Later I’ll write up my recollections of the Gel conference, but first I wanted to dash off a little rant based on something I heard. One of the presenters, Dan Dubno, brought forth the canard about how America is falling behind in math and science education, and that we’re not turning out as many scientists and engineers, with the implication that countries such as China and India are going to surpass us and eat our lunch.
Not hogwash about the data. I’m sure the data is true. I’m sure we have fewer people interested in science and math.
The global market we’re entering into is one that increasingly values soft skills, and the kinds of understanding borne of education in the social sciences and humanities. This isn’t to devalue science and math — they’re critical — but there’s a lot to suggest that they won’t be the defining disciplines of the 21st century (the way they were of the 20th century).
As we’re realizing, “innovation” now doesn’t mean the niftiest new technology. Innovation is about identifying unmet needs and satisfying those. That identification increasingly comes from folks with backgrounds in the humanities and social sciences. (Very minor data point: my company, Adaptive Path, was started by people only with backgrounds in the humanities and social sciences; none of us even had a design degree.)
Success in the global market will be one of understanding and empathy, will be due to an ability to appreciate trends, to synthesize information from a variety of sources, etc.
Again, I don’t mean to undervalue science and math; they’re crucial. And you know what? Folks will continue to study those, and that’s great.
But I don’t get why folks are so up in arms about us “falling behind.” That’s 1950′s thinking.