Monday, February 13, 2006

Toward Sustainable Innovation: Observation vs. Analysis 2

Learning How to See. Again.

Unfortunately, the pressure to perform has allowed us at best, to confuse the processes of observation and analysis, and at worst, to skip the process of observation entirely.

In order to develop new ideas, the first step is to really see what's in front of you. In order to do that, you need to remember how to look.

What Have Adults Forgotten?

Curiosity is hard-wired from birth. This drives a process of experiment and discovery that explains the reason you see your toddler throwing cutlery from a high-chair -- just to see what happens. Maybe a cup will make a different sound? Maybe a cup with water would be fun to watch fly? If children like the results -- and often they do -- they'll repeat the performance just for the pleasure of observing the results.

Then Comes Education

The shift comes when a child is asked to replace his or her own investment in what's important with that of an adult. What we have come to call education focuses almost entirely on results.

Observation: The First Step Toward Insight

The process of observation is essential to analysis, and ultimately insight. However, it is a process that, if taught at all, is not valued nearly as much as the results it produces.

Parents prepare children for school from infancy by asking for particular behavior. A consistent demand for a particular results trains small people to offer up what pleases someone else rather than themselves.

The way of thinking creates a habit of believing the answer exists outside oneself and trying to find it in the expectations of someone else.

However, before finding an answer independently, you have to examine the data. This requires an engagement in the material that is entirely one's own.

What Gets in the Way?

If you're taught from infancy to find the answer someone else wants, you'll look for answers in their expectations rather engaging in the data with which you are presented. The pressure for results probably won't help either. Observation requires the time it takes to really look and absorb what you see.

If this all sounds obvious, it's not. Most people I've worked with -- from young students to executives -- confuse the process of observation and analysis. In fact, people tend to skip the former in part or entirely.

Children in School Become Adults at Work

In adulthood, this problem can serve as the foundation for The (dreaded)Box. Both believing an answer exists outside of one and the urgent demand for results probably won't produce anything new. As a process, it certainly isn't sustainable.

An advertising executive came to me asking questions about the reasons her staff and highly regarded professionals in her field couldn't seem to distinguish data from the conclusions they draw from them. We dubbed this the space between sight and insight -- see the article in the next post.

One caveat

Please do not mistake this call for change in perspective on educational perspective as an invective against school per se. Walden is not my model. I wouldn't have bothered getting a PhD if it were.

Whether or not they go on to higher education, children need adults to model, teach, and broaden their perspectives, and school can be great. As long as it cultivates, rather than dismisses, children's engagement and interests.

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