Taking things apart and then putting them together in a different manner — creating something new from the analysis and understanding that came from deconstruction — is a very powerful learning experience.
When I decided to dive into the world of education several years ago, I spent a lot of time exploring models of great learning. My exploration came through reading articles on pedagogy and research, talking to educators and learners and thinking about my own experiences. Although I had been a very good student in the traditional sense, I realized that what had made the most impact on me was hands-on and experiential learning. I was the kind of person who explored tangential curves that veered off the main course and usually returned back through some sort of twisting wormhole. This is the crux of Design Thinking — starting with divergent thinking then moving toward convergent thinking through the iterative process.
It began with taking apart clocks, radios and other gadgets to fix them and find out how they worked. It continued through music and the arts and into entrepreneurship, which was more about putting things together and creating something new.
Deconstruction and reconstruction can happen in many subject areas. Jazz musicians take apart a song and put the ideas together in a new improvisation of the original. Writers take a well-known story and retell it in a new, fresh way that may not even look like the original. The musical West Side Story was based on the storyline from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, and James Joyce’s Ulysses is a modern-day retelling of The Odyssey by Homer.
The key learning component in deconstruction is the analysis that occurs and leads to greater understanding. In turn, greater understanding leads to the possibility of making some new, fresh and often improved. The topic cannot be reconstructed unless there is a strong enough understanding of how the components fit together. If a young student or adult learner performs in depth, deconstructive analysis on a topic, a story or a project, he or she will develop a much better understanding of the topic, which leads to better retention of the details.
Deconstruction also plays a part in The Protege Effect — teaching something to someone else. In order to teach something, one needs to understand the components and how they fit together. This understanding comes from focused learning on each aspect of the topic. If something is not clear or a question arises, the teacher-to-be usually feels compelled to find the answers in order to feel confident and not appear foolish when teaching the topic. This focused learning is the same as deconstruction. The reconstruction occurs when it is put together in a logical flow to teach it.
Today, there’s a lot of talk about being more creative at school and in the workplace. Creativity is great, but alone, it may lack focus. The process of iteration turns that creativity into focused development of the creation. In truth, creativity is an inherently iterative process.
Next time you need to teach someone something, think about the deconstructive process. Lay out the parts to see how they best connect. Then, put them back together in a cohesive story. It takes some thought and iteration, but the results are great.
Here’s a challenge for you —
EDUCATION CHALLENGE. If you’re a teacher, as you think about the next lesson or assignment you want to use in your class or training, think about how you can get your students and learners — of all ages — to spend time deconstructing and reconstructing the topics they are learning. This will result in better understanding, more engaged learning and longer retention.
BUSINESS CHALLENGE. If you’re in a business environment, incorporate Design Thinking into your week. Spend some time brainstorming (divergent thinking) and then selecting and focusing the ideas you scattered on your paper (convergent thinking). It can result in greater understanding and better outcomes.