Future of Learning Top Reads for week of Jan 22 2018

Creating Innovators.jpg

This past week at the Punahou School, Basecamp Design Partner Viktor Venson and I had the opportunity to sit on two different "Future of Learning" panels with Tony Wagner. Wagner is a Senior Research Fellow at the Learning Poilcy Institute and author of Creating Innovators (2012), a must-read for educators.

In this special edition of Future of Learning Top Reads, I'm sharing some favorite excerpts from Creating Innovators.


On the definition of innovation (pp. 8 - 10):

"Rick Miller, President of Olin College of Engineering, offered this take: 'Innovation may then be defined as the process of having original ideas and insights that have value, and then implementing them so that they are accepted and used by significant numbers of people.' [...]

"Ellen Bowman, who recently retired as director of external relations for Procter & Gamble, told me in a recent interview that her definition of innovation is simply 'creative problem solving.' She said, 'Problem solving without the creative element is not truly innovative.' And creativity that is not applied to real world problems cannot be considered innovation either. [...] 'It's about taking real needs and creating a bridge to a solution.' [...]

"There are essentially two very different kinds of innovation in both the for-profit and nonprofit arenas: incremental and disruptive. Incremental innovation is about significantly improving existing products, processes, or services. Disruptive or transformative innovation, on the the other hand, is about creating a new or fundamentally different product or service that disrupts existing markets and displaces formerly dominant technologies."


On what lies at the heart of innovation (pp. 24 - 26):

"One of [Harvard Business School professor Teresa Amabile's] most influential articles is entitled, 'How to Kill Creativity.' What's wonderful about the article is that Amabile goes beyond the attention-grabbing title to describe a framework for understanding creativity in the business world and management practices that both discourage and encourage creativity. I find the framework that Amabile offers (see diagram) to be compelling for several reasons. It shows that the capacity for creativity is the result of an interrelationship among three things: expertise, creative-thinking skills, and motivation. But I think her framework is equally useful for understanding the essential elements of innovation. We can substitute the word innovation for creativity in the middle of Amabile's intersecting circles and have a useful starting point for understanding how best to develop the capacities of young innovators:

Harvard Business School professor Teresa Amabile's conceptual model for the source of creativity.

Harvard Business School professor Teresa Amabile's conceptual model for the source of creativity.

"Here's where Amabile's work gets even more interesting--even disruptive! She believes that motivation is far more important than either expertise or skills. She explains, 'Expertise and creative thinking are an individual's raw materials--his or her natural resources, if you will. But a third factor--motivation--determines what people will actually do.' 

"My research, work as an educator, and experience as a parent suggest that there are three interrelated elements to intrinsic motivation: play, passion, and purpose."


On the purpose of teaching (pp. 48 - 50):

Wagner interviews Ed Carryer, director of Stanford's Smart Product Design Laboratory:

"What do you do in your class?" I asked.

"My goal is to empower them. I want them to feel like they've taken command of a body of material and can do things with it."


"You've mentioned the word empowering several times," I observed. "Can you say more about what you mean by that and why it's important?"

Ed paused before answering. "It really goes back to my educational experience. I felt like I had learned how to solve a lot of problems that the professors gave me--problems on tests, based on the material we had learned in class--but I had no confidence that I could design something from scratch. In the real world you get presented with a problem that requires you to draw from all that you know. I figured out how to do that pretty much on my own."


On how Ed Carryer's Smart Product Design classes promote a culture of innovation (pg. 57):

"Most conventional high school and college academic courses share three fundamental cultural traits that are radically at odds with the culture in Ed's classes: First, they reward individual competition and achievement versus Ed's focus on teamwork; second, traditional academic classes are organized to communicate and test very specific subject content expertise versus the problem-based, multidisciplinary approach in Ed's classes; third, conventional classes rely heavily on extrinsic incentives--grades and GPA--unlike Ed's, which rely more on the intrinsic incentives of exploration, empowerment, and play--what Ed calls whimsy."


On "design-based learning" (pg. 158):

[Rick Miller, President of Olin College of Engineering, said], " 'Today, it's not what you know, it's having the right questions. I see three stages in the evolution of learning: The first is the memorization-based, multiple-choice approach, which is still widely prevalent; then there's project-based learning where the problem is already determined; finally, there's design-based learning where you have to define the problem. That way of learning is part of every class here. We are trying to teach students how to frame problems versus repeat the answers.'"


On the key to learning in the future (pg. 182):

[Mitch Resnick, professor of learning research and head of academic programs at the MIT Media Lab, says], "The key to success in the future is not what you know, but whether you are able to think and act creatively. [...] The best way to develop creativity is to design and create things in collaboration with one another. We also find that people do their best work when they are working on things that they care deeply about--when it's their passion. Finally, the work here almost invariably leads our students to cross academic boundaries [...]. The challenge is to set up systems that allow students to follow their interests. People tend to dichotomize approaches in education: The teacher is either telling students what to do, or standing back and letting them figure it out. I think that's a false choice: The issue is not structure versus no structure, but rather creating a different structure. Students need to be exposed to new ideas and learn how to persist. They also need support."


On the culture of schools (pg. 200):

"The culture of schools and classrooms must be transformed. [...] As we've seen, the learning culture in all of the schools and programs profiled in this chapter have similar characteristics. They are all organized around the values of:

  • collaboration
  • multidisciplinary learning
  • thoughtful risk-taking, trial and error
  • creating
  • intrinsic motivation: play, passion, and purpose


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Christian Talbot