Play, Passion and Purpose

I began writing a piece early this morning on the failure of leadership development within so many of our organizations and how woefully out of sync it is with what is really needed in our increasingly interconnected, complex and globalized workplaces. The three headlines that describe the failure of so many leadership development programs are: the inability to develop intrinsic motivation and meaning, the inability to develop innovative workplaces, and the inability to collaborate and communicate.

While I was writing this piece, I happened to read Tom Friedman’s piece in this morning’s New York Times on Tony Wagner’s new book, “Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World”. Wagner’s argument is that our education system is out of sync with what really matters in the workplace. I was especially struck by Wagner’s comment that the goal of education should not be to make every child “college ready” but “innovation ready”. The argument is sound: knowledge is becoming increasingly commoditized, and access to it is ubiquitous, and therefore no longer a premium. What becomes much more important than basic knowledge, is intrinsic motivation: curiosity, persistence, and the willingness to take risks. Only this will enable the continuous learning of new knowledge and skills, and the creation of new opportunities. Unlike our generation which “found jobs”, from here onwards, kids will grow up in a world where they will need to invent jobs.

Our schools are fundamentally de-motivating places and the longer students stay in school, the more de-motivated they get. The present school structure was built along the lines of a factory system to fit in with an industrial economy. That economy has been replaced by digitization and globalization but our schools are more or less the same. And they are woefully out of touch with a new world. Wagner asks for schools where kids learn “Accountability 2.0” in a new culture of collaboration. They need to master skills such as critical thinking skills and communication and entrepreneurship.

Play, passion, and purpose: Wagner calls these the three most powerful ingredients of intrinsic motivation, and makes a compelling case for bringing them into the classroom. I cannot help thinking how equally compelling it is to bring them into the workroom. We have sculpted both the classroom and workroom from the same clay and used the same moulds. To fit into a stable and unchanging system of hierarchy, control, prescription, and rules of linearity. The world in which we find ourselves today has dramatically shifted to a highly dynamic, fluid narrative of networks, communities, emergence, and new rules of complexity.

We must dramatically reinvent the classroom as Wagner suggests. And make our kids innovation-ready. And in the meanwhile, also start reinventing the workroom and create places where young people can thrive.