Industryweek 3182 Dayjessica

Nurturing Innovation ... Wherever it Might Appear

Nov. 13, 2012
More schools need to focus on showing that collaboration and innovation are possible (and necessary) everywhere. And also show how they can nurture (instead of obliterate) the possibility of innovation wherever it might appear.

Everyone expects innovation: from leaders within a company to the end user poised at the keyboard ready to criticize or compliment their favorite product's latest features.

There are events dedicated to it, excessively long meetings about it, entire departments devoted to cultivating it.

But the problem is that innovation is more of a value than a process with a single, silver-bullet approach.

It appears differently every time, which is why teaching people the importance of innovation and introducing different approaches to innovation is the most important thing with which one can enter the professional world.

And this process often begins at school.

In a classroom at Vanderbilt University, Professor David Owens is teaching his students about "strategic innovation," and as part of his curriculum, he asks them to create projects in teams.

Those projects are collaboratively constructed through a series of ideas that are tracked, elaborated on in comments, and voted on using IdeaScale technology. This allows those small groups of students to improve on their own ideas by making room for inspiration from the entire group in a very transparent fashion.

Then Owens takes it a step farther. When the students present their projects, the entire class continues to give feedback using the same system: commenting, suggesting, praising, criticizing and improving each other's work.

And the whole class can see what everyone else is doing and saying (transparency). Sometimes the suggestions are obvious, sometimes they slingshot a project forward. For example, in a single community, more than 800 new ideas were posted.

Of course, Owens also can easily track classroom participation, which is important in large classes that take place at Vanderbilt or in even larger online courses like the one he teaches on Coursera.

This approach of not only teaching innovation processes (frameworks, collaborative models, implementation, etc.) but also putting collaborative innovation into practice as part of the learning process is, I think, what is inherently brilliant about this approach. It turns almost anything into an opportunity for collaboration.

More schools need to focus on showing that collaboration and innovation are possible (and necessary) everywhere. And also show how they can nurture (instead of obliterate) the possibility of innovation wherever it might appear.

Take for instance a school in Germany where a parent-teacher organization collaborates online for different ways to improve the classroom experience for their children.

The parents now hope that perhaps this ideation platform will be used by the whole school, so that eventually the students also can participate in this community as well. It's not only a resource, but it also empowers everyone to be an active member of their own experience from a very young age.

And because generating innovation is more of a philosophy than it is a practice, fostering this belief in empowerment is probably the most important ubiquitous action that we can take.

How else are we empowering innovation every day?

Jessica Day is a marketing and technology writer and editor for IdeaScale, a leading innovation software solution for idea management. She received her master's in writing from the University of Washington. Day also blogs about crowd-based innovation and idea management solutions at

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