Why Instructional Designers Must Teach Innovative Thinking

Instructional Design And Innovative Thinking 

Whether we like it or not, we are living life in the fastest lane in history. Not only is life fast in the fast lane, but it’s accelerating, and the speed limits were abandoned years ago.

You and I are in the midst of a monumental paradigm shift. A new epoch is being born in which change is the new normal, and we are accelerating into the future. This is the new and permanent reality.

This change may be best explained by one phrase: The Anthropocene Era. Human beings are causing so much change that geologists have declared an end to the Holocene Era after 11,500 years, and have named this a new era. Human effects on our world are now so great that they can be compared to the geological shifts of the past.

The rate of change is now not linear –as it was in the good old days of a decade or so ago– it’s exponential, and its exponentiality is curving upwards like a scary hockey-stick.

Ever-accelerating change is the new normal. And this change is generating vast amounts of new numbers and words and sounds and video.

Buckminster Fuller (1895-1983) created the “Knowledge Doubling Curve”. He demonstrated that until 1900 human knowledge doubled approximately every one hundred years. By the end of World War II knowledge was doubling every 25 years. Today different types of knowledge have different rates of growth: In nanotechnology knowledge is doubling every two years and biological knowledge every 18 months. The consensus is that on average human knowledge is doubling every 13 months. According to IBM’s Research Labs, however, the blitz-scaling of the Internet Of Things – fridges connected to grocery stores in turn connected to drones and so on - will lead to the doubling of knowledge every 12 hours. Let’s assume that the world's data base is 100 today. If it doubles every 12 hours, then a week later that number will be 1,638,400. And five days later that number will be over a billion.

However, I humbly disagree with those who say knowledge is doubling. It is data that is doubling, and data is far from being knowledge.

Which brings me to Artificial Intelligence and its threat and promise. Benedict Frey and Michael Osborne of Oxford University, who published a seminal paper in 2013 on how susceptible jobs are to roboticisation, conclude that

“Technology is leading to a situation, where fewer and fewer people have the necessary skills to work in the frontline of its advances. In the 1980s, 8.2% of the US workforce were employed in new technologies introduced in that decade. By the 1990s, it was 4.2%. For the 2000s, our estimate is that it’s just 0.5%. That tells us that, on the one hand, the potential for automation is expanding – but also that technology doesn’t create that many new jobs now compared to the past”.

Are you prepared for life in the fastest lane ever? No? That’s OK, no one is!

So where do Instructional Designers start? Well, one aspect of your people’s skills you may want to sharpen, as Bill Gates and others have suggested, is their Innovative Thinking capabilities.

Analogies usually best explain ideas. The creative, innovative skills people need can be compared to an advanced machine, let’s say the best car in the world. Your people need to be nimble, fast, accurate, reliable, smart and agile. So, like the cockpit of an advanced car, they need radar, a speedometer, a fuel gauge, an accelerator, rear-view mirrors, fast connections to the internet, even brakes occasionally, and of course a GPS. In other words a great feedback loop allowing fast reaction times; and the best possible user interfaces to all these support devices. Innovative Thinking is the creation of a Human-Machine interface.

If you want to create a culture of continuous innovation, which is the only way to keep up with the warp speed of your competitors, then Innovative Thinking is your only avenue. Old thinking – gone!

If you are in a traditionally stodgy industry you are particularly vulnerable to nimbler, innovative and entrepreneurial competitors. Could any businesses have had a stodgier aura than taxi cabs and bed and breakfasts? Well, six or seven years ago along came Uber and Airbnb and completely disrupted them both; and now the familiar taxis and cozy B&Bs have a choice – adapt or die. Uber and Airbnb are now worth $50b and $20b respectively. It bears repeating that these two businesses did not exist a few years ago!

Adaptation through continuous innovation is the one and only key in a brave new world where products and services spring up overnight and render their competitors obsolete in a heartbeat. And thinking in an innovative and creative manner is the only way forward.

Dozens, maybe hundreds, of websites which advertised hotels and provided the ability to book a room were developed over the past fifteen years; disrupting the traditional ways of booking a room: picking up the phone and calling a travel agency. Remember that? Then, voila, an aggregator that checked all these sites instantly and got the customer the best deal guaranteed, swooped in. The worst news for the travel websites: This smart aggregator grabbed all the eyeballs (the advertiser’s dream) from the sites that had spent billions getting where they were, and banished them all to the second tier or lower – just like that! As Bobby Unser, the race car driver quipped, “Nobody remembers who finished second but the guy who finished second”.

If you think that cannot happen to your company, or your job, think again. If it can be done faster or cheaper or by a robot it will! The Darwinian hunt for profits and market share will see to that. We already know that lawyers no longer have to slog through legal books and precedents: intelligent assistants (robots) can now do that for them. That kind of leverage will be sought out everywhere. I built as voice mail company and a large number of secretaries and receptionists were replaced.

It’s called creative destruction and it’s been going on for as long as humans have wielded tools. Just think what 3D printing is doing to traditional manufacturing; moving it from the rusting factories to shiny, clean lab-like fabricators. Jobs once done in overalls now done by programmers.

No matter how you measure it, patents filed or cell phone calls made, you know the rate of change is accelerating. This is an era where the rules keep changing and flux and disruption are the new norms.

Everything is now connected, from burglar alarms to fridges to phones and more is coming. For the first time in history one cannot consider the development of any particular piece of the modern world - either in terms of geopolitics or in business – in isolation. The world of business and social life is rapidly accelerating and integrating and this progress (?) will always lead to the emergence of more and more sophisticated technologies separated by shorter and shorter time intervals. Business is at its core Darwinian, so the only question is this: will you or your company be involved because you adapted, or victimized because you didn’t?

Here’s the problem: Organizations are just not very good at adapting to change. The need for urgency, adaptability, flexibility, comfort-with-ambiguity and, perhaps most importantly, comfort with creative and innovative thinking are not factors that one normally associates with large bureaucracies, or any bureaucracies for that matter. Throwing more people or money at the problem these days is not the answer it once was.

New realities need new thinking, now as they always have. It’s all part of what Schumpeter called “Creative destruction”. More than anything else creative destruction means the emergence of new opportunities from the ashes of old industries. The obvious question is this: Where will you, or your company, end up? Phoenix-like and triumphant –albeit temporarily– or in the other pile of files, ready to be sifted through for a cautionary MBA thesis at a much later date – say 2020.

According to the Harvard Business Review,

“The new economy has ushered in great business opportunities – and great turmoil. Not since the Industrial Revolution have the stakes of dealing with change been so high. Most traditional organizations have accepted, in theory at least, that they must either change or die. Despite some individual successes, however, change remains difficult to pull off, and few companies manage the process as well as they would like. Most of their initiatives –installing new technology, downsizing, restructuring, or trying to change corporate culture– have had low success rates. The brutal fact is that about 70% of all change initiatives fail.”

And the bigger the organization, the more difficult it is to change the way it does business. If you continue to play checkers and drive in the slow lane, you can count on the fact that two youngsters in a basement somewhere in the world are playing 3D Chess and building a faster lane.

The solution? Understand that no matter the size of your division, group or enterprise; no matter what line of business you are in, and if survival is important, then an entrepreneurial culture of continuous innovation must become your topmost goal.

The skills needed for this are: Critical Thinking, Collaboration, Problem-Solving, and Communications. Of these four, teamwork is the most important.

If you wish to create an innovative thinking culture it starts with teamwork, click here and begin to learn these four critical skills. Your competitors are already doing this.

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