For all of civilization up to recent times, we only needed a few entrepreneurs to develop occasional new ideas and directions. There were many opportunities for everyone else to work for or with those entrepreneurs to make, distribute, repair, etc their innovations. With the distribution of talent and capabilities across the globe in the 21st Century, however, organizations in developed countries cannot survive unless they are constantly enhancing and reinventing their products and business models. And that means every person in those organizations must contribute to innovation. Skills including initiative, problem solving, moving forward amidst ambiguity, collaboration, and innovation have became critical requirements.
Charter Partners Institute approaches 21st Century innovation and leadership skills from the perspective of creative entrepreneurs because they are the best model of innovators. Of course, the business aspects of entrepreneurship — business planning, marketing, human resources, etc. — have been taught for many years. However, the assumption has been that the creative side of entrepreneurship is something that people are born with. We now know that is not the case. Entrepreneurs do follow a kind of process when they innovate. However, this process is inherently non-linear, unpredictable, and iterative; it shuns detailed formal plans in favor of conducting intelligent trials and learning from failure. For an example of this process, think Steve Jobs.
CPI’s experience tells us that, while there is a certain drive possessed by creative entrepreneurs that is probably a natural part of their personality, the creative process of innovation can be taught. Or, more precisely, it can be learned. However, this requires a hands-on, student-directed approach that gets students in touch with aspects of their thinking and learning that have long been suppressed by traditional education and society and helps the students master the process through guided practice.
The learning approach starts by being student-directed and inquiry-based, essentially a form of project based learning (PBL). Project based learning has been studied fairly extensively by education researchers and proven to be a more effective way to teach more advanced skills and topics. Students are presented with a question or problem, and they take responsibility for determining how to find or develop an answer. But this is only the beginning.
CPI adds several dimensions that we have found to be necessary for students to make the transformation. The first is collaboration within teams chosen by the students. Students working in teams learn a lot about themselves and their working styles, as well as lessons about working with others. More important, students learn to form the right teams and to leverage them to co-create better solutions (a process where team members build on each others’ ideas until they have a result that is better than any of them could have done on their own).
A second added learning dimension is passion and motivation. Students chose their own issue based on what kindles their passions (either really bothers them or really interests them) within broad criteria. Students must take responsibility for the learning and be learning for themselves rather than for a teacher or parent or grade. Further, our experience suggests that intrinsic motivation is a requirement for students to engage the deeper thinking processes associated with innovation.
The final, critically important dimension is innovation, e.g. doing something in a new and different manner that is better than existing alternatives. We have found that students step up to another level of learning and mental engagement when they are guided to question that status quo and come up with novel approaches. At the same time, this will not happen without the right environment and support. Students must learn to deal with the uncertainty and ambiguity that is part of finding innovative solutions. We create a learning situation where students develop confidence to push boundaries; they learn to formulate action when the path is not clear; they learn to identify unproven aspects of their ideas, test them in a rapid, low cost manner, and learn from the inevitable mistakes.
The following figure summarizes how this type of learning fits within the entire spectrum of learning and performance (similar to Bloom’s Taxonomy).
We hope this brief introduction gives you an idea of what the innovation process is about, as well as the potential value it brings. We believe this will become one of the most influential new directions within both education and management in the 21st Century.