This story at NPR reminded my of Russell Ackoff talking about the creativity kids show in solving problems* – and how school often stifles that creativity.
This is flexible, fluid thinking — children exploring an unlikely hypothesis. Exploratory learning comes naturally to young children, says Gopnik. Adults, on the other hand, jump on the first, most obvious solution and doggedly stick to it, even if it’s not working. That’s inflexible, narrow thinking. “We think the moral of the study is that maybe children are better at solving problems when the solution is an unexpected one,” says Gopnik.
And that flexibility may disappear earlier than we think. Gopnik’s lab has also compared toddlers and kindergartners in doing these tests of abstract thinking, and found that the diaper set are actually better at focusing on the relationship between the objects, rather than on the things.
To those, like me, that use Deming’s ideas to help understand and improve management it is apparent these findings relate directly to two areas of Deming’s management system: psychology and theory of knowledge (how we know what we know).
Understanding how our psychology limits are effectiveness can be used to counter those tendencies.
And as Daniel Boorstin said:
“The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance – it is the illusion of knowledge.”
Understanding the limits of our knowledge and our tendency to become rigid in our thinking can help us avoid blinding ourselves to options. Our brains overrule options without us consciously even knowing that is happening; it takes effort to overcome this tendency.
Certain improvement tools (for example brainstorming) attempt to counter this problem by encouraging creative thinking and breaking the tendency for adults to constrain their thinking.
Related: Taking Risks Based on Evidence – Naturally Curious Children – Learn by Seeking Knowledge, Don’t Only Learn from Mistakes – Encouraging Curiosity in Kids – Extrinsic Incentives Kill Creativity
*I can’t find a link right now, maybe I will update it later. I am thinking of two stories I heard Ackoff tell, one about children’s innovative solution to wheelbarrows rolling smoothly and another where his daughter’s innovative solution to a “thinking outside the box” challenge was rejected by the teacher because it wasn’t inside the box the teacher wanted solutions to come from.
“Preschoolers are curious about almost everything. Postschoolers are curious about almost nothing.” -Russell Ackoff