Swarm Intelligence: What Nature Teaches Us About Shaping Creative Leadership

Swarm Intelligence: What Nature Teaches Us About Shaping Creative Leadership

by James Haywood Rolling Jr.


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781137278470
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 11/26/2013
Pages: 256
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

James Haywood Rolling, Jr. is the chair of Art Education and a dual associate professor in Art Education and Teaching and Leadership at Syracuse University. He has served on the Board of Directors of the National Art Education Association, and is the author of over 25 articles, nine book chapters, and two books on the subjects of the arts, education, creativity and human identity. He lives with his wife Me'Shae near Syracuse, New York.

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Swarm Intelligence

What Nature Teaches Us About Shaping Creative Leadership

By James Haywood Rolling Jr.

Palgrave Macmillan

Copyright © 2013 James Haywood Rolling, Jr.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-137-40151-9



Tom Kelley — the general manager of IDEO, a cutting-edge international design firm and innovation consultant — gave a talk several years ago where he recounted a story told by artist and Hallmark card designer Gordon MacKenzie, at the beginning of MacKenzie's book Orbiting the Giant Hairball. As a fellow designer, the story was important enough to Kelley to recount in his own talk: it was ultimately about how to underdevelop creativity. MacKenzie had been asked to give a demonstration of his sculpture practice at a K-6 grade school where his wife served as a cultural arts coordinator, and he was scheduled one morning to meet one grade level at a time for 50 minutes each.

MacKenzie started his conversation with each group by identifying himself as an artist who loved hanging out with other creative human beings, and asked the very same curious question: how many other artists there were in the room? In the kindergarten group, every child enthusiastically raised his or her hand, and sometimes two hands. Every first grader raised a hand as well. But in each grade after that there was more uncertainty and attrition so that by the time MacKenzie asked the sixth graders his question, he was compelled to wonder out loud whether all the creative people had transferred to another school. Only one or two sixth graders identified themselves as artists — and their hands were raised timidly at best.

MacKenzie's revelation is that one of the best places to underdevelop creativity is in schools charged with the responsibility of aiding the development of learning. Andrew Grant and Gaia Grant replicated evidence of the steady attrition of creative identity over the course of a youngster's K-12 education in their own experiment. These two educators visited schools wondering if contemporary schooling kills creativity over time. In order to find out, they surveyed classes from grade to grade asking, "Who thinks they are creative?," "Who's good at making things and building things and designing things?," "Who's a good artist?" In preschool, fourteen out of fourteen hands went up. In kindergarten, the affirmative response was ten out of ten. By sixth grade, the response was ten out of eighteen hands up. By eleventh grade, only one youngster identified himself as creative.

So what are students today learning that so stifles the development of personal creative identity? Actually, this is the wrong question. The problem isn't what youngsters are learning, it's how they are learning it.

Some of the most creative minds in the world have been the products of a public school education. I myself am proud to say I am the product of this system, but I had influences and opportunities outside of school that made me the artist I am today. I don't even remember my in-school art education in elementary and middle school; in fact, my creative, daydreaming characteristics were often deemed a distraction to the real schoolwork at hand. There is something that goes on daily in schools throughout the world that de-emphasizes the importance of creativity. And as Gordon MacKenzie and the Grants found out firsthand, whatever is going on has been extremely successful at doing so.

Arguing that the current system of public education produces a number of creative individuals misses the point if we do not also acknowledge the profound numbers of students who graduate believing they are not creative. How many innovators, inventors, and transformational thinkers have already been lost to us in the process of getting their education? How many new ideas have been dumbed down or stillborn in the hearts of friends and neighbors and loved ones who have no confidence in themselves as creative beings? And if the primary goal of public education in the United States is not to develop the creative capacity of each student, what has been the de facto reason for sending kids to school? To answer these questions, one has to go back to an earlier time, as public education was finally becoming a mandatory experience for youngsters throughout the nation in the twentieth century.

THE RISE OF EARLY TWENTIETH CENTURY BEHAVIORISM, with its core belief that all human and animal behavior could be conditioned to perform optimally through the proper scientific techniques, coincided with a point in history when every state finally had compulsory schooling laws on the books mandating that all children complete elementary school. This was an unfortunate coincidence since the great flaw of behaviorism was its reduction of the complexities of human development to cause and effect mechanics.

Within institutions that adopted a behaviorist approach to education and training, the learned responses of human beings were attributed to the carefully controlled introduction of selected stimuli — essentially, an ongoing experiment in the manipulation of human behavior by their teachers and instructors. In retrospect this was not only simplistic, it was unethical. Most students and parents would never assent to the idea that the results of classroom assignments or exams should determine the tracking of schooling opportunities or career choices for the rest of a student's life, yet such decisions by educators were often the norm. Behaviorism's influence reached its height just in time to converge with a scientific fervor to identify the most modern means for providing a free education to the general public; therefore it shouldn't be surprising that the principles of behaviorism still affect the way schools work today.

In 1908, Charles W. Eliot, the president of Harvard University, expressed a very commonly held belief in the efficacy of this approach. When he was questioned how best to decide which children should go to industrial schools, which to ordinary high schools, and which to mechanics art high schools, Eliot's response was that schoolteachers "ought to sort the pupils and sort them by their evident and probable destinies." In Eliot's learned opinion, such controlled experiments on the direction of the lives of young learners were the day-to-day management responsibility of their teachers and school administrators.

Behaviorist theories tended to oversimplify teaching and learning, which were seen as little more than a cause-and-effect conditioning exercise with students akin to Pavlov's dogs, animals whose behavior was controlled and directed through a famous series of experiments involving extrinsic motivations (i.e., rewards vs. punishments) in ways that were easily replicable. The historical evidence that behaviorist approaches were also applied to humans is not difficult to find — for instance, most of us today are unaware that Pavlov later conducted his experiments on children as well. During the heyday of the Child-study movement in the late 1800s and early 1900s, which was "the first organized movement to target public school reform in the United States," scientific beliefs about the development of humans suggested that youngsters grew in stages similar to all other biological organisms. Others, besides Pavlov, sought to put this "science" to the test.

Unfortunately, the excitement of discovery and new potential often has a way of escalating basic beliefs into unabated and almost religious fervor — even if they are scientific beliefs. The enthusiasm for science as the answer to all of society's ills ultimately led to the infiltration of pseudo-sciences like craniology, phrenology, and physiognomy into public schooling, each of which "assumed that the measurement of attributes like head size, jaw angle, and limb length inferred human character and potential." Because of its overt similarities, this cult of measurement easily took root alongside behaviorism, entwining the demand for quantification with the belief that the true nature of objects must be classified solely through the power of scientific observation, testing, and evaluation. Consequently, these beliefs also got hopelessly tangled together into the extreme notion that visual bodily markers and numerical scores — in their conformity or nonconformity to prevailing norms — were the tacit predictors of what kind of adult a student would grow up to be.

Eliot and other influential American educators were convinced that teaching and learning conducted as a scientific experiment — in which a teacher makes visual observations about each student, introduces changes, and then notes their effects — ultimately offered the fullest and most efficient control over all student outcomes, including their destinies. And if your focus as an educator is on controlled student outcomes, the last thing you are interested in is the development of divergent thinking in learners. This is one of the better ways to underdevelop creativity.

AROUND THE SAME TIME THAT BEHAVIORISM and the controlled observation of children were being embraced by American educators, Frederick Winslow Taylor was carefully scrutinizing occupational practices in paper mills as well as during the factory production of steel. Known as the father of "scientific management," Taylor was a pioneer in the introduction of new concepts of industrial efficiency as one of the first paid management consultants to big business in the United States. It was a time — between 1900 and 1910 — when the American public school system was in a state of a crisis. The improvement of U.S. child labor laws and compulsory education policies had combined with huge increases in the enrollment of "non-English-speaking children from semiliterate families," new immigrants to our shores "predominantly from the poorest socioeconomic groups in southern and eastern Europe," such that "elementary classes of over one hundred children were common." This was also an inflationary period in the nation's economy with sharply rising costs of living, a shortage of tax revenue to support public institutions, and U.S. citizens increasingly wary of inefficiency and waste.

Moreover, in 1909 the public had been introduced to a book by Leonard P. Ayres titled Laggards in Our Schools — a survey of deplorably overcrowded, poorly managed school systems in 58 cities that failed to meet the standards of Ayres's statistically concocted "Index of Efficiency." Ayres had written a scathing indictment of the production of what he defined as "retarded" children — over-aged learners repeating the same material in their grades over and over again — and in doing so, he was "one of the first educators to picture the school as a factory" that required the application of the best business and industrial practices. Hence, education reform crusaders were more than ready to embrace Taylor's new system of scientific management almost as soon as it was introduced to them.

Taylor's ideas about efficiency were first catapulted into the American consciousness after they were featured during a 1910 Capitol Hill hearing before the Interstate Commerce Commission attempting to resolve a legal wrangle between a railroad trade association, industry management, and merchants. Proposed increases in freight rates threatened to damage bottom-line profits across the board. For some of the stakeholders, the priority was to find a means of lowering costs; for others the priority was increasing wages for workers. At just the right moment, Taylor's system was suddenly thrust into the spotlight as a "magic" panacea with the potential to make management in all sectors of industry — including the management of schools — as efficient as possible, supposedly to the benefit of all stakeholders involved.

First, Taylor mandated the replacement of diverse and rule-of-thumb workplace methods with the single best, scientifically determined method for doing a task. Anything less than that system, as determined by management, was considered a waste of time and money. Laborers who collaborated to create their own ad hoc methods in the field or on the work floor were supposedly contributing to lessened productivity. When this mandate was replicated in an educational context, opportunities for learners to figure out problems without directives from their teachers were severely curtailed, further underdeveloping creativity.

Second, Taylor's system also required the scientific selection, training, and development of each employee, rather than leaving employees to train themselves. Or, as Taylor once put it to a mechanic who worked under him, common laborers were "not supposed to think" because "there are other people paid for thinking around here." Taylor maintained that "one type of man is needed to plan ahead and an entirely different type to execute the work." When adopted by schools, this approach led to what John D. Philbrick long ago observed as "the imposition of tasks; if the pupil likes it, well; if not, the obligation is the same." The assumption that the teacher, or manager, is solely responsible for devising and planning activities and projects serves to underdevelop creativity both in learners, the professional workforce, and throughout society.

Third, Taylor's scientific management system required the provision of detailed instruction and supervision, ensuring that workers were applying all principles precisely as instructed in their performance and completion of each assigned task — so much so that the stopwatch became emblematic of Taylor's system, often likened to "management by measurement." As Taylor's approach was applied in schools, the completion of homework assignments, sequenced workbooks, and timed tests became the order of the school day. Think about it. Workbooks are essentially books of assignments and their rules — conditioning tools in which the teacher introduces changes, notes effects, and maintains full control over the design of the student. Workbooks are analogous to any and all means of social regimentation. These "conditioning books" are used in order to measure an individual's gradual acquisition and application of instructional or institutional content, but they also serve to underdevelop creativity.

Fourth, Taylor insisted upon a strict division of labor between management and workers so that managers carry the burden of "analyzing, planning, and controlling the whole manufacturing process," and each worker carries the burden of doing only what he or she is told to do. Management-focused schooling models — their primary mandate being the efficient conveyance of learners from one grade to the next — also view the highest student achievers as those best conditioned to perform in accord with standardized rules, regulations, and tests. Meanwhile, in the cultivation of cadres of individual achievers that meet the prevailing standard, "creative mentalities" go underdeveloped.

Perhaps the greatest detriment regarding Taylor's system was that while it made great sense toward increasing the production of manufactured goods in factory assembly lines, when applied to schools it resulted in a focus upon increasing the production of graduating students ready to enter a managed workforce — while decreasing any investment in the development of creativity among those students or in their learning experiences. The fact that public schools by and large still operate this way continues to underdevelop the creativity of millions of young people.

WHAT IF NEO HAD TAKEN THE BLUE PILL? One of the underlying messages in the hugely popular 1999 sci-fi/action flick titled The Matrix is about how easy it is to reject the possibility that we are capable of extraordinary things in everyday life. The setting of the film is in a future wherein, from infancy, human thought is dictated and manufactured by computers, rendering human beings into docile energy sources. Living batteries. The main character, named Thomas Anderson, is also held captive by a "reality" written in cyber-language and force-fed directly into his brain — except that in his secret identity as a computer hacker named "Neo," he has been subconsciously resisting his captivity and is about to become fully aware of his circumstances for the very first time.


Excerpted from Swarm Intelligence by James Haywood Rolling Jr.. Copyright © 2013 James Haywood Rolling, Jr.. Excerpted by permission of Palgrave Macmillan.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

Introduction: Ancient Secret Societies and Snoopy's Doghouse 1

1 How to Underdevelop Creativity 23

2 Social Networks: A Swarm Theory of Creativity 43

3 Systems: How Swarm Intelligence Adapts Our Social Worlds 71

4 Swarms: Collaborative Leadership and the Professional imagination 89

5 Superorganisms: Social Responsibility and the Civic Imagination 117

6 Stories: Narratives of Swarm Intelligence to Live By 139

7 Schools: Twenty-First-Century Creative Partnerships and Education without Borders 177

8 Rethinking Creativity: The Habits and Principles of Innovation 199

Notes 231

Index 245

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