Re-thinking education through imagination

Professor Xavier Pavie, Director of the iMagination Centre and Academic Director for the Master’s in Management programme at ESSEC Business School, Singapore Asia-Pacific campus, turns his gaze towards the forthcoming BETT Show 2018 to focus on how imagination and transdisciplinarity can transform education. 

Teaching innovation has reached maturity

There is no longer a single educational institution that doesn’t offer classes on the theme of innovation. In effect, for twenty years or so the teaching of innovation has radically transformed to become a discipline that is as much rigorous as it is relevant for any organisation seeking to develop or renew growth. With a great number of theories, innovation processes and their conceptual names – from blue ocean strategy to open innovation to business model canvas and design thinking – have succeeded in mapping not only the major structuring stages enabling us to move from an idea to innovation, but have also evolved to reach a level of sophistication that limits (without totally removing it) failure.

Processes are not alone in having reached maturity. The phases of creativity enabling us to nourish these mechanisms have also been endowed with increasingly reliable tools and methods. Classic benchmarks and business intelligence monitoring have seen themselves being supported by widely used techniques such as brainstorming, mind mapping or scamper among others. For all that, however numerous and varied these methods may be, none of them can replace innovators’ behaviour and the attitude they must adopt to propose their organisations new solutions for value creation. In other words, the teaching of innovation must not simply be linked to delivering a set of techniques, but also transmit a certain way of being.

Wonder sparks the imagination

If Aristotle tells us that the first quality of a philosopher is his capacity to meet with surprise and wonder, it is because this quality is fundamental to those who wish to direct their life towards the pursuit of wisdom. Because wonder allows us to open ourselves up to the world to improve our understanding of it, marvel at what it offers, and observe with an ever-fresh eye what it proposes. The issue at stake is to change our outlook and modify our point of view, both of which are often moulded by certitude and habit. This capacity to feel surprise and enchantment is not altogether foreign to the posture that innovators must take on to imagine new proposals – whatever the field in which they have to innovate. It is indeed through their faculty for observing differently, through being confronted with new and novel situations, and through being surprised by their environment that they will succeed in formulating unique solutions. In other words, it is imagination and transdisciplinarity which constitute the pillars of future innovations.

Transdisciplinarity: the key to our imagination

Imagination is not inherent and we are not born with more or less capacity to imagine. This faculty can be cultivated, educated, taught and transmitted. The first thing to achieve that is to go beyond the boundaries surrounding our world. Our environment is necessarily such a boundary – whether stemming from our education, our work, or our family and our friends. Going beyond this boundary means making ourselves face new settings, different perspectives and new knowledge. It is in this that transdisciplinarity is essential. It is because we are faced with what we do not know that we develop our ideas and our imagination. Moreover, because we’re not used to doing it, going to a conference given by palaeontologists or astrophysicists surprises us, listening to rap singers or punk rockers opens our mind, and observing the life of artisan chocolate or jam-makers provides us with unique existences and experiences. And because meeting, listening, reading a mathematician, a philosopher, an architect or winegrower, for example, will nourish our minds, develop our imagination and therefore transform our way of thinking.

If transdisciplinarity, much as diversity, is advocated by everyone, we still remain, however, fearful when it comes down to breaking the norms of our boundaries and those of what we teach. It is, however, necessary, and re-thinking education must come at this price – and at this audacity – whatever the discipline concerned. If some disciplines can and indeed must respect certain boundaries, there are many areas of teaching in which innovation should, on the contrary, drastically break them open to enable the capacity of our students – the builders of tomorrow’s world – to hatch and develop.

Xavier Pavie

Professor at ESSEC Business School, Director of the iMagination Centre and Academic Director of the Grande Ecole programme (Master in Management) in Singapore, Xavier Pavie is also associate researcher at the Institute of Philosophical Research at University Paris-Nanterre. He is the author of numerous articles and works including Le goût d’imaginer sa vie (Manitoba 2018) that he led with forty contemporary philosophers.

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