Sunday, August 24, 2014

An Alarming Realization About Innovation and Schools

As I type, I’m aboard a plane bound for the Boston area. Two weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend The Innovator’s Journey, a workshop on innovation held at one of my favorite places, Olin College. During the sessions a few weeks ago, I heard stories from several highly-successful innovators and I collaborated with many others about innovation. Specifically, as those of us in attendance listened to the stories shared by the innovators, we endeavored to identify the events from and characteristics of each innovator’s childhood that most likely contributed to him or her being an innovative adult. While we made some progress, we have more work to do. Thus the reason for my journey back to Boston.

In reviewing my notes from The Innovator’s Journey sessions and replaying innovators’ stories in my mind, I have come to an alarming realization about innovation and the innovators I met a few weeks ago. I have discovered a rather conspicuous absence of the influence of schools, schooling and schoolwork on innovators based on the testimonies given a few weeks ago. Save one twenty-something innovator who had a positive school experience and who attributed some of his innovative nature to the training he received at a STEM magnet school, all the other innovators cited instead examples from their childhoods of parental support, free play, unstructured time, exposure to varied cultures and more, as factors that likely contributed to their innovative approach to life as adults.

In other words, at least for the innovators gathered at Olin, school played little to no role in fostering innovation. Granted, most of the innovators matriculated ten, twenty or more years ago from school systems for whom innovation almost certainly did not appear on the radar. Nevertheless, how sad that so many innovators in their formative years had to find opportunities for innovation outside classroom walls.

With all the talk of including innovation and creativity in 21st century education, we have quite a challenge ahead of us to actually foster rather than hinder innovation in schools and promote the growth and development of innovators. What a tragedy it will be if, ten years from now, innovators gather in a room somewhere to discuss the factors that contributed to their journey toward becoming innovators and they generate a list from which school is missing.

How exactly do we foster innovation among today’s students? I have a few ideas based on my own reading, experience and the time I spent at Olin recently, but I hope to have a much clearer picture forty-eight hours from now after I reconvene with some brilliant innovators and educators who are determined to answer precisely that question.

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