You’re Being Conditioned Out Of Being Human

Sir Ken Robinson: We don’t grow into creativity, we grow out of it. Or rather, we get educated out of it.

What’s the world going to look like in 50 years? Will the entire world, from continent to continent, be connected to free, unlimited wifi? Will formerly barren landscapes burst with lush, sustainably farmed crops, reducing world hunger to zero? Will there be fully green cities, running on renewable energy with carbon emissions at zero? Will there be access to healthcare for anyone who needs it, regardless of socioeconomic status, to lower mortality rates, and nearly eradicate infectious disease? Will a 94-year old Tom Brady break his own record for oldest player to win a Super Bowl MVP?

Many of you are probably thinking, “Those things are impossible,” but before you click out of this article, let me remind you that we’re in the 21st century at the dawn of the Automation Revolution, while the system in which we work and are educated is a 19th century system from the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. So, yes, in our current system, those things are impossible, but that isn’t inevitable. Our system is costing us the contribution of millions of people who spend their days driving trucks, making sales, and micromanaging their subordinates, instead of exploring their creativity to discover their true potential.

Rather than lament what isn’t, it’s vital to begin from what is, which is where the work of thinkers such as Sir Ken Robinson come into play. Though Sir Ken unfortunately passed away last week, that doesn’t mean his calls for an education revolution have to pass away with him.

His work is painfully relevant today, because many of the worlds problems stem, not from inequality, systemic racism, or capitalism (though those don’t help), but from receiving an education that doesn’t allow children to explore, play, or embrace their differences. In an industrial world, people are conditioned to be compliant, to memorize facts, and to meet quotas, but human beings are at our best when allowed to explore our creativity. Because we’re taught to not question the way things have always been done, it costs us the opportunity to find ways to make things better.

Remember the embarrassment of answering a question incorrectly in front of the class? Or when you thought you had a great idea, and you were laughed at? Think about how it felt to receive a bad grade on a test or project. In the current system, failure, being wrong, and making mistakes are the worst things a person can do. This conditions the creativity out of children, and we become a world where only 15% of people are engaged at work (Gallup) — a world where over 3 million teens have experienced a depressive episode in the last year (SAMHSA). A world where only 14% of American adults say they’re very happy (University of Chicago).

By conditioning the creativity out of people, people are becoming like the robots that will be taking human jobs, and ironically, to prepare for the incoming wave of automation, people need to be creative. As Sir Ken said in his prophetic first TED Talk from 2007,

“If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original. By the time they get to be adults, most kids have lost that capacity. They’ve become frightened of being wrong, and we run our companies like this — we stigmatize mistakes — and we’re now running national education systems where mistakes are the worst thing you can make. The result is that we’re educating people out of their creative capacities.

We don’t grow into creativity, we grow out of it. Or rather, we get educated out of it.”

Sir Ken Robinson

Most of you reading this aren’t kids (if you are, go outside and play, you psychopath), but that doesn’t mean you can’t take something away from this: it’s okay to be wrong. It’s okay to think outside of the box and get your ideas shot down. It’s okay to be laughed at because you think or do things differently. If we want to leave future generations a world we can be proud of, we’re going make a lot of mistakes, but with each mistake, we’ll be one step closer to a world where children are taught that it’s okay to be themselves, take risks, and make mistakes. If we don’t start taking action now, the world in 50 years won’t feel much different than the world today, and that’s not something we can be proud of.

When It Comes to Work, Act Like a Kid

Many of my posts begin with anecdotes about how I once was reprimanded for “acting out.” Admittedly, it’s a great starting point because through this discipline, I realized many of the absurd, stuffy, and unnatural standards humans are meant to abide by. Society states that we must behave a certain way, or else we’ll be treated differently, and God forbid we let down other people’s expectations of us (insert eye roll emoji). Remember being told to “ACT YOUR AGE” as a kid? What I wouldn’t give up to be told to “ACT LIKE A KID” again. Why? Human beings have an innate desire to explore, try new things, and make discoveries, and there is no better time in our lives to do this than when we’re children. Our curiosity peaks when we’re young because the older we get, the more we are told by adults to “stop acting so childish.” The unintended result of this is that we lose our biological desire to explore for fear of consequence. This creates a pattern of stagnation that stifles our childlike wonder to a place that makes us uncomfortable with new ideas.

Regaining this quality is vital in the workplace today. With so many jobs being outsourced to machines, simply working to color inside the lines and meet quotas is becoming an outdated way to work. Modern companies need their teams to think outside of the box, but our childhood conditioning taps us on the shoulder to tell us not to rock the boat for fear of consequence, and too many people listen.

It’s up to you to make the conscious decision to revisit what makes you human. There’s a reason when you would fall as a kid, you would get back up and get right back to what you were doing – it’s our natural instinct. Now, with fear of failure instilled into our psyches by our parents, teachers, and bosses, we’re far less likely to try that new way of doing things that may be the solution to whatever challenges we’re facing. One strategy I use as a comedian to add depth to a joke is to ask myself:

  • “What would a child think about this?”
  • “What would a child do in this situation?”

I’m not advocating you act with reckless abandon and use the airplane seat in front of you as a punching bag, but I am advocating you:

  • Try one new way of doing a rote task at work this week
  • If it doesn’t work, take stock of what worked and what didn’t
  • Adapt your gameplan
  • Try the updated way of doing things

In hindsight, one of the worst things you can do is “act your age.” Because deep down, no matter how old you are, you are a child that needs to explore your world and find new ways to do things that are exciting, interesting, and fun. How can you use this natural curiosity to make your workday better?