We needed a fresh perspective, a new way of looking at an old problem and we needed not one idea, but many. It was a problem; a conundrum that a whole room full of adults could not solve in a divergent and wholly new way. Our solution - find the most clever people we know and ask them for solutions. Our ‘smart’ people were stuck and we needed to find the ‘clever’ people to help us. The ‘smart’ people had the intelligence and the knowledge, but the problem required ‘clever’ people who tend to have a way of thinking that is unusual, divergent and quick.
At the same time we saw some valid research that showed that humans learn between 80-85 percent of everything we will learn in our lifetime before we are five years old. Think about the sheer complexity of those first few years and what we master; to walk and talk, to understand facial expression, vocal intonation and body language. We also learn and process the sensory world all around us because when we are born nothing is familiar. We learn it all in those first five years. Basically, we are kind of remarkable in those early years! Watching children at this age we were struck by the two conceptual questions that they keep wondering:
“That’s interesting or different, what can I do with it?”
“They are interesting, who are they?”
Unfortunately, as we get older and ‘smarter’ we give ourselves less opportunity to ask these questions - we are too busy trying to get to the one right answer. Too often, the question we start asking is “Will this be on the test?”
This is why the ‘currency of clever’ is even more important in our world than ever before. New challenges, change and opportunities abound in our future. We will need both smart and clever people.
So, back to our conundrum. Our problem was not easily solved and required a fresh perspective, new insights and some truly divergent thinking. Where to go with this? Actually, the answer was quite simple. We took the problem to our four and five year olds and asked them to come up with as many solutions as possible. Are you ready for this? They came up with over 300 new solutions. 300! Not a single one that we had considered. There were some simply outrageous, hilarious and truly divergent solutions. We whittled the list down to five and invited those five students to present their idea (one wore a tuxedo to the meeting!). It was one of the best management meetings I have even seen. These clever students ‘out smarted’ and ‘out thought’ us all. We implemented four of the ideas that year and the fifth one is part of a 20-year strategic goal. The cost to us to ‘hire’ this clever think tank? A dozen cookies, some water, paper and crayons.
If you have an issue you can’t solve and need some seriously clever and divergent solutions you may have to consider the benefit of our girls and boys in early learning. They know clever.
Mr Clark Wight
Head of Preparatory School
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