exercise in Challenging the Status Quo

Ever since I started teaching the Creativity, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship course at CSUSM, I've asked the students to deliver a "Product:repurposed" presentation. Essentially, it amounts to a college version of the popular Kindergarten activity of Show-and-Tell.

I've volunteered in kindergarten classes over the years and have become increasingly convinced that there is real value in extending the Show-and-Tell concept to adult audiences. After all, didn't we learn everything we needed to know in Kindergarten*?

Here's how Show-and-Tell works at the upper-divison level of college. Each student:

  1. Brings a product to class
  2. Shows us the product--many of which we've experienced personally
  3. Reminds us of the intended purpose of the product
  4. And, then proposes an entirely new purpose for the product

While it may seem simple on the surface, students regularly share with me that it was much more difficult for them to do this project than they had originally anticipated. Perhaps this is because for the past 20+ years, they haven't been regularly encouraged to challenge the status quo?

After all, much of their educational lives have been spent in generating "the right answer", rather than thinking through the possibility of "multiple right answers". Perhaps we teachers focus too much on providing the formulae for right answer generation, and not enough time on the generation of questions that challenge the assumptions embedded in the status quo?

What I hear from CEOs is that their organizations need employees who: are exceptionally passionate about the work they do; utilize creativity to solve problems; and take initiative to get the job done to move the company forward. Provided this is accurate--and I think it is--how then do we encourage students along this path?

I think the answer lies in challenging the students to challenge the status quo. Rather than taking "things" for what they are, students can and should take "things" for what they could be. It's the power of the possibility that comes from wondering and tinkering.

This skill of seeing things for what they can be is not lost on all. In fact, I witnessed this skill among my students yesterday. They delivered interesting show-and-tells and they helped all of us appreciate what can be among the what is.

The picture at the top is an avocado seed, spinning. One of my students--Vlad is his name--created a spinning top from two ordinary things: an avocado seed and a toothpick. He went on to describe how this spinning top could be used to encourage children to eat avocados for their valuable health benefits. All in all, it was a great presentation and was reflective of the shift in mindset that we're creating in our class.

Aside: While writing this blog entry, I was reminded of a blog that I frequent regularly. If you haven't discovered the Afrigadget blog, I recommend it highly. The creator of the site, Erik Hersman, grew up in Africa and quickly recognized the latent ingenuity within the African people. I'm regularly impressed with the stories that are shared on the blog and the challenging shift in mindset that it provides to a western-born person like me. Truly, I can't say enough about the blog and the good work that the blog's contributors do in bringing the ingenuity of this part of the world to others.

Have I convinced you of any of the following?

  • There's value in challenging the status quo.
  • There's value in having adults do Show-and-Tell.
  • The power of possibility comes from wondering and tinkering.

Try repurposing one of your products today. What else could it be used for?

*If you don't get the sarcasm embedded in this comment, you might want to do a search on "everything I needed to know I learned in Kindergarten".

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