Exploration, meandering, boredom

Trailhead: Kathy Hirsh-Pasek. Play breeds better thinkers. Science 371:6525 (2021-01-08).

I've not read the book that the review refers to (Susan Engel, The Intellectual Lives of Children), but the review itself brought some thoughts to mind. Also, I don't have any kids, so I'm not even thinking of ways to optimize or improve their development.

Yet explorations take time—the time to meander and discover, the unscheduled time to be bored. As Engel writes, “when children are allowed to dive into a topic thoroughly, they... connect isolated facts in order to generate new ideas.” They learn grit and they learn to have agency over their own learning. [...] As adults, we often overlook the fact that learning is happening during periods of unstructured play, or we dismiss these intervals as unproductive.

This is also true for adults. But there is a different kind of tension. At home there's the tension of "stop messing around" or "you should know how this works by now". At work there's the tension of "follow the process" or "stop messing around".  That treats problems as already solved, and solved problems as being solved correctly, and problems solved correctly as being solved in the best way. [sweeps arm about the horizon] Look around you and tell me that you believe this is true.

Some of the current mess—pick whichever mess suits you—is the result of poor performance or poor planning, but plenty of problems suffer from not having new ideas. Best practices and lessons learned should be consulted and used, but not exclusively. They have blind spots. Frontiers aren't passed with certificates. Breakthroughs aren't broken by following the process. "Messing around", letting your mind wander, getting bored or stuck and trying to get out of it or not—that's where the magic happens.


The review refers to two books that have been on my to-read list for ages. Maybe it's time:

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