Monday, October 10, 2005

A Note on Conventional Wisdom

CEOs and teachers alike complain about a lack of out-of-the-box problem-solving. One approach is to reconsider the way we think about learning.

What does it take?

Creative thinking that has practical application requires discovery, careful observation and analysis, trial and error -- usually over a period of time.

It's also is handy to find a vocabulary that works across contexts so that processes from one discipline can be applied to those in another.

Here's one that my students found useful when working on critical thinking skills.

Convention is by definition is what we take for granted.

Every situation in which we find ourselves constitutes a collection of conventions --of dress, language, behavior, and so on. We operate every day within sets of rules without thinking much about it.

How do we know when we're experts?

We tend to define fluency by the automatic nature of our reactions and behaviors within a particular situation.

In other words, we know we can drive when we don't have to think about it anymore. We are adept at speaking a language, hitting a baseball, or drawing conclusions when we don't have to apply conscious thought.

Clearly, in some cases this is necessary. Better to be on the road, for example, with those who can avoid accidents without too much pondering than with someone who reexamines every move.

On the other hand, if we want to satisfy our demand for creative problem-solving, we need to expand our criteria for intellectual accomplishment beyond begin safe and comfortable.

After all, what hope is there for innovation if the ultimate goal of learning is to stop thinking altogether?

More on practical applications of post-structuralism in later posts.

In the meantime, there's nothing like a Russian Formalist to dig you out of a rut. See Vicktor Shklovsky's philosophy on defamiliarization.

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