April 17, 2024

Innovation Focused on the Ability to Improvise

Author: George Couros
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Something I have been focusing on quite a bit as of late is the idea of innovation in education being more focused on depth rather than being something new.  For example, a lot of organizations (including education) are always touting being on the “cutting edge” as they are embracing the “latest and greatest” technologies or perhaps strategies.  The problem with this focus is that if you are too focused on doing the “new” thing, you probably never had a chance to get good at the last item or initiative.  It is a cycle that continues over and over again in too many spaces.

But if you stay focused on something too long, how can that truly be considered innovation? Think of it this way.  The original iPhone was a marvel when it first came out over ten years ago, but if you have had any of the iterations since, you probably would not be excited about the limitations of the original today. Each iteration of the iPhone to the product we have today is an innovation.  The more time we have to focus on depth creates an environment where we can bring out the true artistry within teaching and learning.

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I often compare this to a jazz musician and their ability to improvise. That ability doesn’t come from playing whatever random note you want at the moment but comes from the experience of being so well-versed in your instrument that you can create something magical in the moment.  From the article “Is Improvising Really Improvising?” they discuss how “improvising” on the spot is a skill that is genuinely developed over time.

One widespread myth about improvisation is that it is completely made up on the spot. No preparation, no memorization, and nothing that isn’t completely original.

For many, especially those watching from a distance with little musical experience, this is the most logical explanation for improvisation. After all, how else do you explain those musicians playing without music?

However, as anyone whose tried their hand at soloing over a chord progression knows, jazz improvisation is not a completely random free-for-all. You can’t just play whatever you want and sound good…

…This type of practice can be repetitive, however it is necessary to attain that level of freedom that we desire on the bandstand. However, many of us do not put in enough work to get to this level of creative intuition. Even though we know better, we get sucked into the belief that improvisation is magic. Sure, we start out in the practice room studying and ingraining the pieces of a good improvised solo, but we rarely go far enough. We stop with a few scales, arpeggios, and memorized licks and we expect something magical to happen when we get on stage.

The article goes on to end by saying the following:

It’s practice and experience that allow spontaneity and create the right environment for improvisation. And, spontaneity transforms those scales, techniques, and hours spent transcribing solos into something greater than you could have possibly imagined.

The more you’ve learned, the more you’ve studied, the more experience you have soloing, the more you have to draw from when you improvise. You can take bigger chances and explore uncharted creative territories. Sure, you might play some lines or ideas that you’ve worked out in the practice room, but you are adapting them to the moment – the music happening right now.

In the end, this is the kind of improvising that really is improvising.

That experience and focus on depth is the type of “innovation” we should be looking for in education. If we don’t have the time or expertise to dive deep into new learning, it is harder to get to those moments that become magical in our education.

Less is more. The less “new” that comes our way the “more” likely it is that we can create exceptional learning experiences for every single learner that we serve.

Source: George Couros

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