Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Quote-A-Day: Day 140

has to be . Understand that a little is a good thing.

My district superintendent had passed on an article by Timothy Egan called "Creativity vs. Quants" to me recently.  As I was giving my eighth-month old her bottle before bed, I took a few minutes to read it (it's funny how children make us ever more efficient, isn't it :) ), and was impressed with Egan's ability to boil down a very big idea into a simple point (here's the link, please do read it: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/22/opinion/egan-creativity-vs-quants.html?_r=0).

According to Egan, and an idea I wholeheartedly agree with, in an effort to be ever more calculated and data-proficient, we may have lost the ability to be as creative as possible.  Our desire to be able to put everything into numbers or to be able to provide as accurate a measurement as possible may have taken the messiness out of some aspects of life, and, at least in my humble opinion, that isn't a great thing.

I've heard a number of extremely intelligent leaders and learners state that if something can't be measured, it isn't important.  While I agree with the premise of this statement, I wonder a bit about what that means for an idea that Oscar Wilde put so eloquently, "A writer is someone who has taught his mind to misbehave."

Now realistically, we can remove the "writer" and insert just about any profession where creativity is important (and I would put forward that this means every profession).  If everything that is important must be measured, and if measurement, by nature of its organization restricts creativity, then what does that mean for our increasingly "data-friendly" culture?

Can our love for data be married to our species' need for creativity?  I think so.  Egan uses Amazon's data-driven structure to showcase that even though it rules the organized realm of retail ordering, processing, and shipping, so far, it hasn't been able to jump the hurdles towards a truly "creative" outputscheme.  But that doesn't mean it can't.

Delving into data and cultivating creativity aren't opposites.  However, they do require subtle shifts in thinking.  Like much in education (and life in general), both messiness, and organization need to be embraced.  Entropy is only a good thing when it doesn't prevent you from finding your car keys when you're already late for work.  But, if you're just messy enough to locate your keys a little bit quicker, then you've found the sweet spot between being data-driven, and driven by randomness.

As New York State has come to find out, doubling down on data without addressing the concerns about creativity and intellectual freedom doesn't provide for the rewards policy makers might hope for.  Better to help the education community see the benefit of both intellectual freedom and data analysis than to take a stand that it has to be one or the other.

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