All global problems come back to habits of thinking and none can be solved without addressing how we learn. We can unlearn the herd-thinking that is leading us all over the cliff-edge.
3.1 Escaping the Old Ideas
The remaining policy switches could enable positive development to become the defining vision of a new era of co-operation and abundance. Or the moment of opportunity could pass unnoticed amidst a predictable escalation of chaos. Which outcome depends not on any technical obstacles that shape the bounds of possibility but on the frame of mind of those who encounter the opportunity. The opportunity will be either dismissed as too hard or pursued into practice depending on the balance between the comfortable familiarity of old habits of thought and openness to the new. John Maynard Keynes (1936) prefaced his General Theory, “The ideas … are extremely simple and should be obvious. The difficulty lies not in the new ideas, but in escaping the old ones.”
3.2 Curiosity Killed the Catastrophe
The future is currently predetermined along ‘tram-lines’ of unreliable assumptions that are taken for granted rather than actively considered. The innately flexible human mind must be enabled to respond with sufficient creativity for the future to be instead determined consciously. This can be achieved by attending to the missing ingredient in both education and policy-making – curiosity. Lack of curiosity about the availability of options allows the planet crunch to proceed whereas a blossoming of curiosity would enable the rigorous, creative, joined-up thinking needed to elude impending catastrophes. “When we experience curiosity we are willing to leave the familiar and routine”, according to psychologist Todd Kashdan (2009). Today’s predicament requires an immediate awakening of curiosity on a planetary scale.
3.3 Teaching Disengagement
Any society that values its ability to face the future can allow its learning and education to be led by curiosity rather than the delivery of ‘right answers’. “Kids start out creative but we lose it at school” was a nine-year old girl’s comment recorded during the author’s work in the UK government’s flagship creativity project for government-funded schools (Greyson, 2009a). Habits of creative thought cannot be cultivated by assuming that inquisitive young minds must be moulded into established patterns of thinking. In modern centrally-planned education, knowledge is chopped into lesson-sized chunks, pre-packaged and fed to children. Success is measured by children’s acquiescence in first ‘swallowing’ and then ‘bringing up’ facts and skills when probed with tests. Politicians then wonder why so many people feel alienated and disengaged.
3.4 In Pursuit of Knowledge
George Bernard Shaw long ago paraphrased the necessary switch; “what we want to see is the child in pursuit of knowledge and not knowledge in pursuit of the child.” Schools that have made this switch, such as Lewes New School in England (Kettles, 2009), simply allow learning to follow the curiosities of the class, which range broadly and deeply across the entire curriculum and the possibilities of our time. The UK’s five year long Nuffield Review (Pring et al, 2009) of secondary education and training explains that teaching should be “an engagement of minds” not “delivery of a curriculum devised elsewhere for transmission to the learners”. As role models for the fascination of discovery, teachers can facilitate an endless flow of learning. Children who experience this system get the same (or better) skills as other children, including strong personal and social problem-solving skills, but they do not get pre-packaged thinking.
3.5 An Era of Thinking Big
If education were to make this switch, society would be instituting a culture of creativity and innovation. The quality of ideas would rise along with the quality of participation in decision-making at all levels. Governments would find that engagement rather than control tackles disruptiveness both in the classroom and in society. The herd thinking that underlies both the credit crunch and the planet crunch would be perpetuated no longer. Any nation instilling a culture of curiosity would gain such a competitive advantage that all nations would be galvanised to follow. People everywhere could echo the words of another primary school student reflecting on the author’s sessions in her school: “I learnt that I could have big ideas” (Greyson, 2009a).
3.6 Joined-Up Societies
Getting unstuck mentally is a change of mind and need not be a struggle. By contrast the mind that lacks flexibility is in a state of continual struggle that is expressed in real-life stresses and struggles. Conflict, crime, terrorism, anti-social behaviour and many other ailments are products of a compartmentalised, fatalistic, ‘us versus them’ world-view that excludes wider possibilities and perspectives. Fragmented thinking brings fragmented societies. A spread of curiosity, from governments switching educational models, to newspapers reporting it, to parents and children experiencing it could spark a cultural renaissance where populations surprise themselves with what they can achieve co-operatively.
- Greyson, J. 2009a. Creative Enquiry Project at Somerhill Junior School, Hove, England. Creative Partnerships. www.creative-partnerships.com Accessed 7th June 2009.
- Kashdan, T. 2009. Curious? Harper Collins pp 7.
- Keynes, J M. 1936. The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, London: Macmillan (reprinted 2007). Pp vii.
- Kettles, N. 2009. In a Class of their Own. Ecologist, UK, March 2009, pp 45-47. www.newschoolthinking.com Accessed 7th June 2009.
- Pring R, Hayward G, Hodgson A, Johnson J, Keep E, Oancea A et al 2009. Education for All (Nuffield Review). Routledge 2009 pp 86.
This text is part 3 of 8 of my Advanced Research Workshop paper, Seven Policy Switches for Global Security, for the NATO Science for Peace and Security Programme. Please see the abstract, full list of parts and downloads here. Comments welcome below. Some previous comments are on wiser.org.
BlindSpot leads the Unlearn Unsustainability project, providing an antidote to the ‘shrinking thinking’ that blocks effective solutions to the world’s biggest problems. We provide inspiring talks, training and advice on how to embrace new thinking habits for a new era of problem-solving.