A sobering, yet hopeful opinion essay from Mirian Graddick-Weir, executive vice president, Human Resources, at Merck.  She has responsibility for all aspects of human resources for over 86,000 employees worldwide.

Here is an excerpt:

Technological innovation accounted for almost half of U.S. economic growth over the past 50 years, but the country’s standing as the world’s indisputable innovation leader is now at risk. In December, China surpassed the United States as the leading global patent filer — the first time any country has overtaken America.

In todays climate of intense competition, we must find ways to develop “integrative thinking” — the thinking that leads to new business ideas, especially in science and technology. Integrative thinkers turn challenges into real business opportunities through their ability to think critically, analytically, and with imagination. Their inspiring and visionary approach helps drive business growth.

New entrants often struggle to grasp how their research relates to other forces and issues at play. They are also poorly equipped to work effectively in a dynamic team setting where the flow of ideas is open and constant.

The problem, of course, is education. And it’s more than just the fact that U.S. students rank 25th in math and 17th in science. These young employees have never learned how to focus on the important problems — we haven’t adequately taught them how to think..

… We must inspire students to find value in pursuing a career in science. K-12 science education has traditionally focused on memorizing discrete facts rather than understanding larger concepts and how they are connected to one another to create the exciting “big ideas.” Likewise, laboratory experiences have focused on following stepwise procedures (like scientific methods) rather than emphasizing on how to organize mass amounts of information in a clear construct to solve complex science problems. The process-driven approach currently relied on in schools can lead to excessive focus on one aspect of science. Integrative thinking, on the other hand, reveals how various questions intersect, helps students understand the broader picture, and prepares them to address larger challenges.

Strong science teaching supports learning in all subjects, since science provides a foundation for the development of language, logic, and problem-solving skills. Science instruction that mirrors the way scientists do their work also motivates students to pursue science as a career.

Merck Institute for Science Education (MISE), was formed to  improve science education in underserved populations.

Source: How to Educate More Creative Problem-Solvers – Mirian Graddick-Weir – Harvard Business Review.

In my view ..

We must also educate more opportunity finders, and we must include the arts in education if we are to truly develop whole brain integrative thinking. Art and science have always informed and inspired each other.

Innovators in both spheres require imagination, curiosity, creativity, the ability to observe, question assumptions, and make novel connections from diverse stimuli.

Learn a whole brain approach to developing creativity skills

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See also Design Thinking for Innovators