In the UK at present there is a drive by the government back to very traditional schooling methods with the focus being a return to learning by rote and a focus of learning based on the theory of subjects with the assumption that to be creative you must first understand the theory. The secretary of state for education in the UK Michael Gove recently said the following.
About English he said “creativity depends on mastering certain skills and acquiring a body of knowledge before being able to give expression to what’s in you … You cannot be creative unless you understand how sentences are constructed, what words mean and how to use grammar.”
Regarding mathematics he said “unless children are introduced to that stock of knowledge, unless they know how to use numbers with confidence, unless multiplication, long division, become automatic processes, they won’t be able to use mathematics creatively … to make the discoveries which are going to make our lives better in the future”.
And on music he says “you need first of all to learn your scales. You need to secure a foundation on which your creativity can flourish.”
Let’s think about this for a second, and consider these comments, do you think they are correct? I certainly don’t. You don’t need to “master certain skills” in English for example to be creative and you certainly don’t need to understand scales to be musically creative, just like you don’t need to understand or master brush technique to produce a creative piece of art.
Did the person or persons who invented the wheel understand mathematics or physics to produce something so creative, I doubt this very much. Go and tell Lionel Richie that he can’t be creative because he cannot read music.
Therefore in my view to be creative and creativity itself is not dependent on being a master of certain techniques or skills, in fact if you are first of all creative and are inspired to be so then you may have the desire and inclination to go deeper into a subject to master these skills.
So if we persist with the current government thinking then we will most likely stifle creativity in our young people and kill it off in them completely. What we need is people leaving schools and universities with creative skills and the desire to be creative just like we need them to be team orientated, this is another problem with schools and universities which is a focus on the individual with little regard to focus on working within teams which of course is exactly what we want in the work place, but that is another topic.
So what has all of this got to do with software development and in particular software development in an agile context?
Well first of all software development is a creative process and it is knowledge work, it is probably as far away from engineering as you can get which was an unfortunate choice of word that was chosen to describe software development, we are not software engineers we are closer to software artists.
To produce the best software our teams need to be creative in everything they do and furthermore when we ask our teams to inspect and adapt their process we are asking them to be creative and to have fresh thinking in resolving problems and improving themselves and their processes, we expect the same when we inspect and adapt our product, we want fresh ideas, we want creativity. Creativity allows the best processes and the best products to emerge and flourish, and it is this creativity that will ultimately give organisations the competitive edge.
What we need is software development teams that are creative, expect to be creative, want to be creative and are not afraid to be creative; if this is ingrained in them we will get the best results. Yes of course we also need these people to be highly skilled but highly skilled people without creativity will not produce much of value or use, it is creativity that sets our best products and our best teams apart.
So we now come full circle, if our education system stifles creativity and places sole emphasis on skills and learning by rote then new people coming into the work place will feel that they are not creative and they will not have the confidence to be creative, if we are to be successful as teams and organisations it is creativity that will make us so, without creativity we are doomed to fail and therefore we need an education system that supports and nurtures creativity and not one that kills and stifles it.
An education system that kills and stifles creativity is not a good place for businesses to be in, businesses can only succeed with creativity at the centre of what they do and therefore an education system that supports this is of paramount importance.