The headline on the cover of this month’s Harvard Business Review (HBR) reads “Spotlight on Innovation.” While HBR presents primarily within the context of entrepreneurship and management, increasingly we are learning as educators that what drives success in other fields also drives success in the areas of teaching and learning.
“The Innovator’s DNA” by Jeffery H. Dyer, Hal B. Gregersen, and Clayton M. Christensen, provides a perfect example of where successful business strategies cross over into education. After spending six years studying some of the most innovative minds in the business world including people like Jeff Bezos, Niklas Zennstrom, and Pierre Omidyar (imagine life today without Amazon, Skype, or eBay) the authors identified 5 “Discovery Skills,” that drive innovation:
When I look back on my own teaching career, I can see how these five skills were present when my teaching and my students’ learning were at their most effective points.
To deliver dynamic and meaningful lessons we as educators strive to  make associations using real life examples that drive critical thinking and aren’t always within the walls of our classroom (or content area); we ask ourselves questions during instructional planning such as “If my students asked me why learning how to find the square root of a number matters, how would I respond?”; we observe things like students’ interests and their energy level in class to inform our instructional and classroom motivation methods (i.e. SPURS jumping jacks for my students in San Antonio when energy was low); we are unafraid to try bold new instructional techniques with the understanding that while we might miss on some, we’ve got to take some shots to make a basket; we don’t close our door and hole up inside our classrooms, but rather we seek out and share ideas with other educators in our building and through workshops, continuing education, and professional organizations.
Even if you don’t feel like you’re an “innovator,” the authors provide some excellent examples of simple things you can do to strengthen your Discovery Skills. For example:
“Try spending 15 to 30 minutes each day writing down questions that challenge the status quo in your company.” (Here we can easily substitute classroom, school, or instructional practices for company)
While spending a hundred dollars on a subscription to HBR might not be in all of our budgets, a trip to the local public library with a mug of coffee or tea, a legal pad to take some notes, and a reflective spirit might just give you the boost you need to push your innovation skills to the next level whether you’re in a school, at work, or beyond.
Reference: Dyer, Gregerson, Christensen. (2009, December). The Innovator’s DNA. Harvard Business Review, 87(12), 61-67