In an interview posted on CNBC February 4, Harvard University President Drew Gilpin Faust said she is struck by “billionaire dropouts” individual success. She stated such people such as Mark Zuckerberg still need support from “legions of people who have training in a variety of fields” (in order to maintain success). She also said “I think we need to think about the institutional context that enables innovation.”
In fact, the institution very rarely enables innovation. So often system managers such as President Faust push the idea that their institutions are the birthplace of innovation and creativity. What they really do is train the technicians necessary to run an organization, or system – as she readily admits. What we need to do is learn how to change existing institutions to enable innovation and visions, and even more radical, create safe havens outside current systems to cultivate a new generation of visionaries.
Borders are fixed and frontiers have disappeared. The world has become more automated and systemized than ever before. The obvious need for explorers and visionaries has drastically reduced in the eyes of the majority. What happens to them? Are they doomed to a life of unemployment, pharmaceuticals and the belief they are a failure in a society that does not value them? How do those people who have been leaders throughout human history survive in a world that believes it has no more use for them?
Howard Earl Gardner is the John H. and Elisabeth A. Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Professor Gardner developed a theory he termed, “multiple intelligence.” In a 1997 interview he said the theory is meant to “document the fact that human beings have very different kinds of intellectual strengths and that these strengths are very, very important in how kids learn and how people represent things in their minds, and then how people use them in order to show what it is that they’ve understood.”
Professor Gardner also said that a system of education ‘that treats everyone the same way is the most unfair education because it picks out one kind of mind, which I will call the law professor mind. Someone who’s very linguistic and logical –and says, if you think like that, great, if you don’t think like that, there’s no room on the train for you.” In other words, the law professor is a technician, a systems manager. He thinks in logical, linear progression. Everything must be a sum of its parts, and those parts must be put together in order – 2 must follow 1.
I will take Professor Gardner’s statement further. The educational system is a fractal of a larger system of command and control, as are systems of government, economics, and religion. In those systems, the technician is both necessary and replaceable. Following instructions and staying on the well-paved road is absolutely essential for the maintenance of a system, and those who perform these tasks are valued members of our society, as are the systems themselves. Systems, and those that run them, keep entropic forces at bay and the trains on time.
However, our educational system does very little to support difference. The institutions are proficient at identifying difference, if only to attach a disorder label to them and medicate the different into “normalcy.” Not only do they attempt to rehabilitate difference, they also create a self-fulfilling process that elevates those who do excel within the system, and who go on to create more systems that value the same types of thinkers. By doing so, humanity blunts the tip of the evolutionary spear.
Adventurers, explorers, and visionaries of past epochs have always dragged the rest of humanity with them into worlds unimagined by the masses. They are the reason we are here at all. Those labeled different, or insane, have brought humanity our biggest triumphs. They see what is possible because they are not constrained by what is. They are not tied to the idea that 2 must follow 1, or that there is a progressive order at all. Instead, they make leaps in logic beyond the next step because they are not tied to the need for linear progression. They see into the future, and they take us with them to meet it.
The ability to see connections between seemingly disparate points strikes fear in those who need order to make sense of the world. The system and its managers do everything in their power to force conformity on those who test the limits of our understanding – and by doing so they limit the possibilities of humanity.
The system did not come first. First came the spark of creation, an idea born outside a logical progression of thought–a Eureka moment where suddenly there is something where before there was nothing. If those moments did not occur, humanity would have died out along with every other creature incapable of adaptability and innovation.
If an idea is productive to a people, an organization is built around it. That organization could be a corporation, a civil rights movement or a religion. During the creative epoch of an organization, the idea is still alive and pliable. However, over time, a system is implemented to operate and produce whatever the vision prescribed. The system becomes the idea, and system technicians are brought in to run it. The creator of the idea becomes unnecessary and even threatening to the organization itself. Visionaries, who are by nature a destructive force to the status quo, are seen as a threat. The system becomes the focus of worship as dogma sets in and only innovations that can be incorporated into the existing structure are acceptable.
So what is there to do?
The answer is to not rely on the system at all. It takes courage to buck the system and the comforts it provides, but it is the only way to create something new. Around the world, pockets of adventurers, thinkers, vagabonds, and dreamers band together to challenge ideas and create new ones.
Places such as the Endurable Living Institute are being built to cultivate and support a new generation of revolutionary thinkers. Artists such as Alfredo Paris show us there are ways to exist and create outside the system. Outsider Art gives an outlet for those most on the extremes of human thought – those we deem insane. Rebel thinkers such as Daniel Dennett, Ken Robinson, Douglas Hofstadter, and Jason Kottke (among others) are creating new roads of intellectual curiosity and challenging us to do the same. Even institutions such as the Kahn Institute are recognizing the need for support of difference, and not the suppression of it.
It seems counter intuitive to think institutions can exist with the purpose of creating thinkers who challenge the status quo, but it is not. It is the individual and the institution that must desire positive disintegration in order to reach our full potential. The adventure is no longer the discovery of new places on this earth, but the improvement of our lives upon it.