Whether I brought you in because you are interested in what I have to say, or my artistic liberties with the word imagine and Virginia Tech’s tagline ‘Invent the Future’ I’m glad you’re here. I found this weeks literature on imagination and motivation…well, truly motivating.
To begin, I the TED talk given by Daniel Pink entitle, ‘The Puzzle of Motivation‘ struck a serious chord with me. I have a confession to make. I am the product of incentivized learning. Yes, I received a personal pan pizza from Pizza Hut when I read a book over the summer in grade school. I got $10 from the radio station in High School if I got all A’s on my report card, and I was promised more money after college if I took the difficult courses and ‘applied’ myself. The reason this TED talk struck a chord with is was because of polar opposite direction we are walking from where the facts are pointing. If you haven’t had a chance to watch the TED talk, I will summarize it here. Motivating individuals with incentives or by other means actually DECREASES performance! Why is this the first time I am hearing about this?? I believe it is because I was raised in an education system that has to give out cookies and smiley-face stickers to students for doing what is ‘required’ of them. Don’t even begin with the parents at this stage. This point flows somewhat into a piece of literature that was presented to the class.
Eric Liu and Scott-Noppe Brandon’s Imagination First presents some wonderful ideas but my favorite was the ICI cycle. The ICI cycle begins with imagination and flows into creativity. Only after creativity can innovation begin. This is where my title comes from. As a university we have focused so much on the innovation section of this cycle to the point that I have never heard an engineering professor tell me to be imaginative. As students, all through academia, we are taught though a mundane stand-and-deliver approach while being told to be innovative. We are given rooms with whiteboards and fancy chairs to help us think better to hopefully begin to untie our imaginations that have been bound since our first grade SOL test on how to use a computer.
The problem is not only our testing and assessments, although that is the discussion this week. The root of the problem is how our education system removes the ability to be imaginative while still focusing on innovation. In Alfie Kohn’s The Case Against Grades, Kohn states that when students are faced with a book report that is to be graded, they will typically choose a book or at least a genre they are already familiar with, to give them a higher probability of success. We have to bring back imagination into the classrooms. Another issue forcing imagination out of the classrooms is the lens we view great minds through. We view individuals such as Isaac Newton and John Nash as these great minds who innovate and come up with new concepts because it was hard coded into their minds. Isaac Newton spent as much time and effort reviewing complex topics in physics as he did predicting the end of the world and the coming apocalypse. He was a doomsday prepper! John Nash, the founder of Game Theory and the Nash Equilibrium said, “rationality of thought imposes a limit on a person’s concept of his relation to the cosmos”, and he was a paranoid schizophrenic! I am not saying, be a schizophrenic or a doomsday prepper, but we need to stop looking at these minds of great individuals, saying that this level of scientific breakthrough is not possible without a great mind. These are the individuals who innovated because they imagined. We need to imagine the future, before we can invent and innovate the future.