Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Creating Innovators

From an interview with Tony Wagner, author of Creating Innovators:  Raising Young People Who Will Change the World.
Wagner: I talked to a very wide range of young innovators in their 20s -- some innovators in the so-called STEM field (science, technology, engineering and math), some who were artists and musicians and some who were social entrepreneurs. It was a demographically [diverse] and representative sample of young innovators out there. Then, as you point out, I talked to all of their parents, and then I asked each one of them -- could they name a teacher or a mentor who had made the greatest difference in their lives in their development of their capacities to innovate? About a third of them could not name any teachers. They all could name at least some adult in their lives -- two-thirds could name a teacher, the other third named mentors.
I interviewed each one of those teachers and mentors, trying to see if I could find the patterns of parenting and teaching that contribute the most to the development of a young innovator.
What I discovered is that in every single case, the teachers who had the most critical difference in the lives of these young innovators was an outlier in his or her education setting. Elementary school through graduate school, every single one of them was an outlier. What made them outliers were the ways in which they taught, and the ways in which they taught were very consistent with what I saw to be some of the practices in the leading educational institutions that produce innovators. I'm talking about Stanford's d.school, the MIT Media Lab and above all, the Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering, which I also profile in the book.
I came to see that the culture of schooling in America is radically at odds with a learning culture that produces young innovators in five essential respects.
Number one: The culture of schooling is all about individual achievement, ranking kids, whereas, the culture of innovation demands collaboration. Every one of these teachers and classes I observed really build teamwork into all of their assignments.
Number two: A culture of schooling is all about specialization. While that certainly has a role in innovation, what's very clear in the world of innovation is a problem-based, multidisciplinary approach to learning.
Number three: The culture of schooling is risk averse and penalizes failure. The culture of innovation is all about taking risks and learning from mistakes, trial and error.
Number four: The culture of schooling is a very passive experience, where people essentially sit all day consuming information and then regurgitating it. The culture of learning for young innovators is all about creating -- not consuming -- real products for real audiences.
And lastly, number five: The culture of schooling really relies on extrinsic incentives to motivate learning -- carrots and sticks, As and Fs. But I discovered that these young innovators were far more intrinsically motivated, and when I looked at the pattern of what parents and teachers had both done to encourage intrinsic motivation, I found a kind of remarkable emphasis in the classrooms and among the parents of play, passion and purpose.