Question The System, Solve The Symptoms

The world is desperate for a coronavirus cure — we want life to get back to normal, but I can’t help but feel like we haven’t exhausted all options.

Has no one tried leeches?

If you think that sounds absurd, you’re right: leeches would only alleviate the symptoms of COVID, and not address the cause.

Many of the solutions to problems that our government, medical professionals, and workplace leadership propose involve treating symptoms of problems, rather than addressing the causes. This is just as effective as using leeches to cure, well, anything.

Addressing symptoms creates short-term results, and it can serve as a stopgap to solving the actual cause of the problem, but it won’t actually solve the problem.

When I was in college, I smashed the transmission of my Saturn driving over a curb on a night of bad decisions, causing a massive fluid leak. Instead of paying for a whole new transmission, I decided to pay a mechanic to weld it back together, which stopped the leak, but a few months later, the transmission completely blew and I had to get a new car altogether. Because I wasted my resources on a short-term fix, I ended up paying more in the long run.

Now, I don’t know what “getting to the core” of our world’s health crisis is, but I do know the long-term solution to most societal problems is to overhaul our education system. Did that solution come out of left field? Maybe in terms of this post, but our current education system as it stands is hampering our human potential. We can ban guns, offer universal basic income, and elect different representatives all we want, but these are addressing the symptoms of an even greater problem.

Why?

Our education system is designed to meet the needs of the Industrial Revolution, a time when humans took on the role of robots in factories to complete specialized tasks, so schools taught students how to be compliant and fit into those roles. Now, we’re entering the automation revolution, where actual robots are taking those jobs and creating a more efficient production process. In the short-term, this may seem like a bad thing: “THEY’RE TAKING OUR JOBS!” But in the long-term, this can be an amazing development in human history because it frees up millions of people from doing repetitive, simple tasks that numbs their brains, allowing them the chance to engage the natural human inclination to do creative work. But if schools keep producing compliant humans, the only solution humans will see is, “WE NEED TO GET OUR JOBS BACK!” This outcome is nothing more than addressing a symptom created by the obsoleteness of our education system.

Humans aren’t meant to work in factories. We operate at our best when we’re working together to find novel ways to solve problems, but today’s education is a one-size-fits-all system that emphasizes output over creativity, and the importance of the individual over the group.

If you work in a factory, and an employee has a creative idea to make work more fun, the manager is bound to shoot that idea down because it means a shift in roles, and perhaps short-term losses. In fact, that employee may be viewed as a troublemaker. Our society questions the innovative individual, rather than the system that stifles their potential.

We’ve confined ourselves to a system that works against us in a 21st century economy.

We’ve confined ourselves to a system that demeans anyone who dare question that system.

We’ve confined ourselves to a system that steers people away from doing jobs that are mentally and spiritually engaging to jobs that are mentally and spiritually draining.

And this isn’t even an issue in this year’s presidential election.

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Me when I came to the above realization

Billions of people around the world don’t think they’re talented, intelligent, or creative, not because they aren’t, but because they’ve been shoved into a system that tells them they’re not.

The world is changing so rapidly that, if there isn’t a fundamental revolution in how we educate ourselves over the next decade, problems like climate change, equality, and pandemics will make today’s problems seem like child’s play. This isn’t meant to be foreboding and apocalyptic, it’s meant to be a call to action.

Education reform begins with learning how human beings think and behave, then leaning into our natural inclinations and creativity to address the problem with an actual solution: teach students how to think, howto work together, and how to engage their creativity. Once we do that, there’s no limit to our potential.

Until then, we’re stuck in a system that emphasized job titles, individualism, and output as metrics for success, while we argue over which symptoms to solve by throwing stupid amounts of money at them… we might as well be using leeches.

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.

Micromanaging? That’s SOOOOO Industrial Revolution

When I step outside in my Victorian era tailcoat, vest, and top hat, I tend to get some concerned looks, but it’s when I take a leisurely ride through the park on my comically lopsided penny-farthing that I end up on a lot of Instagram stories. Why?

I look like an idiot.

If my roommates’ parents were to take a steam-powered locomotive from San Francisco to visit Cleveland, I’d be perplexed. Doing that instead of taking a plane would be like Frodo taking the One Ring to Mordor on foot… rather than just using GIANT EAGLES. Seriously – Gandalf had giant freaking eagles at his disposal. The quest to save Middle Earth from destruction could’ve been over in days!!! Why would you take such an outdated, antiquated method of transportation when there are GIANTE FREAKING EAGLES called AIRPLANES!? You could even take Amtrak, make a stop at every single goddamned town, and still be more efficient in your travel.

It doesn’t make sense to rely on 19th century practices when there are so many better ways to do things, does it? So why do many of today’s creatively stifling management practices run on 19thcentury thinking?

With the dawn of factory work, companies relied on measurement and monitoring in order to control thousands of workers. According to the book Alive at Work: The Neuroscience of Helping Your People Love What They Do, managers created policies that stifled employees’ natural desires to explore and try new things so that they would focus on narrow tasks. This system was crucial to production and reliability, but it hampered self-expression, the ability to experiment and learn, and withered away their connection to the final product, thus eliminating meaning and engagement from work.

Now, we live in a world that’s evolving at an unprecedented rate where thinking outside of the box, taking risks, and innovation are key qualities that employees need… but the old industrial management practices are still entrenched in most workplaces.

Employees are unable to leverage their unique skills. They’re shoehorned into a system that creates stress, fear, and encourages office politics so that there are constant missed opportunities for collaboration, breakdowns in communication, and a rampant lack of meaning.

The Industrial Revolution discovered new ways to innovate technology so that people could work more efficiently, but if factories were still relying on the same machinery from 150 years ago, they’d actually be hurting their efficiency.

Most workplaces are still relying on the same management practices from 150 years ago, yet little effort has been made to change this entrenched system. Time continues to pass and we’re heading into a new, automation revolution. IT’S TIME FOR CHANGE!

There are workplaces out there that engage their people in ways that gives them the freedom to explore, take risks, make mistakes, and learn from those mistakes. This makes their teams much more innovative and their people much more fulfilled by their work, thus creating the production that Victorian era managers were looking for without the sacrifices to their employees’ humanity. These workplaces, however, are few and far between…

If advancing our technology allowed mankind to take such a giant leap forward during the Industrial Revolution, imagine how big of a leap mankind would take by advancing how we treat other people – you know, the ones who use and innovate the technology. Giving humans the opportunity to take advantage of the biological need to explore our creativity at work is our GIANT FREAKING EAGLE; let’s work together and USE IT!

Think About It:

Do you work better when you’re free to be creative or when you’re micromanaged and every part of your work is monitored?

Think of a time you were able to think outside of the box on a project: how did it engage you? How did it make you feel? Were you able to come up with solution ideas more quickly?

If you’re a leader, how can you communicate to your people that it’s okay to stretch themselves creatively and take risks? If you had just a little more creative freedom with your work, what would you do differently?

How can you spread this shift in workplace thinking at your job?

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