Action and Empathy

The driving force behind authentic action

More than kindness, more than thinking of others, empathy is, as far as I can tell, the best way to ensure we build a culture of thinking amongst students that is solution oriented, inclusive, and will engage them in meaningful inquiries on their path to greater learning and support them in their quest to take authentic action.

Image: Annie Spratt, Unsplash, 2015.

Tony Wagner’s book “Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World” compels educators to stop hoping kids will develop 21st Century skills by accident or as an ‘aside’ to their school career. Instead, Wagner believes we need to explicitly look for ways to equip students with skills needed for what he describes as 'an increasingly flat world'. He calls these the Seven Survival Skills:

  1. Critical thinking and problem solving

  2. Collaboration across networks and leading by influence

  3. Agility and adaptability

  4. Initiative and entrepreneurship

  5. Accessing and analyzing information

  6. Effective oral and written communication

  7. Curiosity and imagination

He published this list of skills in his previous book, The Global Achievement Gap but has since conversed with people across different fields and discovered that there are other skills that needed to be added to this list of ‘essentials’. These include:

  • perseverance

  • a willingness to experiment

  • taking calculated risks

  • tolerating failure

  • a capacity for design thinking

Design Thinking is a concept employed at IDEO. Wagner shares IDEO’s design thinking concept as an example of a way of viewing the world that is fundamental to any process of innovation. (Wagner, pp13). The CEO of IDEO, Tim Brown, goes on to describe five characteristics of ‘design thinkers’:

  1. empathetic – looking at the world from multiple perspectives and putting others first

  2. integrative thinkers – being able to see all aspects of a problem and possible breakthrough solutions

  3. optimistic – believing that no matter how challenging a problem, a solution can be found

  4. experimental – being willing to use trial and error to explore possible solutions in creative ways

  5. collaborative – this above all!

Wagner lists further studies, more conversations and additional research that provide similar lists of requirements and criteria for innovative thinkers, ultimately summarizing them as follows:

  • curiosity – being in the habit of asking good questions with a desire to understand more deeply

  • collaboration – listening to and learning from others who have perspectives and expertise different from your own

  • associative or integrative thinking

  • a bias toward action and experimentation

How might you ensure a bias toward action in your learning space? How might you use these characteristics of design thinkers, the seven essential skills, and the additional essential skills to build a culture of empathy and action amongst your learners?