Oct. 24, 2021: The Path of Greatest Resistance
Last week I think I unknowingly conducted an experiment in my classroom.
My students were participating in a Team STEM Challenge in which they were being asked to build the tallest, free-standing tower they could. Teams were given some ideas and resources for designs, some sources to look at for inspiration, a “budget” to spend on supplies, and time to plan as a team prior to the actual building portion of the activity.
The sample towers ranged from simple, (stacking cups and craft sticks) to complex, (toothpicks and gum drops). The cost of materials was purposefully and carefully created so that each of the different designs were financially balanced. Meaning, it cost no more or less to go with the complex design than the simple design; and linear length of materials was about even, thus trying to control most variables.
In the planning stage, we talked about time limits, judging criteria, and the importance of that strong foundational base. And then I let them go.
Overwhelmingly, (meaning almost exclusively) my student teams opted for the most complex, challenging designs they could find. Not the ones easiest to build. Not the ones that would be the most stable. Not the ones that would go up the quickest. But the most complex and challenging ones. Some teams even created their own designs that combined sample designs into one unit, making them even more complex and challenging to build.
During this process I only observed and answered rules and guideline questions. I never commented, offered advice, or guidance. (Which for a teacher is no easy feat!)
Yes, as the teacher of the Gifted Students at my school, I have the high achieving, outside-the-box thinking students. But they are also highly competitive. Winning, getting that top spot, highest grade, or most points, is usually their ultimate goal. Each day I also had a different grade level of students, and this trend was evident in all groups. So I wondered what it was about this challenge that made them easily discard a sure-bet and embrace the “path of greatest resistance”?
During our debrief discussion, that was one of the questions I posed to them and this is what I heard over and over:
- There was less of a chance to be creative with a simpler, sure-bet design.
- The risk of failure was worth it for the chance to do something unique.
- They believed they would ultimately be successful and knew that it would feel better if they did not cop-out and go easy.
I have been thinking a lot about what this not only tells me about my students, but what this tells us about human nature. How strong is that desire for creativity and uniqueness?
I have been thinking about what they said and how it is easily applicable to our work as writers.
- When planning and outlining our stories, while a simple, tried and true plot or formula might be simpler, there is certainly less chance for creativity.
- While the risk of failure is certainly greater when veering from the tired-and –true, that chance to do something truly unique can certainly outweigh that risk.
- By keeping that belief in our ultimate success, we can imagine how much sweeter that will feel when we ultimately accomplish our goal if we have avoided the easy-way-out.
Here’s to the power of the path of greatest resistance!