Friday, February 15, 2013

Constraints Create Creativity

Aza Raskin was named the 2011 Master of Design and one of the top 40 influential designers by Fast Company. Aza is the founder and CEO of Massive Health, and was until recently Creative Lead for Firefox and a founding member of Mozilla Labs.

In his talk at Webstock Aza stated 

“it’s not about thinking outside the box. It’s about finding the right box to think inside.” 
Much of what he discussed can be directly mapped into our thinking for education.

How do we ask the right question? The way to solve a problem is to know how to ask the right question, turn a difficult question into an easier question by changing the way you ask it. Most of the time we are trying to solve the wrong problem because we don’t understand what the problem is.

Aza challenges us to ‘fail forward’. He says it is going to happen so we should plan for it.

The main idea here is that Constraints Create Creativity. So how do obstacles change perceptual and conceptual scopes? Take a look at this example:

Turning an unused crack between two houses into a home
World’s narrowest house video

Constraints force us to think differently. A research report apparently found that if you encounter a detour on your way home you are more likely to eat something different for dinner. Constraints change habits.

It is via the constraint that we can overcome the mundanity and banality, it forces us to break our habits. Focused obstacles and questions are just constraints.

So … what questions lead to a good question? 

  • The ones that preclude reliable, already recognized answers
  • That promote novel ones
  • That help you fail forward
How fabulous to have the mindset that revels in constraints, and embraces challenges that change habits. This would be a great way to approach our schools and our classrooms. 

This brings to mind the story of three teachers who embraced their constraints and created a new way to teach their students.

Collaborative teaching in a traditional environment from EDtalks.

Industrialised ignorance

I am at the Webstock conference in Wellington. 

This conference covers everything from empathy in design to HTML5 and CSS, to the future of education, and how tech makes us human.

The first speaker of the day was Clay Johnson (@cjoh) who is best known as the co-founder of Blue State Digital, the firm that built and managed Barak Obama's online campaign for presidency in 2008.

Clay talked to us about industrialised ingnorance. He began the session with an activity that really brought home just how much the media around us can drown out what is important.

Please stand if you know the name of one Kardashian …

Please stand if you know the child poverty rate in NZ …

Imagine which of these statements most people stood up for. 

How are we supposed to cause an impact in this world, in our lives, if we are not fully informed of what the actual issues are? How can we cause an impact if we don’t know that we can?

So how did this come about, how do we know the name of a Kardashian and not the extent of issues such as child poverty? Clay demonstrated how the popular media aims to affirm people rather than to inform them. People are looking for evidence that they are right in their beliefs rather than being challenged and informed of the facts to be able to make informed opinions. For example look at different newspapers and their left and right leanings. A lot of people choose the news they consume because it reflects their ideology. Clay stated that confirmation bias is the new H1N1 virus

We need to manage our information intake like we manage our food intake.

More and more we are aware of what is healthy for our bodies, how we should eat. We manage that carefully and know when we are having too much sugar or fat. Can we do the same thing with our information intake? Can we distinguish the sugar and fat? Treat your life like time is important. Schedule social media time rather than losing time to it.

How do you spend your time online? Rescue time  is an app that can help you check out your digital life.

One suggestion was to stop using your iphone as an alarm clock. What is the first thing you do after you stop the alarm? You check your email. You become a consumer. Take the challenge to begin your day as a producer - sit down and write, think, plan - before you become a consumer.

So Clay’s four points were:
1. consciously consume
2. subtract junk
3. be a producer
4. enable a ‘whole’ news movement

The whole news movement is a push to be able to consider all angles of a story, to find out the facts. Journalists should link to sources so that we can validate their statements. Data enables us to create a less biased media. (No one questions whether the weather man is biased).

Clay finished with this quote:

It circulates intelligence of a commercial, political, intellectual, and private nature, with incredible speed and regularity. It thus administers, in a very high degree, to the comfort, the interests, and the necessities of persons, in every rank and station of life. It brings the most distant places and persons, as it were, in contact with each other; and thus softens the anxieties, increases the enjoyments, and cheers the solitude of millions of hearts.
 Joseph Story - talking about the post office

This is still true today.