One of the best pieces of advice I received during college was from my physics professor. This professor was my introductory physics professor as well as my biophysics professor; he taught me during my first semester of college and my very last semester, so he saw me grow from a wide-eyed freshman to an overwhelmed senior trying to keep straight A’s. He recognized my motivation, but also recognized that it was being channeled in the wrong direction. Instead of focusing on learning as I initially did in college, I started to fixate on grades upon gradation. He said to me that I should not allow fear to intercede between my eagerness to learn and seeking to challenge myself. He said I should take risks, even if those risks could jeopardize getting an A. I was reminded of this advice in Alfie Kohn’s “The Case Against Grades” when Kohn discussed students’ hesitation toward intellectual risks due to grading policies. Without these intellectual risks, however, we will never venture outside of a comfortable zone surrounded by what is known and we will never escape the fear drifting too far from our current understanding.
Imagination First by Eric Liu and Scott Noppe-Brandon challenges the reader to brainstorm “imagination killing moments.” After reflecting on these moments in my life, I realized that- as stated in the chapter- there were many moments, not just one. I look back to my list of research ideas when I was in college compared to my research ideas now, and I see how they have been greatly narrowed by what is deemed feasible. Although I understand the necessity in feasibility, I also believe that “big ideas” are the world-changing ones. The first chapter in Imagination First discusses “path dependence”, and uses the example of the QWERTY keyboard. This keyboard was established without consideration for user needs, but the QWERTY norm will likely not be replaced due to its extensive use over many years. “It’s this way because that’s the way it’s always been.” But we do not need to continue to promote this QWERTY life through how we conduct our research nor how we teach the next generation of learners.
I do believe that path dependence is difficult to avoid given our education system and constant exposure to the “accepted” ideas. This exposure, however, can then be used to expand our ideas versus limit them. Rather than fully depending on another path, paths can intersect and interact to spark even greater ideas. At the end of the first chapter in Imagination First, the authors list key capacities of imagination. These capacities emphasize interacting with the object of study in new and innovative ways. With use of imagination, QWERTY keyboards have been replaced altogether for people with disabilities. The innovation shown in these keyboard creations is an example of path interaction; the concept of a keyboard is used, but manipulated and interacted with in unique and beneficial ways. I believe that we can escape path dependence by interacting differently with commonly accepted objects. Daniel Pink discusses studies that show creative thinking is not motivated by money, nor any “if-then” relationships (such as grades). Instead, he concludes that autonomy as well as purpose motive will allow our creativity to flow. In other words, we can escape this QWERTY trap through free-flowing creativity that is purpose-driven. How can we help others find the motivation to escape this QWERTY life? How might we find new angles to explore and new innovations that depart from our norm?