by • November 3, 2014 • Integrative Thinking, Problem SolvingComments (0)1295

Problem Exploration: How Does a New Idea Start?

One of the benefits of having transformed my approach to teaching over the past 5 years is the number of interesting people I have the privilege of meeting who work outside of ‘traditional’ education.   Our paths would never have crossed in my previous life, but it’s different now and I am grateful as these people constantly challenge my understanding of learning and teaching.  That’s a good thing.

This week I received a call from one of those people whom I’ve known for just under a year.  We’ve only met a few times, but have had several excellent conversations about learning.  This person is an entrepreneur.  He’s worked with others to create two successful startups.  This is a person who knows business and how to access venture capital and is in the process of beginning the next venture.  I have the opportunity to observe it happen from the periphery.  Not a bad place to be.

This person called to update me on his progress.  We met for about an hour and it was one of the most revealing conversations I’ve
participated in.  Once again my understanding of teaching and learning shifted.

When I first met this person, he was exploring ideas on education.  I learned this week that he has spent the time since we last met talking with many, many people, reading research, seeking out those who work in various fields and trying to identify where tensions lie.  Eventually he began to see that the same tension was showing up in many contexts: that was interesting to him.  From this tension a new business will grow.

What was eye-opening to me was how much time he has spent in problem exploration.  He has not come to conclusions quickly.  He waited for the problem worth solving to emerge from
the patterns he detected.  This is the stance of an integrative thinker.   I reflected on how little time we allow children to engage in problem exploration and it brought to mind what I had been reading about education in Singapore a few years ago – a country that has reshaped its education system.  I remember watching a video where the narrator explained that when students enter into an inquiry, they spend a great deal of time trying to find the right question.  Now I understand what he meant.  We regularly ask children to form conclusions, provide evidence for their conclusions and consider the job done.  EQAO works on that principle – provide 2 pieces of evidence to support your thinking.  We never ask them to explain how their conclusions might be incomplete or wrong.

This person shared several insights from this year-long problem exploration, each time indicating what was interesting about those insights but not forming any conclusions about why they were interesting – just that a pattern was evident.

My role in this conversation was to listen, carefully.  I felt that by articulating his progress, this person was coming to a clearer understanding of  his own idea.  Accountable talk and metacognition at work.

This person then went on to reveal that he is beginning to build his team – a multidisciplinary team.  Each person will bring unique skills to enhance and advance the project.  In education it is recognized that we need to become better at teaching collaborative skills.   This was evidence to support that argument.

There was more to our conversation but one final part stood out.  After he had finished explaining the point at which he is at, I asked what he wanted from me.  I wasn’t expecting the response.  It startled me because one would think that someone beginning a business would be more circumspect about revealing his idea.  By identifying the tensions to others, however, he knows that we will think about them and over  the next few weeks or months ideas and insights will bubble to the surface that will perhaps make his idea better.   He is leveraging thinkers.

This person’s process  perfectly models the principles of knowledge creation that we are now working with in my classroom and in various places across the province.  I am excited to share this experience with my students.

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