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John Florez: Schools should nurture confidence

Published: Saturday, July 6 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

Want to build a better mouse? Gather people with different backgrounds. That's the advice from David Kelley who invented the mouse for Steve Jobs' Apple computer. Kelley co-founded IDEO, a private design thinking company and started the Institute of Design at Stanford University, where he teaches innovation and continues to pursue his passion for innovation and problem solving.

Alexander F. Yuan, AP

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Want to build a better mouse? Gather people with different backgrounds. That's the advice from David Kelley who invented the mouse for Steve Jobs' Apple computer. Kelley co-founded IDEO, a private design thinking company and started the Institute of Design at Stanford University, where he teaches innovation and continues to pursue his passion for innovation and problem solving.

Kelley believes innovation best comes about when people from diverse backgrounds are brought together to build upon each other's ideas in problem solving. He believes in creating a culture where people with "creative confidence" can brainstorm and build on each other's ideas. He thinks it's the "creative confidence" in people that allows them to innovate, as opposed to those who think everything is difficult and avoid risking failure.

Innovative companies are those that bring employees together and encourage problem solving. Successful businesses understand that's necessary to compete in today's ever-changing worldwide marketplace. Universities, for a long time, have known in order to promote innovation and prevent inbreeding in thinking, they need to hire outside their ranks. They do not hire their own graduates.

In 2006 the journal Intelligence reported on a test done by the Rainbow Project that found creativity was a better gauge in predicting college success. By adding creativity and other components to existing exams, it increased college prediction rates. Dr. Robert Sternberg, lead researcher, pointed out, "We are saying creativity is important to success and you can measure it." However, a spokesperson for the College Board that administers the SAT and funded the project said, "We are always doing research, but I don't think you'll be seeing a creative section any time soon." The response by the College Board shows how organizations fight to protect their self-interest, and prevent change.

Because of such self-serving ways, our schools are stuck in the industrial era where students are taught and tested on memorization and assembly line thinking that stifles innovation. The ability to imagine, innovate and create is vital to succeeding in today's digital revolution. The World Wide Web and new technology now give anyone around the world the opportunity to innovate and compete in a flat world where everyone is connected to each other.

Rather then encouraging innovation, the culture of our K-12 education system takes the creativity out of children born with inquisitive minds and who are not afraid to fail. They are constantly trying, risking and failing. It's the price of growth. Our schools, on the other hand, maintain a culture that teaches and grades students on doing the right thing, rather than a culture that encourages innovative problem solving and risking failure.

Until our education system abandons the culture of testing and fear of failure, our schools will continue to take away the innate creativity and creative confidence, and will continue to stifle innovation. Our education is in a time warp because all too many policymakers still look to those who have created the system (the stakeholders), who have a vested interest in protecting the status quo.

Until the public demands policymakers to work to create a culture that cultivates the "creative confidence" all children are born with, our education system will remain stuck with schools that see risk as failure.

A Utah native, John Florez has been on the staff of Sen. Orrin Hatch, served as former Utah Industrial Commissioner and filled White House appointments, including Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor and Commission on Hispanic Education. Email him at jdflorez@comcast.net.

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