Does America Need More Innovators?

This question is addressed in a collection edited by Matthew Wisnioski, Eric S. Hintz and Marie Stettler Kleine that is available from MIT’s Open Press.

The innovation imperative has been a permanent part of my professional life in education. The motivation to innovate and the practices that were labeled innovative have changed (the innovative practices changing cyclically–everything old is new again in education). As a science teacher turned educational technologist, I have contributed more than my share to this work.

What strikes me in the fourth decade of my career and after reading the perspectives on innovation articulated in this book is the two types of innovation we hear advocated. With just a little questioning and observing, it is also easy to differentiate the two.

First, there is what I have come to see as superficial innovation. Proponents of superficial innovation have a clear vision of what the change is, how it will be beneficial, and they have a clear pathway to implementing it. When first hearing about such innovations, many will react by thinking “here we go again, this is going to cause me more work.” These innovations do not change the purpose of the organization, and in many cases, one can look back and see similar innovations that have been tried earlier and in other places.

Second, there is what I have come to see as true innovations. Proponents of these understand they cannot clearly describe the path or outcome as these will emerge as they proceed. Others often find calls for this type of innovation dis-settling as they perceive the unknown nature of it and its future and their potential role in it.

Of course, my two types of innovation are not new… transformational and procedural innovations have been recognized for decades. Leaders have been confused by them and they have mislabeled them for just as long. I fully expect I have confused them many times.

What is the future? How do we make our way? What will be different in the future?

The true innovators have no idea what the answers to these questions are. They do intend to invent those answers… and I have decided only to hang out with those who will do just that.