A few years ago I said to one of my team, having been in the new management post for about a week, “How come nobody here ever takes a decision? How come they always ask me what they should do, especially when they know more about their specialist area than I do?”
“Because”, came the reply, “Our last boss always had an opinion on everything, and stuck to it whatever anyone else suggested. So we very soon learnt that there was no point in doing any of the thinking for ourselves.”
I think a version of this effect happens when the educational technology in a school is tied down to such an extent that nobody can do anything unless a higher authority (usually the technical support team) gives it their blessing. The worst example I came across of this was when I was given a new computer in my new job – without a sound card: “because you didn’t ask for one”. The powers-that-be had decreed that a sound card was unnecessary unless someone made a special case for it. The default position was no sound card, no web cam, no nothing that wasn’t an essential part of the “box”.
That kind of thing stifles creative thinking because unless you know what you might do with a particular type of technology or application, you cannot make a good case for having it. “I’d like to see what it can do” is not a good argument when the person you’re saying it to is convinced it will bring down the entire school network.
Of course, such a situation is good for bringing out people’s maverick tendencies – and I’ve come across a couple of instances of that in my research on the Bring Your Own Technology phenomenon – but it certainly is not ideal.
So how can a small personal device, like a smartphone, bring out people’s creativity? If you think about it, if you have such a device, you’re carrying around with you more than a flashy object or a communication device: you’re carrying around your own work-leisure ecosystem. You’ve installed apps which you like, and you’ve probably tried and then uninstalled apps that you don’t. If I take myself as an example, while I was out yesterday I checked my email on my phone. Then I dictated a memo to myself in Evernote about some amendments which ought to be made to some book proofs I’d been sent. I then logged into Zite to see if there were any interesting stories. There was one in particular, which I then emailed to myself, and which inspired this article. Later, I texted Dave Smith to ask how he was, and he sent me a link and an invitation to an interesting-looking digital and mobile education conference at Brittan’s Academy today.
Now, all of those things would have been possible, in one way or another, without a smartphone, but my point is that the immediacy of the device and its apps meant that I could think of ideas and respond to suggestions in a way that I don’t think would have been quite as easy had I been “locked down”.
And it’s not just me who thinks this. In a recent article, Janko Roettgers makes the point that as companies move “away from infrastructure-centric to app-centric architectures,… people have to adopt an entirely new way of thinking. … When IT provides a platform to run apps for people to experiment as opposed to decide on every single project, great things can happen. … It can be a low-risk way of letting that small team play with something.”
As always, if you put power in the hands of users, they will come up with things that you may never have thought of in a million years.