What My Amputations Taught Me About Cognitive Flexibility

In March 2019, I have the privilege of presenting a session entitled, “Killing the Sacred Cow: Creativity and Cognitive Flexibility.” Any idea what it means to have “cognitive flexibility?” The simplest answer is to have the ability to respond rapidly to changing situations. You see this in athletes often. As the situation changes on the court or the field, he or she must respond and find a new way to get the job done and solve the problem at hand.

On March 23 of this year, I had to put this in practice after I suffered what is commonly referred to as a “widow maker” heart attack. During my recovery, I was faced with several complications that resulted in the above the knee amputation of my right leg and a below the knee amputation of my left leg (which occurred just yesterday.) Suddenly, I was faced with a myriad new situations to which I had to respond fairly quickly. If I didn’t, I’d be stuck in the proverbial rut.

I share this with you because I’ve noticed that in a variety of spaces, the field of education especially, people are digging in to their “tried and true” ways instead of allowing themselves, to the detriment of finding a solution, to try something new. In the most recent issue of the Harvard Business Review, they devote the majority of the pages to how curiosity can be helpful in creating success in business,and I submit, in education as well. Curiosity, creativity, and cognitive flexibility all go in the same pod. In my current situation, it is imperative that I use all three and I submit it is probably imperative that you do too.

As you go through your week and you are faced with situations that require you to think on your feet, don’t run. Don’t dig in. Allow your mind the flexibility to think what you haven’t before; to try something new. The solution you need may be hiding in plain site.

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