Creating Harmony Through Dissent.

“The greatest designers are almost always the biggest dreamers and rebels and renegades.”


If you are an educator, you’ve probably had at least one debate with a colleague exploring whether or not creativity can be taught.

First, traditional teaching methodologies like reading, lecturing, testing, and memorization are worse than useless.  They are actually the counter-productive way in which boxes get built.  Most education focuses on providing answers in a linear step by step way. Mobley realized that asking radically different questions in a non-linear way is the key to creativity.

Mobley’s second discovery is that becoming creative is an unlearning rather than a learning process. The goal of the IBM Executive School was not to add more assumptions but to upend existing assumptions. Designed as a “mind blowing experience,” IBM executives were pummeled out of their comfort zone often in embarrassing, frustrating, even infuriating ways.  Providing a humbling experience for hot shot executives with egos to match had its risks, but Mobley ran those risks to get that “Wow, I never thought of it that way before!” reaction that is the birth pang of creativity.

Read more from Forbes here.

Perhaps it is time for us to rethink that debate and stir up some conversation exploring whether or not rebelliousness can be taught.

If we want our schools to be adaptive, relevant, and inspiring, we need more people willing to take bold, brazen steps.  We need students to be asking more questions than teachers.  We need what Seth Godin refers to as “Leading from the bottom,” in his book Tribes.

“In a battle between  two ideas, the best one doesn’t necessarily win. No, the idea that wins is the one with the most fearless heretic behind it.”
Seth Godin, Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us

Does your school culture promote fearlessness or subordination?

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I’ve been thinking about the power of dissenting voices a lot since I read Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Irin Carmon, Shana Knizhnik earlier this year.

Jessica Lahey’s article: “Educating an Original Thinker: How teachers and parents can identify and cultivate children who think creatively and unconventionally” offers insight into how we can foster more RBG’s into our worlds. Lahey interviews Adam Grant, who wrote another book I LOVED this year called” “Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World.”

Lahey: In the current educational framework, it’s easier to teach a room of conformist, unoriginal, malleable children, and yet you assert that these are not the sort of children who will go on to change the world. How can teachers push American education in a direction that will foster the kind of traits that make for original, innovative thinkers?

Grant: I love the proposal from George Lucas that college applications should include a creative portfolio. Every student makes something original: a film, a song, a story, a piece of art. If we start there, I think we’ll begin seeing parents, principals, and teachers clamoring for creative thinking skills to be taught earlier in the education system. I’d also enjoy seeing more teachers take a page out of the Right Question Institute and help students learn to formulate great questions. As Warren Berger says, “Knowing the answers will help you in school, but knowing how to question will help you in life.”

How can we help schools do a better job of encouraging dissent?

ONE: Leaders need to encourage the occasional ruckus.

If your staff meeting is quiet, and you rarely hear from more than three people, that’s a problem.  What happens when a dissenting voice pushes into conversation? Do we avoid the confrontation, or invite a new perspective in?

TWO: At every level of school culture, failure is something we talk about. 

Is your school focused on being the best or on getting better? What if we shared our failure resumes with fellow teachers, leaders, students?

THREE: Make risk-taking visible. 

Encourage people who actively get out of their comfort zone.  I recently lead an extended session at a Learning2 event in Milan. Within that three hour workshop, I had a a lovely cohort of learners.  In one session’s crew of 40, five participants came from the same school, and their director was a part of their squad.  I was so impressed with the director’s willingness to go with the goofier of the activities.  I was even more impressed with his ability to publicly voice his own concerns, worries, and anxieties.  As a faculty, we need opportunities to share those ‘diving off the deep end’ stories.

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Does your school have more rules than rebels?



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Published by TriciaGpers

I blog about all things Global Perspectives!

2 replies on “Creating Harmony Through Dissent.”

  1. Hi Tricia,

    As always, I am forever impressed with your vision and ambition–the fact that you manage to write more posts once you have finished coetail than I manage during coetail is not to be underestimated!

    The video about SNL and what makes a great team resonated–so true! Ensuring everyone has the opportunity to speak is so key. Too often voices are drowned out by the loudest (not even the smartest) person in room.

    My previous school adopted an around the room, passing the conch (a rubber ball) kind of thing, adopted from Tribes, which helped, but didn’t always work with really large groups.

    Perhaps we didn’t (and still don’t) have the second part mastered: high social sensitivity or ability to read social/non verbal cues. It never ceases to amaze me how little people pay attention to this (in all likelihood we are too busy formulating what we want to say next rather than paying attention to others’ reactions…I’m guilty, too.)

    I think the best friendships and relationships (not just work teams) have this magic combination figured out as well.

    Thanks for the post!

  2. Holly,
    Thank you for the support!
    What’s interesting is how mindful we are of this in our classrooms–we regularly try to encourage the shy, quiet student. Why don’t we model this more in meetings too?
    I really appreciate you making time to read and respond. Thanks so much!

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