It happens at banks. It happens at hotels. In this story it happened at a shopping mall.
The assignment was that students were to phorograph examples of specific attributes of creativity. Students were sent in groups to several malls in the same city.
Someone thought she was in charge of the
world. the Merle Hay Mall. She stopped the students and sent them away. They were told they had been belligerent in HER MALL. Here’s a quote about it.
My students were incensed by her accusations. For starters, groups at other malls did not have run-ins with mall security. If questioned, they explained the assignment and the guards did not hinder them. Second, belligerence (like beauty) appears to be in the eyes of the beholder, because they felt harassed by the guards from the second they came into the mall. Third, the individual store owners from whom they asked permission were thrilled to have their store featured in an assignment about creativity. And finally, I went back to the mall and photographed their posted code of conduct myself. There’s no mention of a photography ban listed anywhere.
The question was: How would I respond to that if I were the teacher who made the assignment? Please remember that I have the benefit of hindsight and knowing what’s already been tried.
This lady is obviously a high-structure person. She sees things running one way and gets thrown terribly when something new gets added to the mix — no matter what it is. She’s probably read about terrorists taking pictures of buildings too. She added two and two and action was her defensive response.
I would have put the problem to the students as a question of creativity. How might we use creativity to get to the solution we want? This could be fun.
Looking at the problem from another angle. What would make someone hold onto the keys to the mall so tightly? How might we creatively get her to give them up with a smile? The answer lies in making her feel generous and important. How hard is that?
Let’s say that we invite her to lunch or for an interview with the class. Maybe we ask to meet with her at her office. I would dress in my best business clothes and bring two or three students dressed similarly. We’d ask her to explain her responsibilities and the breadth and depth of her “kingdom.” We would show appropriate respect for how hard she works.
Then we’d ask if we could take a few pictures of her. Would she mind helping us with our project? How might we work together to get this done? It would certainly be a feather in her cap to be an ambassador to the local school. I would see to it that folks knew about it. Perhaps she would like to send someone to watch the students work?
Yes, this would take extra time to get past the barriers, but it would be such a life lesson. The kids would be learning how to use their creativity to solve a problem that meant something to them and get a chance to “outsmart a grownup” too.
Who doesn’t like to “outsmart a grownup” –especially a cranky one who’s been on a rampage like that?
I bet those kids would come up with a better solution than this in even less time than I wrote this post.
After all, their teacher is the guy who wrote the book, GUST. He could guide them, much better than I ever could.
–ME “Liz” Strauss
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Timothy Johnson says
Actually, Liz, it became a great teachable moment on creativity. The first issue was that these were NOT kids; they were professionals, primarily in their 20’s and 30’s, but also in their 40’s and 50’s. These are the kinds of people that malls generally WANT to see as visitors (now they are simply would-have-been-customers). The second issue was the teachable moment, which came in two ways: 1) the students had to be creative in completing the assignment, despite the power-puffed security guards getting in their way (which they did with flourish). 2) I led the students on a great discussion about what this means in the real world, as many of them work for soul-sucking corporations who react to creativity the same way the mall did. How can they respond while trying to promote their creative ideas in the face of active resistance? And yes, we did talk about the office politics of the situation.
Great post. I received a wonderful email from a mall manager in South Dakota who tactfully and pleasantly described the liability (i.e., terrorist) issues to which you alluded, but she did it in a very professional and affirming way, unlike the GM at Merle Hay.
I’ll be interested to see what your readers think.
ME Strauss says
You know. Tim, I wondered, because I thought you worked with higher level students. I just think it was hard of me conceive that anyone would have the nerve to treat grownups that way. Insult to injury, so to speak.
I wish I could have been there for the conversation about stifled creativity in the workplace. I’m sure I would have learned a lot from where that discussion went.
I do think that no matter what age we are, we still like “outsmarting grownups.” especially those that are a pain in the arse.
I’m interested to see what my readers think.