In Thought Leadership

For some years, in the UK, there has been a drive by the government towards very traditional methods of schooling. The focus of the education department returning to learning by rote and of learning based on theory. The assumption being that to be creative you must first understand the theory.

Michael Gove the secretary of state for education in the UK from 2010 to 2014 said the following about the subject of English;

“creativity depends on mastering certain skills and acquiring a body of knowledge before being able to give expression to what’s in you … You cannot be creative unless you understand how sentences are constructed, what words mean and how to use grammar.”

Regarding mathematics he said;

unless children are introduced to that stock of knowledge, unless they know how to use numbers with confidence, unless multiplication, long division, become automatic processes, they won’t be able to use mathematics creatively […] to make the discoveries which are going to make our lives better in the future.”

And on music;

“you need first of all to learn your scales. You need to secure a foundation on which your creativity can flourish.”

Let’s consider these comments

Do you think they are correct? I certainly don’t. I believe that you don’t need to “master certain skills” in English for example to be creative. You certainly don’t need to understand scales to be musically creative, much like you don’t need to understand or master brush technique to produce a creative piece of visual art.

Did the person or persons who invented the wheel understand the mathematics or physics theories needed to create it? I very much doubt it. Go and tell Lionel Richie that he is unable to be creative because he can’t read music.

In my view, to be creative and creativity itself is not dependent on being a master of certain techniques or skills. But, if you are at first creative and inspired to be so, then you may have the desire and inclination to go deeper into a subject to master the skills needed to create your vision.

This current strategy is missing the needs of business

If we as a country persist with the current government thinking we are likely stifle creativity in our young people – if not kill it completely. We need young people to leave schools and universities with creative skills and the desire to be creative. Additionally, we need them to be team orientated. The education system focus’ is on the individual, and has little regard to team working. Which is, of course, exactly what we need in our workforce – but that’s a subject for another time.

So what has this got to do with software development and in particular software development in an agile context?

Well first of all software development is a creative process. It’s probably as far away from engineering as you can get – unfortunately a way that we are often described. We are not software engineers we are closer to software artists.
To produce the best software our teams need to be creative in everything they do. Furthermore when we ask our teams to inspect and adapt their process, we are asking them to be creative and use fresh thinking to resolve problems. We want creativity. Creativity allows the best processes and the best products to emerge and flourish. It is this creativity that will ultimately give organisations a competitive edge.

We need software development teams that are creative, expect to be creative, want to be creative and are not afraid to be creative. If creativity is ingrained in our teams we will get the best results. Yes, we also need these people to be highly skilled. But, highly skilled people without creativity will not produce much of value; it is creativity that sets our best products and our best teams apart.

The confidence to be creative

If our education system stifles creativity and places emphasis on skills and learning by rote, young people entering the workplace will lack the confidence to be creative. It is creativity that will make successful teams and organisations. Without creativity we are doomed to fail. We therefore need an education system that supports and nurtures creativity and not one that kills and stifles it.

An education system that kills and stifles creativity is not good for businesses. Businesses can only succeed with creativity at the centre of what they do; thus an education system that supports this is of paramount importance.

 Author:  Tom Reynolds
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