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Forward toward progress

Lately, due to my work at our school with the children and watching them create and learn, I have been thinking about how sometimes we miss the progress which, in the children’s eyes, turns our familiar and probable, our wonderful tried-and-true ideas, to something whose time has passed.

Think for a moment of your own children. How many of them know who a tailor, a blacksmith, or a barber are? But they are all familiar with the rules of quidditch and happily sing incantations in fluent Latin. They all speak about static electricity during a storm as if it were the most self-evident thing in the world, while not so long ago lightnings were attributed to the wrath of gods. And truthfully, that would be a much clearer and more logical explanation than some obscure static electricity, some charged particles no-one can see…

This lead me to naturally broaden the thought to workplaces and problem-solving. And then I read the following enlightening story at the Lenta.ru website.

Illustration: progress - designer ash tray

Thus said the Sages.
Quotes by people worth heeding:

If you think win-win, everyone will feel good about the decision and will be committed to the action plan.

— Stephen Covey

A tale of a teacher

There was in the Russian city Kursk a young and talented teacher, let’s call her N., who has come to Illinois on a special program, designed to allow young and talented teachers to live and work in the United States of America. She was chosen for the program because she developed her own method of creative development in children, based on the main idea that the child’s creative effort should be applied. The child should see his creations being useful and bringing joy; shards on the floor, told-you-it-will-fall, you know… the daily life of daily-life objects.

And so the young and talented teacher N. arrives at a small, spirited and rather decent school in Illinois, where she gets to introduce and head her project with the six- and seven-year olds.

At her very first class N., the young and talented teacher, unveils for the children real clay, shows them a real stove for baking ceramics and other wonderful accessories and devices, and announces excitedly that they are going to make ash trays for their moms and dads. You know, ash trays. Ash trays to hold ashes of cigarettes one smokes. At this point she discovers that the children are not familiar with the concept of ash trays, because their parents, how should we say this, do not smoke.

Panicking, the young and talented teacher N. imagines her program for this semester, where the children create ash trays every other class from various materials: papier-mâché, polymer clay, mosaic… For it is so simple, making an ash tray: shlop-shlop, flatten it up, details don’t really matter. And best of all, there could never be too many ash trays in the house; they are always in the center of life, people cry over them, drop the nails which got loosened out of walls into them, throw them at the cat, fires get started in them…

The young and talented teacher N. realizes she must come up with an alternative idea and fast. Only no ideas come to her. Plates will not do, they would be crooked, leaking, covered in bubbles. Bubbles are a nice design addition for an ash tray, they seem somehow poetic. But in a plate they would be a total disaster.

Illustration: art class

And then she turns to the children, in a desperate hope they would provide the idea:

– Well, children, guess what we would be making today for your moms and dads! It is something small; something flat; something you can place things on; and you need lots of them in the house…

And the kids happily shout: – A mobile stand! A mobile stand!

And so they began making mobile stands. And if you think about it, really, why shouldn’t we, in the age of progress, throw a mobile stand at the cat?

Illustration: crystal mobile stand

The catch-22 of old ideas

Well, ladies and gentlemen, I have read this entertaining story and it made me think: often we stick to this or that solution for no better reason than because we have already came up with it. It was our idea, and we’ve already had it. So we stick to it, and we turn the whole world upside down, forcing it to adapt itself to this solution, whether it likes to or not, whatever the consequences, whether or not it is suitable, or even understood. Because we came up with it.

But the heart of Quality Assurance is change, as only through change can improvement be achieved. And as the ambassadors of change and progress in our organizations, we must keep our own minds open and flexible to change and progress. Fixation of thought freezes up all action, it is the enemy of change and progress.

Only by being open to new ideas and keeping our minds flexible can we bring the progress and change we aspire to achieve. And after all, one can just as well throw a mobile stand at the cat!

The image in the middle: original image from Josh Street Design website.

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