Guest Post: Sustainable Innovation

How many times have you heard one of the following? "This year we are focusing on innovation." "We are trying to innovate." "Can we find a more innovative way to do this?" Innovation seems to be something we should try to do. Companies have jumped on board the innovation band wagon. They are using in their slogans. NEC Corporation - Empowered by Innovation GigaLane - Innovation and Excellence in RF & Microwave Datel (C&D Tech) - Innovation and Excellence 3M - Innovation Plantronics - Sound Innovation Silicon Graphics - The Source of Innovation and Discovery Poclain Hydraulics - Driving Innovation Pak Innovation - Innovation beyond thinking MSI - Innovation with Style Nissan - Innovation that excites My main question is: How do we innovate? How do you think innovatively? I don’t think it’s possible. Innovation is not something you do. It’s something that happens. You do not perform a set number of actions to be innovative. There are no Lego-style directions to construct innovation. Innovation is a byproduct of imagination and realism. It happens when you dream with hard edges. When thinking about innovation, or the process of being innovative, it is the tendency to think about what to do. What do I do to be innovative? This is flawed thinking. To be innovative you must focus on the result. What do you hope to accomplish by creating space for innovation to happen? My thought is this: In order for innovation to happen you have to create a space where it is possible for innovation to happen. There are requirements for this space.

  • The removal of restriction and an innovative mindset.

  • The right people.

  • Failure as an option.

The removal of restriction and an innovative mindset. I first tried to write this section separating the removal of restriction and an innovative mindset. But as a wrote I about the removal of restrictions, I kept referencing mindset. So, let’s look at these two things as connected. The first thing will stand in the way of innovation is the belief or decision (two separate things) that it can’t happen. Phrases like:

  • We can’t do that.

  • We have never done it that way.

  • That’s too much work.

  • The way we have been doing that is fine.

These thoughts, these restrictions, this mindset is/are innovation killers. They say that the current way of doing things is the best way. They say that even through the radical changes in technology, educational practice, and required skills of the 21st century workforce, I’m still going to use my overhead projector and Vis-a-Vis markers. The thought that sameness is acceptable in an ever changing world doesn't add up. It is the innovative mindset that refuses to accept these excuses and gives space for innovation to happen. The right people. Innovation is not bringing the impossible into reality, it’s about bringing what’s best into reality. The right people help to form the idea of what those best things are. I was at a school where I did not think innovatively. I didn't even know that thinking that way was possible. I didn’t have an innovative mindset and there was no one around me who did. Fast forward to today: My mindset has changed drastically. The primary reason is the people with whom I surround myself. The combination of my international and local PLN has created a completely different space for me to allow the opportunity for innovation exist. Secondarily, and briefly, I subscribe to something that @AngelaMaiers said. She said,” The smartest person in the room, is the room.” It is in the combination of thoughts and experiences of the right people that innovation happens. Failure as an option. I know no one who sets out to fail, but what I see in the world, and certainly in my classroom, is failure being used as the primary reason to quit. I hear my kids say,“I can’t do this!” and then cease to do anything. Where did our students learn this behavior? Who taught them to quit when something didn't work the first time. How in the world did they learn to walk? Thomas Edison famously said, “I haven’t failed, I have just found 10,000 ways that didn't work.” Now, that saying may be cliched, but for innovation to happen we must stop seeing something that is not accomplished as failure. We need to see it as what is going to direct our future learning. The saying does not read: If at first you don't’ succeed, it’s obviously impossible. We must try, try again. Your comments are welcomed and encouraged, Dane Barner