An assembly of students: praise for creative ignorance and valorisation of anti-conventional intuition


Currently there is an increasingly widespread tendency to value the more ‘technical’ aspect of learning with regard to the worlds of education and work. As a result subjects that will help in the world of work are studied with the aim of being useful for training without taking into consideration that many key discoveries that have changed the history of the world were made thanks to creativity and curiosity.

According to professor Piero Formica, senior research fellow at the Innovation Value Institute, Maynooth University (Ireland), there is now more than ever an urgent need for thoughtful minds, individuals allowed to follow their studies without fearing that their goals are unachievable. This was the topic of the seminar held on 29 February – 1 March, 2016 at Liceo Fermi in Bologna, organised as a part of the Agorà (‘assembly’) of students project. It involved the participation of the representatives of Liceo Fermi, Liceo Ariosto from Ferrara and the Scarabelli-Ghini technical institute in Imola. 

During the two days the learning process took over the teaching process in order to cultivate abstruse questions that reveal unusual paths to go. Teaching is focused on knowledge maps so that the student is placed in a position to say ‘I know’. Learning, instead, prepares the mind to the understanding of ignorance as something that is normal rather than deviating from the norm. Learners exploring ignorance take pleasure in not finding what they were looking for and they are not afraid to confront the uncertainty that comes from the ‘unknown unknowns’. That’s how the facts classified as immutable, fixed once and for all, are challenged and proven wrong.

The students were divided into teams and they designed and developed a project, which was then presented to the other participants, with the best project being chosen from them all. The ideas and proposed projects were extremely interesting and genuinely innovative; we can go so far as to suggest that if some of them were actually put into practice, they could significantly change everyday life, providing useful services in extremely functional ways and at a low cost.

The winning project, for example, involves a new way of conceiving visits to exhibitions and museums: a kind of three-dimensional view of certain details of a work of art, in order to better understand the riddle of the meaning of the piece. A second proposal was to work on the enhancement of markets for local products in a city, through multimedia activities, with the aim of linking services and information on goods within the immediate geographic locale, to ensure the efficiency of the service to potential users according to the identified area.

The concept of design work for something that can improve our society is not merely utopian thinking: it is something very useful that can lead to incredible results. Furthermore, it is appropriate to think that Professor Formica is correct. In this world of ‘Experts’ it is perhaps time to give space to “non-experts who, not knowing a subject, tackle it from a totally different angle than the seasoned experts who know it thoroughly” (Piero Formica. The Role of Creative Ignorance: Portraits of Path Finders and Path Creators, Macmillan Palgrave, December 2014). Those who maintain the healthy creative ignorance that allowed someone such as, for instance, Steve Jobs, to start a company of the calibre of Apple.