As forcefully articulated and expressed by Sir Ken Robinson, the internationally recognised leader in education and human resources, the current trouble with education is the still dominant culture of conformity, compliance and standardisation, a triad designed to serve the needs of industrialisation and a command and control world. This approach has had its benefits but with an increasing waste of human and natural resources, high human and animal suffering and growing mismatch with the needs of public and private organisations. Education should thus, Sir Robinson has long been arguing, be revolutionised. It should cultivate diversity, curiosity and creativity.
Given the pace of change and the significance of the challenges humanity is currently facing, the revolution cannot be confined to the realms of education. It has to enter each organisation – economic, political and social – so as to move us away from a world of domination and exclusion towards a world of collaboration, inclusion and sustainability.
Short of them, a world of domination, exclusion and exhaustion
According to several indicators, the world is now a much better place for human beings than it has ever been but it is still plagued with domination and exclusion and is facing the daunting prospect of the exhaustion of natural resources. The conspicuous absence of the triad diversity-curiosity-creativity in the various segments of societies is a key reason for this unfortunate situation. Let’s focus on politics and the work place as illustrations of this argument.
Nationalism and populism, currently in vogue, promote a vision of the world of us against them, explicitly negating the values of diversity and suppressing desires for curiosity and for understanding the others and their basic human needs. It leads to a world of exclusion, of cognitive and physical walls, that only lead in turn to desires to build counter-walls or to by-pass them in often desperate attempts, as seen everyday everywhere but particularly in North America and Western Europe. The suppression of diversity and curiosity in politics takes many expressions and has different roots, besides education, in different countries.
As illustrations, to follow up on some of my recent pieces, in Brexiting Britain, it lies in the constitutional set-up that has led to a bipartisan autocracy. In socially explosive France, it stems from the hegemony of the hautes-écoles and the institutional and physical centralisation of power. Everywhere, though, the advent of social media has been a source of concern for diversity and curiosity. On the one hand, they offer a formidable window for individual expression and opinions, but on the other, they are huge magnifiers of simplistic messages, fake news, and hatred rhetoric, and designers of like-minded “friends.” Short of the thriving of diversity and curiosity, creativity in politics has either been limited – again think of Brexit on both sides of the Channel or the responses to the yellow jackets – or frightening if we consider recent practices to track individual opinions and movements, allegedly for security concerns.
In the work place
Think of the work place now, in business, in public agencies or in social organisations. Most firms and organisations still work under the command and control predicament and are structured in specialised silos. Routines, procedures and processes dominate, carefully thus constraining and defining the boundaries of diversity and curiosity. Group think and collective failures have been thriving, as well as permanent attempts at being the best, the first, the one with the deepest pockets, in short at position of dominance and monopolistic rents in a finite game of attrition of resources. Bringing in more women, or persons of different skin color, or with different passports, has been touted as a huge success for diversity but one has to realise that diversity goes much beyond those three, albeit important, dimensions even when their inclusion is done in a well-intentioned manner. Similarly, the mantras of specialisation and efficiency have too often worked as barriers to curiosity in organisations that make time an increasingly rare commodity for their employees. Not surprisingly, then, employees have become increasingly disengaged at work, and path-breaking innovation has been too rare a commodity.
With them, a world of collaboration, inclusion and sustainability
Unleashing the power of the trio diversity-curiosity-creativity
will cause anxiety to all those who have been formatted under
the command and control model because they believe it will
lead to chaos, uncertainty and anarchy.
The current fashionable compass for many decision-makers is the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) framework adopted by the members of the United Nations (UN) in 2015. Central to the achievement of those goals is the promotion of multidimensional collaboration and partnership – as detailed in several targets of SDG 17. This is a significant advancement given that, in the words of Sir Robinson, “creativity loves collaboration.” Powerful collaboration requires not “simply” to “share (italics mine) knowledge, expertise, technology and financial resources” (SDG17 Target 17.16) but a deep understanding of the many others and a readiness to transform one-self beyond our current cognitive and organisational “markers.” I would argue that this is diversity and curiosity at their best and deepest. Deeply rooting them in each of us is the surest recipe for making the world more inclusive and sustainable.
Unleashing the power of the trio diversity-curiosity-creativity will cause anxiety to all those who have been formatted under the command and control model because they believe it will lead to chaos, uncertainty and anarchy. Chaos is an inherent property of complex systems. Despite decades of scientific attempts (in particular in economics) to suppress the uncertainty linked to interventions in such systems, one has to admit that we are living with it every day. Yet, this does not mean that anarchy will prevail. Living systems have continued in an evolutionary fashion thanks to self-control mechanisms. It is time for us to think of humanity on planet Earth within such an eco-system perspective and the best way to make it happen is to advocate for the trinity of diversity, curiosity and creativity.
This article is part of my series "The Director's words" which features in our Executive Education newsletters. Follow us on LinkedIn>