Innovating Together: the Geopolitical and Educational Path Forward

March 2020 signaled a new threshold of mutuality. Contagions–biologic, media, economic, geopolitical, and climate–are quickly global phenomena. The VUCA world (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) is now hyper-connected (VUCAH).

In a matter of months, the developed world went from high unemployment and low inflation to full employment and hyperinflation. The price of crude went from negative (on April 20, 2020) to $124 per barrel less than a year later. After hitting a record 16,000 in October, the NASDAQ dropped almost 30% in the last six months.

In his new book, The Power of Crisis, Ian Bremmer outlines three threats changing the world–global health emergencies, transformative climate change, and the AI revolution. Add an unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, mass migration, and the cascading effects of economic responses and we share a super volatile world where new challenges compound unexpected impacts.

Bremer concludes that “we must use the crises already breaking around us–the lessons of COVID, the destructive potential of climate change, and the existential threat posed by rapid technological developments and the existential threat posed by rapid technological developments we don’t understand–to create new international system that’s built for today’s, and tomorrow’s, purpose.”

In short, Bremer suggests the only geopolitical solution is to innovate together–countries cooperating and constructing new solutions to shared challenges.

Bremer celebrates the success of mRNA vaccines as a sign that “committed People of goodwill can solve new problems at record speed.” But he observes that, to address future challenges, we’ll “need more compromise, cooperation, and coordination than COVID was able to create.”

Founder of Eurasia Group and professor at NYU, Bremmer thinks the “greatest threat of all to our collective future will come from the unexpected impact of new technologies that will change the way we live, think, and interact with other people and will determine our future as a species.”

As a Russia scholar, Bremmer doesn’t underestimate the depths of the “geopolitical recession” we’re in, but he sees innovating together for a better world as the only path forward.

Learning how to innovate together is the path forward not only for all countries but for individuals–it’s the new mission of school.

School is for learning to innovate together

The three challenges Bremer highlights– the climate crisis global pandemics, and exponential technology–will shape the lives and livelihoods of young people for the next 30 years. However, we’ve inherited an education system focused on small routine problems addressed individually. We need schools where young people learn to innovate together.

Innovating starts with finding problems worth solving–challenges important to learners and their community. That means we not only must introduce young people to the world they’ll inherit, we need to give them the space and support to go deep in emerging areas of interest, to coauthor community connected projects, and experience the agency of difference making.

What young people need now are repetitions in design thinking–to repeatedly find, frame, address complex problems and deliver value to a community.

Tom Vander Ark

We’ve learned about the benefits of deliberate practice in the last 25 years. What young people need now are repetitions in design thinking–to repeatedly find, frame, address complex problems and deliver value to a community. “Learning things that matter; learning in context; learning in teams. Envisioning what has never been and doing whatever it takes to make it happen. Do that 20 times and you will be employable forever,” said Richard Miller, founding President of Olin College.

Olin, with 50 other leading schools in Engineering Unleashed, develops an entrepreneurial mindset of curiosity, connections and a focus on creating value–and it is expressed through collaboration, communication, and character. Olin students from day one are addressing new and novel challenges, doing it in teams, learning how to ask, “How might we?”  

In their new book Redefining Success, Ken Kay and Suzie Boss see thousands of community conversations yielding new elementary and secondary learning priorities. “When students and teachers have a green light to tackle meaningful challenges, contexts for student problem solving can include…sustainability, innovation, invention, entrepreneurship [and] civic engagement.”

Kay and Boss see evidence that young people “are prepared to ask hard questions, find important problems and solve them creatively, advocate for themselves and others, and engage others to partner with them.”

In metro Kansas City, 75 high schools are working together to promote Real World Learning by inviting young people to engage in community connected projects and entrepreneurial experiences. Edge, a new academy of Liberty Public Schools, invites learners into challenges aiming at the UN Sustainable Development Goals (featured image).

Across the CAPS Network, learners from 140 school districts immerse in professions-based challenges–they run emergency rooms, build airplanes, launch businesses.

In east San Diego County, Cajon Valley learners (starting in primary grades) engage in six immersive units each year where they explore real challenges in diverse teams, they meet experts, and they use smart tools to build innovative solutions. After each immersion, learners reflect on their strengths, interests, and values. Through 54 K-8 challenge cycles they gain deep personal knowledge, build relationship skills, and learn to innovate for a better world.

The new mission of school is cultivating curiosity, purpose and problem solving by inviting learners into real world challenges in diverse teams using smart tools.

There is no answer key at the end of the book for the world we share. The path forward is innovating together.

This post was originally published on Forbes.