November 22, 2017

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Why Innovation is Invisible

Why Innovation is Invisible

We know innovation when we see it. Before you and I get to see the product of innovation, how does it stay so invisible, even for those close to the development? The problem with finding innovation is that it becomes part of a process. And as you know, nothing hides good stuff like a process.

Last week, I had the good fortune to be “volcationing” with 8,000 of the world’s most creative and innovative kids. They came from just about every state and from a number of the 31 countries in which the non-profit Destination ImagiNation has educational programs. This was their Global Finals event.

The kids in the program have learned to take a team of up to seven of their peers (who they may or may not like), learn each other’s individual strengths and weaknesses, develop and leverage their collective creativity, teamwork, and problem solving skills. This alone would be tough for some workplaces to successfully pull off.

These teams face Challenges, all of which are rooted national learning standards as well as disciplines including mechanical/technical design, science, the arts, improvisation or structural/architectural design. There’s even a Challenge with a positive social outcome.

The big plus for these kids is that the team has to do it all by themselves. Yes, 2nd graders are managing these projects, budgets and timelines. So are high school and college students and everyone in between. This is the beginning of the process of getting creative results that are hidden.

Over several months, student teams learn to identify and leverage their strengths through a variety of different methods, there is – I must admit – fun involved. Sometimes there are copious amounts of fun.  This should be no different for businesses – it works. In either business or “DI,” it also hides some of process that leads to innovation. When the brainstorming and problem solving gets going, every team will inevitably get stuck. How a team learns to react to adversity, ambiguities and half-baked ideas, in my opinion, will determine not only how far the team will go in competition, but in life.

It is this growth, this part of the process, which is most hidden and makes the process almost impossible to explain. The value isn’t just in the solution. Rather it is in evolving into a team that is capable of many solutions. It is also becoming an individual who can facilitate these results from others. THESE are the life skills that we need to value and can bring education to the next level.

I have seen items lost in couches come alive, heart-tugging performances about war where all the props, including full-size sets fit in a 2’ by 4’ box. I’ve seen amazing robotics and musical solutions to rival Broadway. I’ve seen amazing inventions that just spoke for themselves. Most important, I’ve seen kids continuing to look for new answers to old questions. I’ve seen hundreds use the lessons of their accomplishments on college essays and beyond.

Frequently, it is not until competition day that you can realize how amazing some of these solutions are – and no two are alike despite working on the same Challenge. As a long time volunteer at the state and international levels, and as an emerging media consultant, I can say working with the “adults” of Destination ImagiNation is just like working with the kids: invigorating, inclusive and fast-paced. And also frequently fun.

Amid the lasers, pyrotechnics, spotlights and cameras from Opening and Closing Ceremonies at Global Finals, the celebration is the same of that at the state/provincial or regional competitions: The lessons and value is in the process that leads to having a team capable of frequent innovation. This is the part that is hard to describe and frequently invisible.

Today’s challenges demands that we start seeing the possibilities like these students.

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