The perception of what “innovation” is seems to be a barrier in many circumstances in embracing the idea. In “The Innovator’s Mindset“, I use the following definition:
Innovation is a common term in many educational circles today and has been used a number of times in this book already. But what does it actually mean—especially in the terms of education?
For the purpose of this book, I’m defining innovation as a way of thinking that creates something new and better. Innovation can come from either “invention” (something totally new) or “iteration” (a change of something that already exists), but if it does not meet the idea of “new and better,” it is not innovative. That means that change for the sake of change is never good enough. Neither is using innovation as a buzzword, as many organizations do, to appear current or relevant.
So in a recent conversation, we were talking about Amazon as an innovative company, as Jeff Bezos (CEO) just became the richest person in the world. I started thinking about the many different ways that Amazon has “innovated” over the years, continuously focused on “Day 1”, meaning that it never gets comfortable with its own success. In my mind, I started to distinguish the different types of “innovation” that Amazon has had in its history.
Disruptive Innovation – The most notable disruptive innovation in the history of Amazon was probably the creation of the company in the first place. This has totally changed the way we purchased things online, and has shaped other companies along the way. It was not the first “online store”, but it has been the most successful.
Iterative Innovation – Now the examples I give here could border on being disruptive, but they are also iterations on things that we already know. Reading books on Kindle, or the “Amazon Go” stores that eventually were created (and will give you insight into why Amazon bought Whole Foods), were iterations things that would already knew (reading books, buying groceries) that were made better by tweaking or changing things.
Innovation is subjective though. Reading books on Kindle would not be considered better by all people, it definitely is preferred by many (myself included).
Although “innovation” is focused on moving forward, anything that has been deemed innovation would be judged by looking backward. Are the Amazon Go stores a success yet, or will it be a fad that disappears and goes the way of the Zune (if you don’t know what the Zune is, then my point was surely made)? Time will tell, but to create something better, risks are always involved.
In education, you will see both disruptive and iterative innovations. Some school districts have created entire new programs, and some people, like Kelly Tenkely and company, have created an entirely new school.
But iterative innovations happen all of the time, and often on the fly. Whether it is adjusting a reading program, revamping schedules that are more conducive to deep learning, or just trying different approaches to teaching based on the students in front of you. I once read a quote that, “If you try to teach a child something the same way 100 times, and they don’t understand it, it is not the child that is a slow learner.”
The best educators know the most important research that they could ever tap into, is knowing the kids in front of them.
As I write this, it just reaffirms my belief that more educators are innovators than we give credit. Some educators create the disruptive innovations, but the majority do iterative innovations based on the students in front of them daily. This is why I am so passionate about education and believe every educator should be an innovator. The constant pursuit of serving our students and being flexible based on what they need not what we are most comfortable with is something that we should always strive for. Even the smallest of innovations in education can be life-changing for a child.
Todd Whitaker captures this so eloquently:
Keep innovating forward. Even a small change can make a huge difference in the life of a child.