301 posts categorized "Creativity"

January 20, 2015

Uncollaborating: Brainstorm and Prototype alone

I'm planning some fast-paced introduction workshops to the design cycle, and how it can be used to tackle seemingly huge issues in a speedy, inspirational, creative way.

The problem is that everyone comes believing that collaboration is where innovation comes from, and that just isn't the case. Not always, anyway.

One of the challenges we sometimes see is that, in a group brainstorming exercise such as 100 Ideas Now, teams generate lots of good ideas, but then, through consensus, hone them down into relatively tame and 'safe' ideas. It's no surprise that we sometimes wonder whether any of those ideas actually get implemented back at home, outside the workshop experience. (As a side note, I'm delighted to say that I do, in fact, often hear about major timetable innovations or changed school dining experiences months after the initial workshop, but it feels inconsistent...)

We already make sure that those brainstorming activities start as individual activities, a discipline that most workshop participants find incredibly hard to stick to - they want to debate, pitch, share their ideas. Sharing is good after all, isn't it?

Even the honing exercises start individually, before becoming a consensus.

Google Ventures' Jake Knapp talks about his challenge in finding 'alone time' to generate ideas and prototype them quickly, without the need to pitch and explain himself too early on. What he does is a design sprint, by any other name, but it is one he undertakes largely alone

This idea of using design sprints in school innovation is something I dive into in greater detail in my book, How To Come Up With Great Ideas. It's a technique rarely used in big industry or schools, but those who do see how it might be used immediately get excited by the potential.

What is the project you might be doing at the moment that would benefit, not from a five year strategy, but from a sprint of a few weeks?

January 14, 2015

Engage, Inspire, Empower - language learning and technology

I got back to being a language teacher last night, doing a quick talk and then conversation with some of the teachers participating in our Malta Better Learning with Technologies groupHere is the video of the talk, where I was inspired by the instant nature of understanding we gain from the cartoons we've seen over the past week:

  • The universal language of image
  • The growth of the image thanks to technology - Insta...everything
  • The move of technology's dominance in text (blogs and podcasts of 2005) to image (YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat in 2015)
  • How do we play the whole game of learning, every day, in the language classroom?
  • What S.T.A.R. moments do we create for our students to amplify the meaning of what we're doing?
  • Can we inform students later, and start with the why of engagement, inspiration and then empowering through information and the 'how'?
  • "Real world" does not mean we have to take every student on a foreign exchange visit. Real world is no longer the long-term relationships we had to build with partner schools in 2005. Real world can be short-term reaching out to someone, just for a lesson, for a moment, to gather an empathy for how others might think.
  • Real world can also be imaginative - video games as a stimulus for writing, or TED talks for stimulus in reading and listening (and speaking!).

January 10, 2015

The Devil's Advocate... or how to kill creativity

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I do love my weekend dose of Hunting English, and this week's post was an interesting look at the role of Devil's Advocate in decision-making, and in learning:

In an election year, a time of miracle cures and vested interests pushing their cargo cults, we should pay heed to the Devil’s Advocate’s role in “suggest[ing] natural explanations for alleged miracles, and even to bring forward human and selfish motives for deeds that have been accounted heroic virtues”. When we are presented with the latest miracle cure for all our educational ills – be it teaching ‘character’; possessing a ‘growth mindset’; the latest technological wizardry; the latest research evidence; a new school structure or savior school leader; or even a newly ordained Secretary of State for Education – we should seek out natural explanations and ask challenging questions.

I left a comment on the post, with a caveat on the way the role of devil's advocate is taken, that I've learned over the past 8 years working in both education and in creative product teams:

I've had a mixed relationship with the devil's advocate role (and even the film ;-). I've found it useful before, when I've been it, but always wondered why I was irked when someone started with the phrase "just to be the devil's advocate...". It was reading Stanford creativity researcher, James Adams' Conceptual Blockbusting and then Tom Kelley's Ten Faces of Innovation that I discovered why that particular blanket role is not as helpful as approaching it with a specific goal in mind. Kelley's suggestion is that it can be approached from one of these ten creative team roles, roles I recognise in the creative industry teams I've worked in. I've talked about the effort in avoiding a black and white, yes and no "devil's advocate" type role in my new book, How To Come Up With Great Ideas.

One of the key reasons for doing this, is that when most (unskilled) devil's advocates adopt that role, the put the onus of proving or disproving a state on the person making the suggestion, meaning that, over time, there is more chance that people resist making potentially risky or alternative suggestions to the status quo.

In short: it can kill creativity and innovation. When people play the devil's advocate well, they are often the ones presenting the evidence that might suggest an alternative viewpoint, and opening an opportunity for learning. When they just state the opposite, based on gut feel or personal opinion, it can be the most demoralising blow to people trying to advance their own knowledge, their team or the field.

Pic CC by Shallom

January 04, 2015

When is failure a failure? Maria Joao Pires has an answer...

The 1st Movement of Mozart's D Minor Concerto is an obsession about feeling loneliness and despair. That is exactly as virtuoso pianist Maria Joao Pires must have felt as she realised that she had practiced the wrong concerto for a summer concert series.

This clip is a wonderful example of agile leadership. In the moment of panic, the conductor takes control, not with a baton or by stopping the orchestra, but with a beautiful embracing smile, and a jovial reassurance that she would manage.

Pires then takes the leadership role on, summoning her memory, her expertise, talent and prior learning, to tackle the new concerto she hadn't been prepared to play in the first place.

When we talk about failure in learning, it is vital that we talk about failure and what we learn from it. Failure for failure's sake is a tragedy. Pires had 'done her homework' and knew the other concerto (and probably many others) by heart, from experience. She had also done her homework in being able to 'make the show go on', regardless. But no doubt, she'll rehearse with the orchestra before future live performances, she'll make the time to have that preparatory phone call. Thankfully, her learning gives her the opportunity, post-performance, to try again and get it right.

Most learning in school, though, does not give time for failure to be learned from. Instead, even though half or more of the students in the classroom may have scope for improvement, teachers feel compelled to "move on", to "get on" to the next piece of content, or to get onto the test. Really, in an ideal world, the student makes the decision about when they are 'done', ready to move on to the next thing, and often they will know what that next thing is.

Where the teacher holds all the planning in their hands, though, when the teacher perceives curriculum and success criteria as teacher-destined documents, and not as documents to flesh out hand in hand with students, this 'ideal world' does not happen.

Make the first step of 2015 towards letting students really do their homework: give them the curricular and success criteria tools we've normally kept behind the teacher's desk, and work out with them how their projects, their ideas and their ambitions meet them halfway.

November 26, 2014

Inside Out Thinking Down Under - provocation for learning

Provocations lead to deep, broad learning, and students tend to learn more, faster as a result. I've been showing educators how this is so, and how to do it, for the past five years with my motley crew. New Zealand educator Rob Ferguson woke me up this morning with a tweet, about how a provocation (the video, above) led to his students not just "doing art" for their 10th Grade assessments, but "doing art" to make a difference, as part of a global movement of artists:

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This might seem simple, but at play is some good, deep thinking. The provocation, through the video clip, comes at the beginning of learning, along with many other resources and content sources in an immersion that will contradict, delight, frustrate and generate a discord. This is not PBL where the teacher creates just one problem or open-ended 'essential' question, but a more realworld scenario where conflicting and provocative takes on several subject matters create confusion and discord. This discord is what sets students off to "problem-find" for themselves, seeking the genuine core of the many problems and many potentially 'essential' questions being presented. Having synthesised down to their own problem, or "how might we" statement, students will set out to ideate and prototype their solutions to the problem, or their way of showing off what they have learned. Often the ingredients used in the provocation will reappear in the prototypes, of which the photo above is one example.

Simple on the surface, deep, complex, frustrating, confusing learning on the underbelly: that is what we mean by design thinking for learning. And not a 3D printer or robot in sight!

You can read more about the use of provocation to create innovation in your school in my latest book, How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen.

September 19, 2014

Google Teacher Academy with NoTosh: a heck of an opportunity

 

Teachers take the seemingly impossible and make it happen. Every day. Teachers are the moonshot profession. We want to work with as many of you as possible in London and Amsterdam this year, at our GTA design thinking workshops.

When NoTosh took the Google Teacher Academy (GTA), we wanted to move it beyond simply exploring 'tech tools' and see if we couldn't harness the talents of educators, a sprinkling of technology, and a foundation of inspiration and moonshot thinking to really change the world of education.

Well, Google let us do it.

This weekend is the time to get your application in for London or Amsterdam's GTAs this autumn. Applying is the first step in opening up an amazing year ahead:

  • two weeks to put forward the education challenges you face on your doorstep or in your classroom;
  • two days intensive design thinking / technology professional development and action with the NoTosh crew, Googlers and selected Google Mentors
  • six months support from the Mentor team to put your prototype ideas into practice and continue to transform learning in your school.

If you're a school leader, please apply yourself, or encourage your teams to do so. If you're an innovator teacher, jump in and share your dreams for learning. If you're an educator in FE, HE or early years, consider representing your sector with an application, and add something different to the mix.

The Google Teacher Academy has been redesigned to help teachers gain understanding of the latest technologies while working in collaborative teams to solve chunky challenges that they've identified. Participants will be coached in harnessing the design thinking process to select and frame the chunkiest challenges in education, locally and globally, before working over two intensive days to prototype solutions alongside Googlers and selected expert coaches. 

Design thinking is an innovation process used by some of the world's most successful organisations to find and solve the greatest challenges on the planet. It is a simple process that can be harnessed back in your classroom, putting your students in the driving seat of their learning.

Selected expert mentors and Googlers will introduce new technologies with the potential to transform learning, as well as revisiting more familiar tools with a lens of student-centred learning in mind. 

Participants will learn by doing, working in teams of fellow educators to trial their ideas there and then, before being supported for six months by a mentoring team as they try out new methodologies and technologies in their classroom.

NoTosh, your facilitators for this journey, are global experts in innovation, creativity and learning, with offices in Edinburgh, Melbourne and San Francisco. The entire team plus a group of selected educators from the UK and Netherlands, will be on hand to support you as you put your ideas into practice.

You can apply for GTA London and GTA Amsterdam until September 22nd. 

September 03, 2014

Keep your audience captivated: article in GTC Scotland magazine

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At the beginning of a school year we are bombarded with messages telling us how to teach, what to teach, when to teach it. At the end of the day, there's so much anyone's head can cope with. In this term's Teaching Scotland magazine, from the General Teaching Council of Scotland, I've written a feature story on the power of concentrating on a simple question: How might we generate "happy learning"? It is an excerpt from my new book, How To Come Up With Great Ideas (And Actually Make Them Happen) (iTunes; Paperback):

"Take a moment to recollect your happiest memories as you learned something new. Where were you? What kind of activity did you undertake?

"I've asked around 8,000 young people, mums, dads, parents and business people this question over the past four years, and their answers are remarkably similar. The top reply is often: "Making stuff". Close behind is school trips, learning that took place far away from school, or out in the school garden. Others describe moments they felt they could choose what they did next, or followed a truly personal passion. Nearly everyone remembers a passionate teacher.

"This simple exercise is a great way to find out whether the people around you 'get' what great learning is about, and not a research paper in sight."

I go on to describe how this exercise has been harnessed in High Tech High, amongst other schools, and the impact is has had on learning outcomes, by shifting the focus from "learning by recipe" and teacher-defined projects, to more student-led discovery.

The full PDF edition is online along with the specific article, Keep your audience captivated.

Thanks to Meghann McDermott, my old high school orchestra buddy and now a teacher, too, for sending me a photo of her copy!

July 27, 2014

Why not?, and the power of getting on with it

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We are all artists. But not all of us should exhibit.

So says John Hegarty in "There Are No Rules", which I continue to dip into during my break in Tuscany. I laughed when I read this line, because, in my own drawing/sketches case, it's too true. We can all be creative, but not all creative produce is equally stop-you-in-your-tracks creative. The thing is, you don't know until you start to create, whether or not it's going to be worth exhibiting. You've just got to start. And this is why starting is so hard - we can be fearful that what we produce will not be worth exhibiting, so we don't even bother to start it off.

But when I'm on holiday, I don't care so much about what other people think. Most tourists display this characteristic, with their clothing choices perhaps, or their behaviour in the bars on the Southern Spanish coast. I display this characteristic in "having a go" at things I'm normally afraid of wasting time on: writing, drawing and sketching.

I tend to create more on holiday than I do during the working year, the audiences being smaller (Facebookers are also on holiday, the readership lower, the conferences closed for another season) and the canvas being less daunting. One of my favourite holidayish things to do is to draw on paper placemats before my meal arrives, using my daughters' coloured pencils to create whatever comes to mind. I've spent this week on honing my horses skills, learning how to draw them again (when I was 3, I could draw a good horse, jumping over a hedgerow).

During the working year, all of this would draw a simple question: "Why, Ewan?". But during holidays, no-one questions WHY I want to draw horses. On placemats.

It's the distinct lack of "why?", in fact, and the implied criticism that seems to come with those three letters, that relaxes me, helps me concentrate, helps me focus my efforts on one thing, and doing it best I can, and often a little bit better than that, in fact. No devil's advocate. No "have you thought about doing cats instead?". No "why?".

Just a "why not...?"

Cross-posted to the fabulous NoTosh Facebook wall.

You can pre-order my new book, to be released in August: How To Come Up With Great Ideas And Actually make Them Happen.

July 25, 2014

The most important thing you need to know about creativity

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I am on holiday. It’s a rare beast and, at some point in every couple of weeks of Tuscan bliss, comes a sliver of two minutes where I might get a chance to write. To write anything. Something. My new book, finally due for release this August after five weeks of delays, redesign and reprinting to our satisfaction, started its life on my breakfast terrace while on holiday here in Donnini, about 45 minutes east of Florence. As with all writing, I was starting with a blank page.

This summer’s reading includes my advertising hero John Hegarty On Creativity: There Are No Rules, in which he gives 50 rules for being creative. The first one is called “The Blank Page”. His point: if you want to be creative then you’d better get creative. While all of us start with a literal blank page, none of us have a metaphorical blank page. The trick is finding out the thing you roughly want to write about (or paint, or draw, or sketch as stickmen, or film) and then, for goodness’ sake, get it started.

Having ideas is not about finding a creative muse on a Tuscan vineyard, although I can vouch for the fact that the view and copious Chianti Classico helps. Heck, add some Prosecco and wild things might leap off the page. Creativity, whether you’re writing a strategy or painting views, is about STARTING.

What will you start today?

My first book, How To Come Up With Great Ideas And Actually Make Them Happen, is due for release this August (five weeks late ;-). You can pre-order your iBook or Paperback version on our site now. Kindle version to follow.

June 23, 2014

#EduTECH 2014: Agile Leadership

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Five year plans are the last thing I'd be creating if I wanted to see innovation happen in a school. Most creative organisations we work with have something more akin to an innovation strategy based on audacious goals, with a skillset in one's team that helps each individual find their place in making those goals happen, one small step at a time. While the vision is agreed by the top of the organisation the means to get there are democratic, and based on creative process as much as individual creative prowess.

At Australia's EduTECH conference I was delighted to once more keynote the leadership of learning strand, with thousands of people coming along to get an update on some of NoTosh's thinking as it's developed this year. The theme was closely tied to my forthcoming book, a labour of love on agile leadership called How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen. It provides many of those practical stories of success from which we can learn, from the creative industries and from schools (some of which you'd classify as creative industries, too!).

I kicked off with the picture that had been most snapped last year: the F.A.I.L. "First Attempt In Learning" poster I captured in Meshendia Dampier's Rosendale Primary School classroom. Five year plans, you see, don't allow for a lot of failure, or departure from 'the script', regardless of how the world around you might change. What kinds of change?

  • It could be as simple as being better informed a couple of years down the line than you were when you wrote the strategy - we learn, and then look slightly embarrassed at our five year plans that now seem woefully naive or out of date. 
  • It could be seismic - when the Japanese earthquake hit, one of our favourite schools, American School in Japan, saw so many families question their stay in the country, that they realised that they would need to signficantly reinvent the offering to entice more families to stay in the country, for a great school as much as anything else (you can see some of their learning journey with design thinking in their Google+ posts).
  • It could be that others simply innovate faster than you, and your plan is holding you back. When we started TeachMeet in 2006, it was seen as innovative by the very organisations that it was designed to get around. No matter how hard they tried, they couldn't colonise it, make it their own - they were left standing while people just did it for themselves.

Agile Leadership is based on overcoming two obstacles to get to a new way of working. 

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Contradictions arise when something you've held as true is challenged by new evidence or experience. The feeling of contradiction is hard to overcome, because it necessitates some further investigation to work out whether the status quo is correct, partially correct, or just plain wrong, now that we have this new evidence to hand. In school strategy this is problematic - very often, when working with a school, there is reticence and some fear at best, anger at worst, when we suggest that we should start writing a strategy by really getting deep into the way things actually are, warts and all. In the book, I provide a ton of skills and techniques that teams can use to gauge better where things are, such as interviews, sketches, ideas wallets and bug lists.

Tensions are moderately more workable, as they occur once a team has bought into the new information that has presented itself, realising that it contradicts the status quo, and now have the task of altering the course of a strategy to accommodate it. It's not an easy process - it's full of tensions and tension. You can imagine the joy of running a workshop in this part! Take for example, the fairly strong evidence that grading does not improve learning, but comments do. I showed a video example of educators at ASIJ who, after all, have had grading feature as a fairly core part of their work. What happened when they saw the evidence of grading being less advantageous than comments alone? Some of the teachers went to test it for themselves, to work through those tensions, and change their own 'strategy' of learning and teaching. The results might be positive, or less so, but with the experience in hand it's far easier to work through the tensions, and gain a new insight for the way things might be. For those who don't experiment, they're still stuck with their contradictions, unable to move forward and challenge the way it's always been done.

Surprises appear when we least expect them. As Hatchuel and Weil put it in their concept-knowledge theory, these are the "you don't know what you don't know" moments. Surprises like these come to you - you can't search for them as you don't know they exist. Having an open mind is how most of us see these surprises and seize them. But in a strategy, where a 'decision has been made', and the text itself is highly specific, surprises can be blocked out, placed in the shadows never to be seized and used to make learning better in the organisation.

Such surprises often appear when we centre our strategy on people, rather than things that need done. When we reframe a strategy around people we can start work out what each individual group in our community can do, when and where we see that action happening, how they'll do it and, vitally, why they'd care enough to give a damn to do it. This actor mapping process is hugely powerful as a technique to open up the mind to such surprises, but incredibly challenge for teams to use - most teams feel they need 45 minutes to have a go at the technique, take 90, and still want the rest of the morning to see it through. Thinking about strategy from a human perspective, rather than a leadership one (full of the related, irrelevant jargon) is a tough move.

Ultimately, agile leadership is about recognising that everyone in the 'orchestra' of school is a leader, provided the strategy has been scored in a way that enables everyone to know their part in making it happen. The metaphor with music is one I concluded with, based on this old conductors' post I wrote. But it is also how I had started, with this haunting, stressful moment as Maria Joao Pires realises that she has been practicing the wrong concerto for the concert (it is no mistake that Mozart's D Minor Concerto is an obsession about feeling loneliness and despair...). With it, I asked the audience who the leader actually was at different moments of the piece, what the role of knowledge might have been, and how the understanding and trust between leaders leads to inspiring action: 

You can pre-order or purchase your copy of How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen, and see some of the practical means of overcoming these barriers to creative leadership. And, for something free and instant, you can get a useful cheat sheet of agile leadership strategies by signing up to the NoTosh mailing list.

About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is the founder of NoTosh, the no-nonsense company that makes accessible the creative process required to innovate: to find meaningful problems and solve them.

Ewan wrote How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen, a manual that does what is says for education leaders, innovators and people who want to be both.

What does Ewan do?

Module Masterclass

School leaders and innovators struggle to make the most of educators' and students' potential. My team at NoTosh cut the time and cost of making significant change in physical spaces, digital and curricular innovation programmes. We work long term to help make that change last, even as educators come and go.

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