Published on 2012/08/27

Educating the New Professional Creatives - Part II

Higher education’s role is becoming to adequately educate today’s professionals to become creative thinkers and problem solvers to supplement today’s knowledge economy. Photo by Sergej Khackimullin.

If we accept that the 21st Century belongs to the creatives then it follows that we must be prepared to educate more of them. We must educate them properly and give them good examples. It is not sufficient to skill them in innovation and creativity, and set them loose on the world to create the conceptual age, we must give them an ethos, a raison d’être as it were, for innovating. And show them how hard the journey will be.

Mark Andreessen, creator of the seminal browser Netscape, remarked in a New York Times interview recently [1] on why moviemakers making the wildly popular film about Facebook didn’t get why the technology was made. They had totally missed the reason Mark Zuckerberg created Facebook, which was because it was there to be created. Zuckerberg, in his own words, enjoyed making it. Yes, there was the money and the women and the lifestyle, and all that, but in the end, according to Andreessen, technology innovators create because… they love to create (in the promethean narrative, to paraphrase Richard Feynman a promethean scientist, it is for the pleasure of snatching fire from heaven).

This theme is repeated in many professions. In a defining moment in his book The Pleasure of Finding Things Out, Richard Feynman [2] declares the core narrative of scientists – what drives them to do what they do. What drove Feynman and his colleagues to do science is the pleasure of finding things out. By and large they don’t care what is done with that knowledge, at the core, they pursue knowledge of the universe because they are curious, and they want to know, and they don’t rest until they know what makes the universe tick.

Same with innovators. They love to create, to make new things, and to make things new, to challenge the status quo; to solve problems with new things and ideas; to bring the future into the present; and to do the next thing. In the narrative of Silicon Valley: “to change the world.” Pink has it right; it takes a whole new mind. And according to Florida there will be enough innovators to dominate the new economy in fifty years.

Could there eventually be professional innovators as there are professionals in other disciplines? We know there will be. Take for example when, in the early 1900’s, the profession of engineering was just emerging. At that time engineers in some disciplines, such as civil engineering, were well established as professionals; but, in others, such as electrical engineering, they were considered mere technicians or craftsmen. Over time all branches of engineering evolved to achieve professional status. The same occurred with physicians. Hundreds of years ago most physicians in some cultures were considered very unskilled and not well thought of. Today it is one of the most respected professions. So too it will probably be with innovators. At one time we had the picture of the lone inventor tinkering in his garage. Today we have come to understand that inventing is, for the most part, a complex team activity [3].

The distinguishing characteristics of a profession include: a codified body of knowledge, educational paths to acquire that knowledge with visible, recognized credentials, and an accepted code of ethics for proper behavior. We may not be there yet with innovation under this definition but we are progressing fast. On the other hand there is a more fundamental definition of a professional to better help us define professional innovators. Chris Argyris, one of the fathers of modern management, puts it best [4]:

“A professional is supposed to profess, to testify, to bear witness to some sort of faith or confidence or point of view. Traditionally, at least it was only because he did so that he merited being called a professional.”

Professionals have a fundamental set of motivational beliefs that they profess. What does an innovator profess? One approach is to look at what some professions profess: teachers educate; engineers build; scientists discover; doctors heal; entrepreneurs create businesses, lawyers advocate.

Innovators? They profess that their reason for being is to create, as Andreessen and Zuckerberg tell us. They create solutions to problems; they create radical, new policies that have not been seen before, even political systems (the US constitution was a radical innovation for its time, for example, and we may rightly call the founding fathers innovators).

In today’s world, where we don’t yet have widely available credentialed innovation training programs, most innovators receive formal training in some other profession and then begin an ad hoc practice of innovation. As time passes, and as we develop a solid body of knowledge and educational paths to produce credentialed innovators, we will begin to see the emergence of a class of credentialed professional innovators taking their place alongside other distinct professional groups.

Another way to approach professionalism is to look for the archetypes of professionals in their discipline. Holding up exemplars to the aspiring young enhances the narrative of a profession. What are some archetypes of the professions? For teachers where education is at the core of what they do we see prominent educators: Socrates and Confucius. For doctors it is easy, in the West we have Hippocrates who gave us the Hippocratic Oath. For scientists we see Aristotle, Sir Isaac Newton, and the Nobel Prize winner Dr. Richard Feynman as examplars. For engineers we have builders like the builder of the pyramids Imhotep; the maker of machines, Archimedes; Agrippa, second in command to the emperor Augustus and ancient Roman builder of roads and aqueducts; and Leonardo DaVinci who made a living as a military and hydrological engineer.

For innovation some archetypal innovators might be Thomas Edison, Nicola Tesla, and so many other modern legendary inventors. But for more fundamental archetypal models we could also look to the ancients. There we find characters like Homer‘s Odysseus, who was forever solving problems in the Argyves’ expedition to Troy, including the invention of the famous Trojan horse [5]. And going back even further, the mythical figure most ancient Greeks, including Odysseus, would have been inspired by, the titan Prometheus, the original fire snatcher. According to Aeschylus in Prometheus Bound [6]: “Prometheus, teacher in every art, sought the fire that hath proved to mortals a means to mighty ends.”

The profession of innovation not only needs a well-developed and defined body of knowledge, credentialing and a code of ethics, but also real and valid archetypes and powerful narratives. Prometheus and his journey make a worthy narrative and is an excellent source of appropriate behaviors and a proper mindset for new innovators, for example. Our educational processes should include a vision for the path as well as imparting the tools of the profession. We can only hope that the process of defining the elements of innovation as a profession is beginning in earnest. We will need them.

– – – –

References

[1]     Goldman, A. “Bubble? What Bubble?” New York Times Magazine, July 7, 2011.

[2]     Feynman, R. The Pleasure of Finding Things Out, Basic Books.

[3]     Johnson, S. (2010), Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation, Riverhead.

[4]     Argyris, C. and Schön, D. (1974), Theory in Practice. Increasing Professional Effectiveness, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.  Cambridge, MA. Harvard University Press.

[5]     Homer (2007) The lliad and The Oddessy, Wilder Publications.

[6]     Aeschylus, (1926), Prometheus Bound, Translated by Smyth, Herbert Weir. Loeb Classical Library Volumes 145 & 146.

For the first part of this series, please click here.

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Readers Comments

Susan Farber, EdD 2013/03/04 at 5:00 pm

Andres Fortino reminds us of the transformation (one hundred years ago) of specific career paths into professional paths and encourages us to consider how we can extend this transformation through creative, innovative thinking and action.
Recent writings of Richard Florida (creativeclass.com) and Yong Zhao (zhaolearning.com), advocating for schools to nurture creativity for economic growth, align with Fortino’s argument that individuals benefit from an ethos and inspirational narrative and that the pleasure of discovery and invention often fuels enhancements to our society (citing several breakthroughs over time).
Schools would indeed benefit from several creative breakthroughs in order to maintain their relevance and power to transform (in response to) and meet societal demands.
In some communities these transformations of educational settings are happening. May they continue and influence other communities to explore and define viable innovations in their schools.

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