The Boy and the Flying Squirrel

The Boy and the Flying Squirrel

We’ve written extensively about the distractions we can face on a daily basis: tweets, emails, notifications. We even wrote a book about the topic.

Daniel Willingham, a professor at the University of Virginia, argues that an ability to tune out the noise and focus deeply is the most important skill for students to learn for today’s work environment. He gives an example from Jennifer Roberts, a professor of the History of Art and Architecture at Harvard:

As part of a book she was writing on 18th century American painter John Singleton Copley, she studied at length the painting A Boy With a Flying Squirrel. Although she is, obviously, an extremely experienced observer of art, Roberts noted that it was many minutes before she noticed that the shape of the white ruff on the squirrel matches the shape of the boy’s ear, and is echoed again in the fold of the curtain over his left shoulder.

Students, he argues, can stand out with the ability to maintain deep focus.

They need to feel the pleasure of discovering that something you thought you had figured out actually has layers that you had not appreciated.

That may not be the 21st century skill of greatest importance, but it may be the one in shortest supply.

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