Learning activist and TEDxTokyo co-founder Patrick Newell is a man with a mission. He believes that many societies, including Japan’s, have raised people with 20th century skills not wholly applicable for the 21st century. Having learned by rote memorization in the schools, graduates are not taught to think for themselves, innovate or be highly creative. As a result, they are ill prepared to enter the workforce. What is needed, according to Patrick, is to prepare them for the one constant in life − change.
His mission is to immerse people in the 21st century skills they need to adapt, which include creativity, critical thinking, collaboration and communication.
What better place to take on that challenge than in Japan, a country that compared to other developed nations has become slow, bureaucratic and risk averse? “After the war, Japan was hungry to recover and excel,” says Patrick. “A few great entrepreneurs like Sony’s Morita and Ibuka created amazing companies out of necessity, drive and a strong vision.”
Once great companies such as Sharp, Sony and Panasonic have since withered under global competition from Taiwan, China, Korea and the United States. “The role of innovative international managers has become more relevant,” says Patrick. “Survival dictates that firms and their managers be quick and nimble to market new, innovative products − like Apple’s iPhone − on a global scale.”
Patrick believes Japan has became too comfortable since the bubble burst and has yet to find its hunger again. “Although things are beginning to change, the problem is that the system hasn’t taught people how to creatively feed themselves,” says Patrick. “The Japanese have a high level of creative intelligence. However, they often lack creative confidence and passion.”
Patrick faults the education system, which he feels neither understands nor implements 21st century learning. “The current education system was designed around 20th century industrial education models with teacher unions unwilling to change and boards of education that are mostly comprised of elder men. In schools, they still teach what they think you need to learn to prepare for university entry exams. The students leave university, and then what? They are not ready for work because they don’t have the required skill sets corporations need.”
Patrick wants to bridge that gap with 21st century skills he believes are as important as reading, writing and arithmetic. He’s accomplishing that in part through the Tokyo International School he co-founded. To more broadly align 21st century skills with 21st century learners, Patrick wants all parents and teachers to provide children with safe environments where they can learn to take risks from an early age. “If people feel they are in an environment in which they can take risks and are not going to get reprimanded for failure, then it opens the opportunity for people to wire their brains for an environment of change,” says Patrick.
Most importantly, Patrick wants people of all ages to make and create things. “It does not matter what it is. It is about creating a mindset,” says Patrick. “That will take you three or four steps closer to being able to innovate, create and be comfortable dealing with change.”
It might even make people happier. In his book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi tells how some of our most joyful and happiest moments come when we’re creating and making things.
In a world of constant change, people need to be comfortable with the creative process and at peace with change. To communicate that message into the home, the classroom and beyond, Patrick has created the 21st Foundation. Listen to their message here.
Patrick Newell is co-founder of the non-profit organization, TEDxTokyo; co-founder of the Tokyo International School which serves over 300 students from 50 nationalities; co-founder of IMPACT Japan which focuses on connecting the dots and nurturing Japan’s future; founder of Living Dreams, an NPO which empowers and enriches the lives of over 1,000 orphans from over 25 children’s homes in Japan; and he is founder of the 21st Foundation which aligns 21st century learners with 21st century skills.