TED Conversations

Eric Berlow

Founder, Vibrant Data Labs


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Instead of narrow specialization, how can our educational system better train integrative, innovative, and adaptive problem solvers?

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The world is facing many complex problems that threaten the future of life as we know it, and governments and corporations have been ineffective at implementing real integrative solutions. One problem can cause many, but on the flip side, one creative solution can cause many. The world’s most innovative problem solvers have an uncanny ability to see the entire picture and hone in on simple leverage points with widespread positive impacts, yet we are not actively teaching our students to do the same. How can we not only training more creative thought leaders, but also create a population of voters who vote for them and support holistic solutions when they are presented?


Closing Statement from Eric Berlow

Thanks to everyone for the lively discussion!

If I had to summarize, it seems like there is general consensus that we need to better enable students to tap into their individual passions and to learn fundamental, transferable skills early on. While some highly technical jobs require very specific training (e.g., brain surgery), most jobs require the ability to learn quickly, to ask critical questions, and to apply the unique skills that we bring to the table (skills that maybe were never in the job description). Related to this concept, there were some very interesting arguments for the value of philosophy, art, and ethics as providing solid building blocks for embracing uncertainty, abstracting and mapping transferable skills, and balancing critical skepticism with creative leaps of faith.

Some felt that there is enormous potential in applying online tools for making education more modular and "remixable" to help students follow their individual passions. One model for this is Khan Academy, but its main success has been in teaching a very specific (and linear) subject matter (math) rather than broad, interdisciplinary education. Some felt that current online ed tools still don't do much to foster innovation. There is clearly much more we can do to improve online educational tools that enhance face-to-face learning - but there is potential.

A recurring, and very interesting, implementation theme was the concept of a "passion to action" curriculum that helps students tap into their passions, identify problems that map onto those passions, and execute a plan to act on them.

Thanks again for all the input!


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  • Sep 21 2011: Hello, what are the kind of careers of the job market in 10 yrs from now?
    • Sep 21 2011: We don't know. That fact is what makes critical and integrative thinking of utmost importance. Someone who is able to use their brain to adapt to anything will be well suited to careers that are currently unknown to us.
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      Sep 21 2011: Read something (anything) by Ray Kurzweil to get an idea of how to answer this question. :-) Consider exponential growth of technological power and adaptation in our society. What does the world look like in 10 years with near-free internet in central africa and middle east... cheap smart 4G-5G phones which have the processing power of today's most expensive off-the-shelf desktops in hands of people we don't associate with tech users. ubiquitous translation, advanced medical diagnosis and personalized treatment, augmented human parts (exo- and endo-), wider adoption of 3D printing tech... What are the jobs in this world? CONNECTORS! People who understand meaning in multiple fields and know how to solve problems without a concrete specification, as well as scientific jobs that enable the underlying tech: biologists, data miners, AI engineers, social engineers, new breed of leadership which works laterally across social groups and skill sets, not hierarchically in order of line management and reporting.

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