A continuing conversation here is how to teach the skills and habits of mind which will strengthen our students’ ability to be innovators.   Some may say it cannot be taught, but I refuse to accept that.   Harvard Business Review’s blog has a nice piece today on the question: How do Innovators Think?

The researchers, who surveyed 3000 creative individuals, and interviewed 500, report on five “discovery skills” which distinguish these creators.

  1. Associating: making connections among diverse ideas.
  2. Questioning: Asking what if, and why.
  3. Closely Observing, particularly details of people’s behavior.
  4. Experimenting: trying new experiences and exploring new worlds
  5. Networking with smart people from different sectors. 

They go on to explain that while questioning may seem most important, because it “turbo-charges” the others, ultimately associating is they key “because new ideas aren’t created without connecting problems or ideas in ways that they haven’t been connected before.”   In seeking a single word to capture these skills, they arrive at “inquisitiveness,” and point out, it is the same quality that young children manifest, and innovative adults never lose.

In concluding this short but very telling interview, these graduate school professors of business speak to what K-12 education must do to sustain in our students the tools that make innovation possible:

If you look at 4-year-olds, they are constantly asking questions and wondering how things work. But by the time they are 6 ½ years old they stop asking questions because they quickly learn that teachers value the right answers more than provocative questions. High school students rarely show inquisitiveness. And by the time they’re grown up and are in corporate settings, they have already had the curiosity drummed out of them.

We also believe that the most innovative entrepreneurs were very lucky to have been raised in an atmosphere where inquisitiveness was encouraged. We were struck by the stories they told about being sustained by people who cared about experimentation and exploration. Sometimes these people were relatives, but sometimes they were neighbors, teachers or other influential adults.

A number of the innovative entrepreneurs also went to Montessori schools, where they learned to follow their curiosity. To paraphrase the famous Apple ad campaign, innovators not only learned early on to think different, they act different (and even talk different).

We need to ensure we ask students questions for which there is no single right answer, and that we encourage students to ask provocative questions and follow their curiosity!