Innovation Lessons from McKinsey + MIT

Photo by Mervyn Chan on Unsplash

Photo by Mervyn Chan on Unsplash


What if K-12 schools were to steal some insights from research & development (R&D) labs?

Last week McKinsey Quarterly published "Creating an innovation culture" by Waguih Ishak, who has spent four decades in corporate R&D.

And in 2014, Alex "Sandy" Pentland, MIT's Entrepreneurship Program Director, wrote Social Physics, which provides both a mental and a mathematical model for how innovations spread.

Here are some ways that schools can adapt some of their key insights:

  • Hire "explorers": As Pentland has repeatedly proven through experiments, "The most consistently creative and insightful people are explorers. [...] They seek out people with different views and different ideas." (Emphasis in the original.) What does this mean for schools? Take a proactive approach to teacher and staff recruitment by identifying explorers before you have an opening. Twitter is an obvious place to find explorers. And when you begin to interview, consider using an instrument like StrengthsFinder, which can reveal a candidate's natural inclination to seek out and share new ideas.
  • Design for "idea flow": Make sure that your explorers interact regularly with non-explorers to maximize "social learning." What does this mean for schools? Rethink where, how, when, and why your explorers interact with their peers. Can you redesign physical space to encourage conversations around new ideas? Can you experiment with team teaching? These are just the tip of the redesign iceberg...
  • "Bust hierarchy": Innovation doesn't respect tenure, titles, or roles. What does this mean for schools? Many school have unwritten rules--often grounded in length of tenure or in titles--about who gets to pick professional development opportunities, teach certain classes, or run certain events. Consider partnering these veterans with your explorers.
  • Cultivate external relationships: To complement your in-house explorers, nurture an external network of experts and "connectors" who can further increase the diversity of ideas. What does this mean for schools? Minimally you should have close relationships with a few higher ed institutions and professors. Your alumni, parent, and local communities will also be rich with experts to help you to identify and experiment with innovations. And make sure that you are providing at least as much value to them in return!

Your school may not have the resources to build an R&D lab, but you can still foster an R&D culture.

And in our age of exponential change, the schools with the teachers and staff who learn the fastest will win.

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