What would YOU do with a billion pounds? I dunno.



Speaking at schools recently I came upon scenarios and attitudes that I didn’t expect and that, although subtle, are more damning to the future of the children (and therefore our society) than at first they appear. I started off the talk with a simple warm up question: What would you do if you have a billion pounds? I make sure I tell them what a billion is as it’s so out of our ordinary experience. A billion is a thousand million. It’s a lot of money. That large Euro Lottery rollover win recently was only £30 million. So a billion pounds will buy a lot of stuff.

The question is really one of aspiration, imagination and to a certain extent goal setting. The answers I hope to see are big, bold, creative thinking ideas, hopefully as far-fetched as the question. What actually happens is underwhelming. There are a always a few good ones, ‘buy a football team’ or ‘buy a mountain and run my own skiing centre’. There a a few obvious and vague ‘give some of it to charity’ – with rarely a specified charity or amount. But from a group of sixty children, the vast majority fail to think of anything beyond the dull, ‘go shopping’. For what? They don’t know. Bare in mind the task is done in small groups, privately, written down with no onus to share publicly. It is not fear of being seen to be foolish that stops them (which does stifle imagination and creativity dramatically).

What appeared to be the cause of the astonishing lack of, well, anything, was perhaps a roadblock in being able to answer the question at all. After talking to some teachers I came to the conclusion that the children couldn’t answer the question because they were unable to guess what answer I required. They were using their brain power to try to figure out what I wanted from them, to pass the test, to be give correct answer. They had been trained at school to absorb information and then regurgitate it in a particular fashion to please the system. Their whole being was geared up to pleasing or satisfying the system. They were trained in the didactic of right and wrong, true or false. They had to give the truthful, correct, winning answer. Imagination, creativity and interestingly, personal opinion, desire and future thinking didn’t come into it.

This, in my mind is dreadful and a sad indictment. Is it true that our children are having their imaginations undeveloped as we condition them to give the required answers that are easier to mark and to filter for statistics and charting? Have we created sausage factories, churning out conditioned little parrots with no thoughts of their own and no ability to think of them? Without nurturing hopes and dreams, without encouraging imagination and opinions we are setting up children to lives of mediocrity at best and years of misery through low self confidence and worthlessness at worst.

I asked the question, “Who here thinks they are capable of being a creative genius?”. As you’d expect, out of 60 only four hands went up (as two of those were teachers). So I asked a control question, “Who here thinks they are a complete dullard who wouldn’t recognise a good idea if it bit them on the nose?” An astonishing 60% put their hands up.

I asked the teachers a question we should ask ourselves, “What are we teaching these kids?”

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16 comments on “What would YOU do with a billion pounds? I dunno.

  1. I suspect you would get a much better response if the kids had been asked one-to-one.

    These days kids are terrified of being out of step with their peers. Being ‘odd’ ‘unusual’ or even clever – isn’t encouraged by the herd mentality.

    I bet the two kids who put their hands up to say they could be creative geniuses got the mickey taken out of them afterwards.

    I’m not sure it is all to do with the teaching techniques – although they don’t help. I think having very large impersonal communities, under stress, causes the natural youngster instinct to want to be like everyone else – to intensify.

    It is much safer not to be a maverick, the Tim-nice-but-dim persona has a gentler time of it in the playground and later in the workplace.

    But in their blogs, and when they get into bands and start writing lyrics, and in their diaries and art – there is a lot of talent. But school and in a group situation – isn’t where it comes out.


    • Totally agree about the influence if perrs and the playing out of roles. even writing something down “privately” is subject to peer pressure and judgement. However I do think schools can and should be a place this creativity emerges. It certainly does in our drama, music and art classrooms, why not elsewhere too? The system of inspecting and judging schools might need to change to reflect the positive influence of cultivating creativity and imaginative independent thought rather than just teaching to a test.


  2. Okay – I admit it – I skim read and missed the bit where you said the answers were private and in small groups. Which makes my last post a load of pointless waffle – so not much change there from my usual comments 😉

    Us creative geniuses – do that sort of thing LOL

    Sorry – but at least I know what I’d do with a billion pounds – turn it into euros for starters.


    • Working in small groups sometimes intensifies the impact of peer pressure and having to write something down even further because it is recorded and could be seen later or read out. I’m not sure this totally frees students to give an answer but also the question is quite tricky- it is a sum of money beyond their comprehension and the answers will undoubtedly be vague and scrabbling around in the dark. If you asked them If they only had £50 what they’d spend it on you might get some interesting responses – limitation is stimulation.


  3. I don’t think this is just the youth of today, just that there are far more of them. On the other hand, it could also be that the way the question is phrased might not make entire sense. I can’t even begin to imagine how much 1 billion pounds might be… and I can imagine a lot of money.

    Perhaps the question should be, if you could do anything, build anything, be anywhere… what would that be?

    I bet enough of those children would love to be an astronaut, but might not have known that these days you can literally buy a spot on a space launch.

    While I agree that many seem to lack creativity, could it be that communication has simply failed? Could we finally have become our parents and simply not get the youth of today? 😉


  4. How many of us are taught to regurgitate information as children and follow this sheep-like principle in adult life? Scary stuff …..


  5. Your last newsletter had a similar post and you seem to have revised it based on some of the comments that people left. However you have you deleted the comments? I can’t find them now and its a shame that conversations are shut down in this way. it will only deter people from posting if you are going to silence them.


  6. HI Ayd,
    Spent last summer running a ‘Creativity training course’ for teachers…and it’s no wonder the kids these days are uninspired judging by some of that lot. I gave them lots of proactive tasks to do- such as working out how they could drop an egg from a third floor window without breaking it, but what they really wanted was me to talk at them for two hours and give them a handout and a certificate, because that’s how they’d always succeeded at educational matters in the past. The problem with education is that it’s run by and for people whose minds work that way mostly – lots of available research talks about visual, auditory, kinaesthetic learners; that some people learn by looking, others by touching, others by moving, still others through things like taste and smell. But no what’s valued is shutting the $!?k up and making notes, and then regurgitating it in an exam. Sorry rant over.


  7. Thanks for this illuminating post, Ayd. My view as you know, is that children go to school far too early in this country. In Germany and Scandinavia – oh btw, the second most successful exporter after China in the world is Germany – children go to school at 7. My son went to Steiner kindergarten where play is nurtured and children are encouraged to learn through imitation. Play is the foundation of learning, not this appalling command and control approach. Plenty of research from the US into examining the outcomes at 21 of children who were taught from 3 onwards suggests that they become very conformist and results focused and lack any aptitude for lateral thinking. My son didn’t start to learn to read until he was 7 in the Steiner School and it was quickly discovered he had dyslexia and dyspraxia. What the Steiner system brought out in him was confidence in his own judgement and faith that he could overcome obstacles. He left Cardiff University a year ago with a First in Archaeology and Ancient History. I rest my case.


  8. Brilliant story Sarah, thanks. Now, it seems, if you’re not reading by age 5, questions are asked. I couldn’t read until I was 8. Questions WERE asked. So what delay or damage was done to my reading and writing starting oh so very late… none.

    It’s not surprising that I couldn’t read when you look at the dull books they gave to children to read. When I got the Target novel of ‘Doctor Who and the Day of the Daleks’ I knew I HAD to learn to read. Having the comic book version of Star Wars is how I learnt. I had the record so I knew the words. I had the pictures in the book. Reading was then easy. The Star Wars Annual 1978 was my Rosetta stone. I had a reason and context for reading and learning that just isn’t there when most children are 4 and 5.

    Congratulations to the new Indiana Jones…


  9. I am resigning as a school governor of a primary school at the end of term because it practises all th things mentioned here and I cannot make difference
    The children are rewarded for walking quietly in the corridor and sitting still in class

    I now realise as someone who teaches adults much of what I do (using brain friendly techniques) is to undo all the unhelpful ways they have learned in their school days.


    • Thanks Charlotte. The more I see of schools (now with my own children entering the system) the more it seems based on compliance, a single learning style and a singular aim: to teach an academic model, If a child doesn’t fit the model he (and it’s usually a he) is labeled trouble.

      People moan that our government is made up of public school people. It’s no surprise since those schools teach confidence and leadership.

      You get what you put in.


      • You are so right. I no longer feel guilty for sending all my children to (different) private schools. Each school chosen to fit the child’s requirements. All are now well rounded successful people and very creative! I know I was lucky to have the wherewithal to earn enough to pay the fees but a decent, imaginative education should be a God given right for every child


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