Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Observing, Networking and Experimenting

A couple of days ago I posted about two of the skills that are important for innovating.  This post is about the other three:  observing, networking and experimenting.  As in the last post, my main reflection is on how these are applicable in schools that want to change the way they have done things to improve student learning.

In the first part of The Innovator's DNA there are many examples given of how most innovators are intense observers.  In this case they observe what works and also become very sensitive to what doesn't work.  In my experience it's hard to be in a place where you notice that something is not working, and yet where critical thinking or asking questions are discouraged.  Having left such a situation, it's easy to look back and see how those who "rocked the boat" or questioned the educational or technological status quo (even in staff meetings where we were told to discuss something) were targeted as individuals and a key way of dealing with them was to give them books to read about how to get on better with people!  This brings me onto my second point:  networking.

I've worked with some people who were good at networking, but who still didn't seem very creative, innovative or open-minded people.  Then today I read about the difference between discovery- and delivery-driven executives.  Most managers are actually delivery-driven - they network to sell themselves or their company/school or to build relationships with people who have the things they need, or those who can help them move further up the career ladder.  This is completely different from innovators who network to tap into new ideas by deliberately working with and valuing people who have diverse ideas and perspectives.  This is called "idea networking".  Great examples of places where you can idea network include TED conferences as the convergence of technology, entertainment and design often creates an "ideas accelerator".  Of course some of the best innovators don't rely on networking outside of their company - they form a personal networking group within their organization where they can test out new ideas.  This, I think, is how we operate in our R&D core team.

Thinking about our R&D work now brings me onto the next skill of innovators - that of experimenting.   Testing out ideas through pilots and prototypes are where you really learn - often because the results are unexpected.  I love the way that we prototype many different things as a team.  We have tried gamification, proposed a new school calendar with intercessions that will start this summer, prototyped a second BYOD in 3 different areas of the school, piloted some project-based learning and currently we are looking into an internship programme.  It's great to be involved in these projects, we learn so much and modify along the way.

The final thing I want to write about today is what I read about living and working in different cultures. Having a diversity of experience allows you to think in more divergent ways.  As an adult I've live in 7 different countries in North America, Europe and Asia and it's interesting to read that "the more countries someone lives in, the more likely he or she is to leverage that experience" to innovate.  Equally interesting is the fact that the more industries or companies someone has worked in, the more likely he or she is to be an innovator.  Moving around is good for you!  It helps you to develop experiences with a variety of people, and you learn new skills and different ways to solve problems.

The final section of part 1 of The Innovator's DNA is really interesting so I'm quoting it in full:
Although questioning, observing and networking are excellent for providing data about the past and present, experimenting is the best technique for generating data for what might work in the future. 
This is the first time I've ever been in a school that has an R&D team, and I have to say I'm so glad that I'm part of it.

Photo Credit: Pensiero via Compfight cc

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