve already exhausted 2000 words talking about this one.

Subversity is the ultimate aim of creativity. It’s the mantra that makes successful companies thrive (i.e. Steve Jobs’ “think differently” drive for noncompliance). It’s the creation of an entirely new way of doing.

Subversity occurs when creative individuals unite and overturn the “old ways” creating entirely new and innovative ways of thinking and creating. It’s the essence behind multifinality.

Compliance seeks to average out ideas. Usually, it operates from fear and a need for stability. @mafost

I realize the problem with creativity, is that it’s messy. This post might even be a bit messy. But that’s the point. That’s the genius of Picasso’s art and the missed opportunity in IBM’s losses.

Thank you for reading. If you made it here, to the end, please leave me a comment or share your thoughts on social media…multiple viewpoints are the only way to move forward on the creativity continuum!

3 thoughts on “Good Sense and Creativity (or lack of)

  1. Very good post! Sometimes I feel like articles like these are ahead of their time. Creativity and innovation will be crucial to success in the 4th industrial revolution and many schools and businesses are not staying ahead of the curve to ensure that students and employees are prepared to prosper. We share a lot of the same ideas on this topic. Check out my site:


    1. Thanks for the comments. Its so true, how we view and execute on creativity will largely determine our readiness and success in the future. I often wonder…do we create barriers to creativity? What are the unintended side effects of some of our most well-intentioned initiatives? What are your thoughts?


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