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Key to American Innovation? Incorporating Art and Design into Education

Focusing on science, technology, engineering and math is great, but to really innovate, we need to add art and design to education.

In the future technology will shatter the physical distance between continents, and create exponentially faster communication between people, companies, organizations, employees, and employers. We will have self-driving cars, and the advancements of 3D printing will make it possible for anyone to design and create physical objects. Our cell phones will be ambient technology—no longer requiring our attention, learning our behavioral patterns in the background, and politely serving up our next favorite lunch spot. Life will be good in the future.

But here's the catch: innovation in the next 100 years could bring a hefty price tag for the United States, figuratively and literally, because much of it will probably happen outside U.S. borders. Consider that the cost of innovation in technology and software—which runs everything from your microwave, to the self driving car—is expensive and takes time. Therefore, there is an interest for companies to drive these costs down and look for more efficient ways to solve complex problems in the R&D and manufacturing processes.

Crowdsourcing, for example, provides solutions to complex problems by enlisting the wisdom of, well, crowds, and is built on the notion that the smartest people are not working for you. Companies like Innocentive are hired by corporations to tackle problems that are too expensive or too hard for a company's internal R&D teams to solve.

Innocentive posts challenges to its 270,000-person strong cloud of scientists, mathematicians, and physicists, and delivers an impressive 57 percent success rate of solved and awarded projects. Kaggle is another incentivized crowd-sourcing model that has a riveting case study of a PhD student solving NASA’s dark matter problem with a solution that the White House deemed as "outperforming the state-of-the-art algorithms."

While these companies are U.S.-based, there is nothing that can stop the Kaggle and Innocentive models from being replicated by offshore companies to offer technical R&D as 'outsourcing' by Chinese PhDs for a fraction of the price it would cost in U.S. Just like the 'hard' skills of engineers and mathematicians currently outsourced to build software and solve problems, this model will only become faster and cheaper outside the U.S. With participating teams spending 10-40 times the prize purse trying to win the challenge, companies could very well look abroad to solve their most complex problems in the future.

This is one of many cases for why the U.S. cannot afford to forego the importance and advantages that creativity brings to the education table. Yes, STEM—science, technology, engineering, and math—in education is crucial. Our space, medical, and technological progress is rightfully attributed to STEM.

Meanwhile, there are movements and organizations on the "other side" that are advocating for the arts and design to be included in STEM. Whether it’s STEAM (A is for arts) or STEM-D (D is for design) these organizations are recognizing the missing link in the equation. While both of these trains are pulling towards the same direction, they are unfortunately not working together to get there.

My organization’s mission is to re-instill creativity and innovation in education. We at NRBLB also believe that smart programs enhancing creativity will inherently affect subjects like math and science by default. Therefore, our goal is not only to build programs that will amplify creativity, but ones that will help STEM scores as well.

Looking into the soul of the most valuable companies, products and inventions today, it's clear that creativity lies at the heart of it all, and that is impossible to replicate or outsource. It's also important to understand that creativity does not belong to visual or performing artists alone. The men and women in NASA's control rooms, the GooglePlex, and Yale's research labs, are no less artists than the ones we earnestly celebrate on the silver screens. Whether they see patterns in numbers, code, or DNA strands, they are creative geniuses in their own right as they elegantly manipulate logic, paint with code, and architect molecules that propel mankind towards a better future.

As Steve Jobs once said, "Technology alone is not enough. It's technology married with liberal arts that yields us the result that makes our hearts sing." A holistic view of creativity in education is key to nurturing future generation of innovators and we must push beyond the thought that the "hard' and measurable subjects are the solution to innovation. STEM and STEAM camps need to work in tandem for real progress to be made.

Photo (cc) via Flickr user opensourceway

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