Boundless Creativity and Curiosity: Following Steve Jobs' Example in the Classroom

10/12/2011 10:42 am ET | Updated Dec 12, 2011
  • Willow Dea Change Management Consultant, Author, Coach, Speaker

Education agitates.

It's a gentle force applied to young people over time, with the aim to produce a young adult with enough knowledge to ask the right questions about the world, and her work. The ideal aim in education is to produce a pearl of a human being. Young people enter school, the climate of challenge and structure, with the hope that they'll emerge more polished, smoother.

Some would say that Steve Jobs was also an agitator. He propelled the insistent evolution of personal computers, phones, music and animation -- often pushing his teams well beyond any comfort zone.

Job's approach to his work paralleled an integral approach to education as described in Igniting Brilliance: Integral Education for the 21st Century. For example, he was wholeheartedly committed to self-directed learning. The natural motivation to follow one's creative instincts and to learn more deeply is indicative of a passionate learner.

There were several qualities that Steve Jobs demonstrated in his approach to developing technology that are aligned with an integral approach to education. These are discussed in the book Igniting Brilliance as well, a collection of essays from integral educators around the world:

• Self-directed learning
• Aliveness, or having an "emergent edge"
• Commitment to evolution
• Life-long learning
• Beginner's mind (i.e., staying open)
• Inclusivity, or "connecting the dots"
• Sophisticated simplicity
• Integrated end-to-end experience

Ironically, Jobs was a college drop out who started a company that affected millions, and became pivotal in educating young people all over the world. Jobs provided an "inadvertent but forceful momentum for an educational revolution around the world."

Not only was he fueled by profound curiosity over the course of his life -- Jobs put aliveness first. He referred to Whole Earth's slogan, "Stay hungry. Stay foolish." In other words: Stay aware. Stay at your edge. Track the emerging trends and act upon your best understanding of these influences. This too is essential to an integral education. Awareness is the key to responding creatively instead of reacting. The capacity of one's aliveness is of obviously good use in the hot crucible of a classroom.

An integral educator is deeply engaged in personal evolution, as it's central to an integral teaching practice. Jobs demonstrated the humility to persist beyond multiple failures, which further illuminates his character, showing us how he never settled. He was emphatic in making this point at a commencement speech at Stanford University in 2005, saying, "Never settle."

The practice of 'not settling' is a dedication to finding a more elegant solution to any complex problem. An integral approach to education aims to provide the same: an elegant solution to making education friendlier for the average teacher or student.

Jobs maintained an inclusive approach to developing gadgets that would improve the quality of our lives, if we let them. He did this by "connecting the dots" -- or taking a wider lens to the design process. Apple products stand alone in their ability to deliver a seamless end-to-end experience for the user. His products utilized a sophisticated simplicity that affected 600 schools this year, with the integration of iPads in the classroom. Apple products enabled us to be more self-expressed with our creative activities. We could suddenly draw, arrange our photos, record music, and even share music with our family.

Case in point, he quoted Picasso in 1994, saying: "... 'Good artists copy, great artists steal.' We have always been shameless about stealing great ideas... I think part of what made the Macintosh great was that the people working on it were musicians, poets, artists, zoologists and historians who also happened to be the best computer scientists in the world."

The experience of using a machine that contained capacity I had yet to master created a constant source of mysterious delight, as I could find frontiers of creativity fingertips' reach, every time I logged on. The experience of a well-designed education is the gift that Steve Jobs left for us, in the way that only he could, under the lid of that illuminated apple.

Willow Dea is an educator, speaker, and the editor of Igniting Brilliance: Integral Education I the 21st Century. Learn more at