‘Civilisation is a race between education and catastrophe’ – H G Wells

No truer a statement has ever been written than the one that forms the title of today’s post, which will focus on an experience I had at a baked potato stand I was at in Bristol.

My wife (then girlfriend) and I were visiting my parents in Bristol and we’d decided to take a stroll into town. My parents live only 30-minutes or so from the Center and we will often take a walk in that direction.

On this occasion we had quite a bit of shopping to do. It was coming close to Christmas and we’d been trudging our way around the shops for some time. It was now 1pm and we were hungry.

After the 15-minute discussion any couple needs to decide what they want to eat and where they want to eat it we headed for a potato stand in the food court of The Galleries Shopping Centre. I’m sure you’re all familiar with these types of places. A plain, sterile looking collection of tables and chairs complete with teenagers munching on burgers and guzzling down coke, an elderly couple looking confused at the lack of change from a £10 note after ordering two cups of coffee and a screaming baby who’s completely shattered parents have gone into a coma-like state brought on by lack of sleep.

On approaching the potato stand I ordered my usual cheese and coleslaw and the Mrs asked for cheese and beans.

“Can we have butter on those too please?”

A confused look came back at us from across the counter and after a short period of silence a reply of: “Butter?”

“Yes please”, I said.

My poor server stood, thought and finally told me they could get me butter and proceeded to go and collect one of those pre-packaged portions of butter wrapped in foil and placed it on the side of my plate next to the potato.

It was my turn to look confused.

“Could I have the butter on the potato?”, I asked.

More silence.

“Oh, I’m not allowed to do that.”, was the reply.

I tried to explain that putting the butter on was no different to putting the beans, cheese, coleslaw or any other ingredient on.

Likewise, my server tried to explain that his job was to take the orders and he wasn’t allowed to touch the ingredients. So I came back with the argument that those who are allowed to build the potatoes could put the butter on.

But no, this too wasn’t allowed because the butter wasn’t officially an ingredient for use with the potatoes. Therefore the potato assembly team weren’t allowed to put it on either.

In the end I had to unwrap my butter and put it on myself before handing the potato back and having them put the rest of the fillings on the spud.

Ridiculous?

Yes.

True?

Yes.

Why have I shared this with you?

Well, it’s because it illustrates the title of this post perfectly. This is the result of our current education system. Not just schools, but anywhere that training is given. Including Potato College.

The current way of educating people produces obedient, rigid and non-flexible students and workers unable to think creatively and solve unique problems.

Now, I know the non-application of butter on a potato isn’t a total catastrophe. But it highlights the way in which people think. The way in which people are taught to think.

They are taught to think from A to B to C and if someone asks them for something slightly unusual they panic and are unable to come up with a satisfactory solution.

But if my server was able to think a little creatively they’d have put a tub of butter on the fillings counter and labelled it an ingredient. Then they would ask each customer if they’d like butter. If they do the fillings operatives (I’ve been struggling what to call them throughout this post) would be able to add butter to the potatoes that need it.

You don’t have to be a creative genius to discover that answer, I know this to be true because I discovered this answer and I’m no genius creative or otherwise. But I’m able to think outside the box enough to create a solution. And a solution that would solve my problem, and any future similar problems.

Creative thinking doesn’t have to mean writing plays, producing works of art or putting on a performance piece. It is essential to the general survival of our species. It’s needed in everyday life to solve simple issues like how to put butter on a potato.

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