Novel not Novelty, Innovation not Gimmicks

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by darranl

Call me old school, but my razor has 2 blades. It has always driven me crazy with the incessant adding of blades, parodied of course numerous times on numerous comedies, because we all see what they are doing – trying to get our money with a gimmick.

I am re-reading “Start with Why” by Simon Sinek and while I wasn’t reading it as a resource on Innovation, he brought up a great point about confusing Novelty with Innovation. His example came from the business of Cell Phones, with the example of Novelty being the Motorola Razr and the example of Innovation being the iPhone. His point was that Motorola created a product with a bunch of great features and made it the latest shiny new gadget but there wasn’t any real innovation there. He said the innovation of the iPhone was in telling the carriers what the phone would do and not the other way around. It was timely as the topic had come up just earlier today.

I love talking with other educators about Innovation, what it is, how you define it, how you provide our classrooms an opportunity to explore it, and how do we foster it in our students. Today, I was discussing the definition of Innovation with George Couros (over twitter) and we talked about the idea of a novel creation or an improvement on an existing creation. Reading Simon Sinek’s book makes me think that we have to teach students the difference between novel and novelty. Not everything new is innovative and not every improvement is innovative either. We are bombarded every day with advertisements exclaiming that the product is “New and Improved”, and Sinek talks about this being more about manipulating the customer than actual innovation.

It got me thinking about our next Innovation Week (#iweek2) and how the planning is going for our students. We have some really great conversations developing around the guiding question that each student is developing for their projects, as well as who their expert will be (Theme for iWeek 2 is “Connecting with Experts”). As they fill out their applications, their homeroom teacher is there to help them if they get stuck at any point in the process, and some are having trouble creating a deep guiding question based around their area of interest. I see some of our students looking more for a gimmick or novelty then actual innovation. We have students excited about their projects, but with a real focus on learning that lacks any depth. Some of the key questions our application asks to hopefully guide the students to some deeper thinking or hunt out any issues are:

  • What is your guiding question? What new learning/discoveries will you be exploring?
  • Process required to answer my guiding question:
  • What will you create as a final product?
  • What skills will you develop?
  • Who is your audience and how will you present your learning?

I hope the conversations with our students as they work through the application process, and of course through the learning process, will help students see past the gimmick and novelty and find ways to explore meaningful innovation. We will of course need to be very mindful with our assistance to help students get there without controlling to much of the experience.

We will need to explore this issue again when we our theme becomes “Entrepreneurial Spirit“, which is one of our planned themes for next school year’s Innovation Weeks. When our students turn to creating a project that would be marketed and sold to customers, the idea of gimmicks and novelty will become even more important.  We want our students to have a successful experience when they explore the world of business, but we don’t want to empower students to manipulate their customers and learn tricks that dance dangerously close to being dishonest. Sinek talks about creating “Loyalty” rather than just “Repeat Business” and that comes from inspiring your customers, not tricking them.

What I find more and more as I explore themes of Innovation and Creativity, is that in developing projects and lessons that focus on Innovation, we are able to tackle some really important themes in some engaging, authentic and powerful ways. With each Innovation Week and each theme we explore, we can really help our students create a better understanding of their learning and their interactions with their world. Maybe we’ll even have some of our boys grow up and buy a razor with two blades instead of seven.


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