Today’s education doesn’t always teach students how to connect the dots.

In this post, I’m going to wade in with some political opinions that may or may not necessarily be embraced by everyone, especially the educated elite. If you find this blog to be offensive, I would love to hear your feedback and opinion in the comments section. I value the opinions of smart people, especially those who look at things differently. I truly want to learn “why” others think what they think.

These thoughts came out of a conversations I’ve had with one of my team members. It’s been my experience, and hers, that in many cases, our institutions of higher learning are actually doing students a disservice. Schools are supposed to be teaching students “how” to think, ask “why,” and pushing for them to become critical thinkers.  Instead, many students, if not most, are becoming formulaic experts in executing certain processes, then indoctrinated into a narrow vision of thinking–and that is it.  Our current education system is creating cogs for the machine that is our current society. The higher the education, the more complex the cog, but cog nonetheless.

In theory, we have a perceived social contract with institutions of higher learning. They’re supposed to expand the contemplative thinking of their students, and they’re supposed to be places where people learn to really, truly think.

But, because of the process-driven structures in schools and the way success is currently measured, higher education is actually very mechanical. Instead of promoting expansive thinking and asking the tough, critical questions, higher education promote process and structure. Some of the places that consider themselves the most “learned” institutions are only “open and learned” if you already share the same thoughts and opinions that they have, or they have originated.

Instead of embracing different, off-the-wall, maybe even crazy opinions, academia often shouts down students with different thoughts and beliefs. The combination of the extremely formulaic process and close-mindedness is resulting in an environment that is making  it harder for students to learn to ask tough questions and be encouraged to think outside the box.  As a result, a specific structure or road map is needed for solving complex processes or unique issues. In essence, it’s needed to connect the dots. If all the steps in a process are not included, or there are several missing in the middle, paralysis seems to occur.  Students aren’t being taught to ask the critical “why,” or “how” because they have been trained to be afraid to even ask the question, or possibly consider looking outside the box for a solution

This results in great cogs, but not great problem solvers and certainly not creative visionaries. With some of the millennials I’ve worked with, they were unbelievably great technicians as long as I told them exactly what they needed to do, step-by-step. Once they had their brain wrapped around that, they would go head down and work like crazy.

As an old-guy visionary, this is not how I have typically worked. I would have a vision, shout a starting point, and suggest a direction, and maybe provide a potential outcome that I wanted, and leave it at that. I have learned that this is a prescription for failure with many of our newly educated workforce and often, millennials in general. They think and see things differently and have different skill-sets. Even though they are highly educated with advanced and graduate degrees, they don’t have the skill-set to ask, “Why are we doing this? How do we want to get there?” “What are the steps we need to take?” They couldn’t ask the discerning questions and understand the bigger pictures when related to these tasks.

The projects that required long-term, critical thinking and problem-solving where the process was not clearly laid out or referenced from some other outside source is incredibly challenging to many young people.  To be crystal clear, these are really sharp, confident, initiative-taking, tech-embracing, hardworking kids who seem to become paralyzed by not knowing the next steps in a process.

If colleges want to create genuinely creative problem-solvers, academia needs to consider embracing that the current status quo is the issue. They need to teach students how to exercise their brains and think about problems critically, and not just the politically correct ones. Otherwise, they’ll just keep making great cogs. They need to teach students to ask the questions that are completely outside of the box, rather than questions that fall on just one side of the political fence or belief. They need to embrace all sorts of thought, and live in the land of “What If?” instead of just “It is.”

Instead of shooting down any thoughts that don’t conform to a specific belief, schools need to teach students to problem-solve, fill in the missing steps, ask hard questions and want to understand others’ way of thinking even if they don’t agree with an opinion. What if? What if Trump is right? Holy crap! What if Trump is completely wrong? I’m not even saying he is or isn’t, but in many circles you can’t even say those words. In certain circles you would be shouted down for asking the question. We’ve lost the ability to identify the intention behind the question, and instead, people are scared of asking anything.

Students should be able to say, “I may not understand this person’s beliefs, but I understand why they think that way.” Let’s teach students to problem-solve, and make those leaps to understand the bigger thought process and components of asking all questions, not just the easy ones. At the end of the day, schools should help them learn to connect the dots, not just identify them.

These same principles apply in the workplace–and in life, for that matter–when it comes to problem solving.

Keep this in mind when working with younger folks. I have found they are much more receptive to this type of thinking and questions than we give them credit for. In fact, I think they may be just a frustrated with the system and eager to learn how to connect the dot as us old guys are. They just may need a little help.

If you want to read more about younger generations and how they’re taught to think and work, you can read the previous two posts on millennials here and here. With any questions or comments, feel free to leave them in the section below: All opinions are welcome!

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