Creativity and Systems Thinking – Keith Yamashita and the power of innovative, mindful teams to change our schools

Keith Yamashita, chairman of SY Partners, in a compelling speech on “daring to be great”, offers to pieces of wisdom that are useful in thinking about the design of schools and of student learning.

First, Yamashita argues for the fundamental importance of being fully aware and fully alive. He contends that presence and awareness are essential because they allow us to fully connect to those we work closest with and to truly develop trust for each other. This in turn is the essential ingredient in powerful collaborations.

Rarely, Yamashita notes, do inviduals become great on their own. Achieving greatness almost always requires dynamic partnerships, what he calls “duos.” These duos require inherent trust and very different skills, competencies, and perspectives–we can create together what neither of us could create on our own.  

The enemy, Yamashita explains, is not the future or the competition, it’s the status quo. Powerful, trusting duos can join together into teams to overcome the limits of our current assumptions–these teams can move beyond false choices and create entirely new possibilities. This requires, Yamashita tells us, systems thinking and creativity.

My assertion based on this line of thought is that schools should both work to help students develop powerful, trusting teams and that we should be in the business of teaching systems thinking-based approaches to problem solving. Most importantly, we should be emphasizing, supporting, and inspiring creativity.

It is important, however, to apply this first lesson for schools to the second lesson Yamashita details. He explains that we have lived through a paradigm shift and we must confront the reality of the future–we have finite resources, but there is infinite possibility. Yamashita tells us that there are often many choices other than the one that comes first to us. He argues that to achieve greatness we need “systemic passion that fails to acknowledge the tyranny of false choices.” Rarely are the either/or scenarios we most frequently confront the only or best choices.

An entrepreneurial school like the REAL School should be focussed on this mantra: We must protect our shared bottom line by doing more with less–yet we must do so without submitting to false dichotomies. Instead, we should teach our so students, teachers, staff, and community members to be fully present members of powerful teams that work to create new ways of learning, growing, developing, investing, and becoming great.


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