Ideas won't save us.
Updated: Sep 9, 2019
We're yet to find out if the "Ideas Boom" will deflect the bullet CEDA said is heading our way.
Back in 2015 the boffins at CEDA (the Committee for the Economic Development of Australia) released a report entitled “Australia’s Future Workforce?” This report cheerfully predicted that there was a “high probability that 40 per cent of Australia’s workforce, more than five million people, could be replaced by automation within the next 10 to 20 years.”
The government can tax boffins, and the rest of us, but they can’t tax robots. They needed to address the problem so the National Innovation and Science Agenda (a.k.a. the "Ideas Boom") was launched. Everyone involved was very excited (the word “exciting” appeared twice on the home page). It was a clever plan: if it worked the government could take the credit for saving the economy. If it didn’t work it would be your fault, and mine, for not having enough good ideas. We're yet to find out if the Ideas Boom will deflect the bullet CEDA said is heading our way. Hopefully we'll be OK.
Actually, though, there's no shortage of ideas. "Idea Guy” regularly pops up on Internet forums. The general gist of Idea Guy posts is “I have this great idea for an app / invention / game. If anyone here wants to make it for me we can split the revenue.” Of course, these posts are met with an avalanche of indifference.
This is because developers and inventors know that ideas are easy. Kramer had a new idea in every episode of Seinfeld - the tie dispenser, the mansierre, the make-your-own-pizza restaurant. He’s the archetypal “idea guy”. Most of these ideas came to nothing because of the barriers to implementation and the challenges involved in developing traction in the market. “Idea guy” has no influence because he has no expertise, no network, no capital and no follow through.
The universal icon for an idea is the light bulb. Thomas Edison (who managed to produce the first commercially viable incandescent light 77 years after the first demonstration of the idea) famously pointed out that the value of an idea is in its implementation.
Problem based learning is about generating ideas. The thing about PBL that really triggers the intrinsic motivation of students, though, is the possibility that their idea might be implemented - that it might work. This is why I love 3D printing technology. It's a quick, cheap and easy way to test a design idea. It’s why we have a 3D printer in our school's library - so students can witness the actualisation of each other’s ideas. They can hold their ideas in their hand. This gives them a feeling of empowerment and achievement. If we can help our students harness the feeling of an idea well executed, who knows what they'll achieve.
Ideas won’t save us. Hard work, driven by great ideas and vision, just might. Not just as a nation, but personally, emotionally and spiritually. As Nick Cave says, “Follow your ideas, because on the other side of the idea is change and growth and redemption.”