Can One Embrace Change? And is it an important lesson to teach young people?
A viewpoint developed through personal experience, design education, interactions and reflection
Change. You can’t escape it. It is all around us and is what shapes our opinions, perspectives, environment and most importantly, us. Today, change is rapid, led by technology, socio-economics, environment, politics and demographic shifts around the world. If handled the right way key shifts could be anticipated and one could overcome potential setbacks and grasp new opportunities. In order to keep up with this, there is a critical need for transformation in traditional education and training.
A logical first step would be to predict what changes lie ahead and therefore which competencies would be relevant. Many persons, governments, associations, forecasters and fortune-tellers are predicting changes, some for 2020 and some for 2030 and so on. And most of these will probably be right.
But as change is a given, and continuous change is a given, then iterant predictions are not enough. Instead of focusing on the skills required in 2020 and then shifting to 2030 and 2050, when many of the youth today will be in their workplace prime, how about focusing on the preparation of students to manage and thrive and be successful within change. In other words don’t prepare them for the Skills of the Future, empower them to Embrace Change.
We must dare to think ‘unthinkable’ thoughts. We must learn to explore all the options and possibilities that confront us in a complex and rapidly changing world — J. William Fulbright
My story of continuous change
As a young girl growing up my father worked for Unilever in India. This meant that we moved between cities every 2 years. Each time there were tearful farewells, anxiety that I would never meet my friends again and fears of the unknown. Also were the difficulties attached to new schools to attend, new issues of language, culture and idioms to navigate, new friends to be made…. And I hated it. I remember crying copiously and making secret pacts with my friends and even threatening to run away from home.
Later, I went to study and work in the US, got married and then came back to India. I had a job offer to open an office for a division of a large company in Hong Kong — I was 3 months pregnant, but they said they didn’t mind, so I upped and left for HK. Everyone made a big fuss about how brave I was and wondered how would I cope. But I didn’t feel anxious in the least. I knew that managing would not be a problem. I was seeing change as an ally to my learning, not a threat.
Later on, when I joined Pearl Academy, a budding design institute in India, I received a call from my Director saying that there was an opportunity to go to London with the British Council in search of potential collaborations the very next day. This opportunity arose as someone else dropped out. I was a newbie in the organisation and two people senior to me had declined to say it was too sudden for them to travel. (This was around 2004 and not many people in the organisation had ever travelled abroad). I jumped at it. It was only later, on the flight to London that I realised it was probably my years of moving around and facing different situations that made me nearly fearless about change / new situations. On that trip, we tied up with a UK partner and in the next 3 years, NINE of our faculty members and SIXTEEN students travelled to the UK on fully funded trips. Only 2 of these 25 had ever travelled abroad before. The rest is history. We have since grown into a truly international design institution, including being on the executive committee of prestigious international associations.
The Point I am seeking to make
The point that I am seeking to make here is that because I was exposed, mostly without being given a choice, to a wide variety of situations, travel, people, and had to cope often with more support and sometimes with less, I gradually lost my fear of the unknown. I learned to manage myself and learned that change is not an adversary. In fact, change can be a friend. I will never know for certain whether it was my changing of 9 schools that shaped who I am, or that my parents were so matter of fact about my having to cope, that was the greatest learning that I could have had. Being a changeling is a distinct advantage today. Should not education be constructed so that we are preparing our young people (and old) not just for the skills of tomorrow, but enabling them to absorb any change that comes their way? Changelings all. Could we prepare young people to be successful and use understanding, assimilation, predicting, adapting and actually leading change as their Thor’s Hammer?
Education: Past vs Future, Depth vs Breadth
A review of various curriculums in school shows a focus on the learning of the past, the wonders of history, the beauty of literature and poetry, the rules of physics, the magic of mathematics. And this goes even further in college as one selects one’s specialisation. Microbiology, Statistics, Electrical Engineering, Oceanography, Medicine and so on. And the joy of learning a subject makes one immerse oneself even deeper into a silo surrounded by peers who echo your thoughts and talk the same language as you. And specialised learning is a joy, and expertise is an achievement, but none of these really prepare you for the world of tomorrow. And possibly a siloed expertise is not a skill that is needed tomorrow except in very specific areas. There is no subject expertise that can solve the impending problem of water scarcity, of the spreading of disease, of migration of labour, nepotism, reduced social interaction of people, the war against terrorism and you can keep adding to that.
Design Education is the only space today that really takes change and the unforeseen into consideration. Not out of fear of the unknown but as the process / means to get things done effectively and fulfil one’s purpose. In fact, inherent to design is ideation, prototyping, creation and reflection, so it actually goes one step ahead and creates a change like an environment in the classroom.
This is why we often hear people from design colleges say, not I learned Rhino or I learned to sew beautiful garments, but I learned to how to think, how to compare & contrast, how to solve problems, how to influence and how to understand different points of view. I can adjust to anything, I am not scared of change, I experiment, I can make a difference.
Johnathan Ive said — Different and new is relatively easy. Doing something that’s genuinely better and makes a difference is very hard.
And Charles Eames said — The role of the designer is that of a good, thoughtful host anticipating the needs of his guests.
Yes, today ALL education should be about anticipating tomorrow, about creating conscious changelings to take on the world. Elements of Design Thinking and Design education could be interplayed with engineering, statistics, medicine, almost anything. It would be interesting to see all educators explore and include triggers of design and change in their pedagogy, automatically create a more thinking world that is always preparing for the next wave while one is still going on.