How do we Teach Innovation In School?

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How about a twice-a-year innovator’s camp at school?

Students don’t learn to be entrepreneurs in most schools.  Very few students learn to think about innovation.

When I write about “schools” here, I’m talking about elementary, junior high school and high school years. Our public schools teach our young people to be conformists – not rule breakers.  The fact that the United States culture has a reputation for creating innovators, inventors, and entrepreneurs – this seems to be in spite of the help of a public education.  Public schools teach young people to follow instructions and color within the lines.  They don’t learn to discover how to be a salesperson, how to invent for the marketplace or how to adapt quickly as a product leader.

My friend Larry became an entrepreneur when we were both in high school.  He recorded concerts with a portable tape machine and found a way to release his cheap hand-held recordings on vinyl.  He found a big audience of fans who wanted to hear more of their favorite bands.  My friend found other friends who had the same passion as he did, and they helped each other.  They traded secrets, and probably got high together.  No one taught them how to do this in our public school.  If the school had known what had been going on, he would have been given counseling – or worse.  As it was, Larry was kicked out of the “respectable” high school, sent to an alternative high school meant for the misfits.  “Reform school” would have been the name given in another era.  Larry fit in with the misfits and found a way to graduate high school early.  He went on to earn his college diploma and build his career doing unconventional things.

Schools don’t create rulebreakers.  Innovators are rulebreakers.  They find ways to get things done, often without permission and to the chagrin of all authorities.  Do we want more innovators in our world?  Schools teach our kids culture.  Is it possible to teach the right attitude toward trying new things out?

How about an innovator’s camp during the month of June and January – twice a year, where students are taught to explore unconventional thinking.  Let’s get our big tech firms and scientific minds to endorse this process – and obtain corporate funding – to promote scientific thinking that challenges the conventional ways of working.  Let’s show kids that the rule breakers DO have an important part to play in our world.

Let’s teach unusual materials. Encourage students to take telephones and computers apart; discover how they work. Try things out, and even break things. Challenge the linear way of thinking.

Teach students to observe how people use modern technology.  Send students into malls, restaurants, and sports stadiums.  Ask them to pay attention to the way people use their mobile devices, and notice when people get frustrated.  Ask all students to propose ways to eliminate inconvenience, pain, and delay while they are moving through their day. Ask students to think, “if the price were not an object, how could we do this better?”

Steve Broe is an executive coach and author.  He lives in Scottsdale Arizona.  He answers the question, “How does leadership help people become successful?” in his new book, Leading the Way Up Mt. Olympusnow available on Amazon.  

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