The best way to teach people is by telling them a story
~ Kenneth Blanchard ~
Discovery is seeing what everyone else has seen and thinking what no one has thought
~ Albert Von Szent-Gyorgy ~
Innovation is taking two things that already exist and putting them together in a new way
~ Tom Freston ~
Writing for the Innovation Excellence blog, Matthew Griffin notes, “Children are the ultimate disruptive innovators – fearless and able to clash together weird and strange concepts creating something radically different, but unfortunately as we age we lose our creative edge.” Why is that? In part, I believe it has to do with becoming “educated,” which destroys natural tendencies to innovate.
So the challenge is this: How do you regain the magic of childhood innovativeness? Changing the educational system, while important, is beyond the grasp of most.
However, you can create your own environment that fosters innovative thinking. So how is this accomplished?
People are the most innovative of all humans around the age of five because they’re intelligent enough to ask a question, but not educated enough to have an answer.
What happens after age five is that the person goes to school and is taught to give answers rather than ask questions, and curiosity is extracted from the student for the next twenty years by the process known as their formal education. Given that curiosity is the root of innovation, our educational system deprives students of their most valuable trait – the willingness to ask genuine questions driven by their innate curiosity. How ironic is that?
Part of what you need to do to become more innovative is training yourself to avoid jumping to giving answers and focus on asking great questions.
If being innovative is part of our basic genetic makeup, then what diminishes the innovative capacity of so many people? A partial answer is benign neglect we invite into our lives. Instead of being alert and engaged, many people opt to be essentially absent because it’s easy, and mostly without immediate risk.
In the days of old, apprenticeships were very successful in passing down knowledge from one generation to the next. It was “learning by doing.” In today’s age, where vast amounts of knowledge are readily available, we can create a “virtual apprenticeship model,” learning by studying the experiences of others.
You have to un-do the comforts of modern life by worrying about the changes you’re experiencing.
Disciplines are skills that, once taught, learned, and mastered, enter our toolkit as strengths that can be further developed and exploited. Innovation, when learned and adopted as a discipline, is never forgotten.
What innovators do so well is connecting “unrelated dots” because they’re not held hostage to their knowledge; they control their biases and are excited about being surprised. This is what master innovators do as well, while using their educated points of view in ways that don’t bias their powers of observation. When you’re young you’re a natural innovator right from the start, but only because you’re missing the “educated point of view” that compromises our objectivity.
Innovation is the providence of anyone, regardless of their journey in life, and independent of their background, education level, or socio-economic position. Assuming innovation is “hard-wired” into everyone’s DNA, and is how we all adapt to change, then anyone can innovate if they know how to observe the environment around them.
You must learn how to observe your environment and learn from it by asking honest questions. How do you do that?
In my experience, the most successful approach with people of all ages is combining interesting “looking challenges” with their everyday experiences. Such activities can greatly improve your observation skills, which are essential for primary source analysis, by building on your natural interests. Critical thinking leading to knowledge requires close observation of important details without losing sight of the bigger picture. Try the following suggestions for sharpening your observation skills.
· Challenge yourself to a “30-second look” using an image such as a photograph, map, or work of art.2 Give yourself only 30 seconds to memorize as many details as possible without taking any notes. Then hide the image while you record as many observations as you can. It’s also useful to do this with a partner or group so you can compare and discuss observations, particularly any conflicting or missing details, before observing the image again.
· Challenge yourself to practice close observational skills by putting together pieces of a map such as the 1507 World Map by Martin Waldseemüller.3
· Challenge yourself to observe evidence of the creative process by identifying and comparing differences, however subtle, between draft and final versions of the same manuscript, such as the Ballad of Booker T by Langston Hughes. Consider possible edits to vocabulary, style, formatting, etc., to “observe” the creative process.