Monday, September 29, 2014

Inspiring An Innovation Generation: Design Thinking Skill Sets Explored

In the last post I described to you a study titled :"The Innovator DNA" conducted by Jeffrey H. Dyer, Hal B. Gregerson and Clayton M. Christensen(2009) in which the authors identified  five skills that separate innovative from non-innovative individuals.

The five skills: associating, questioning, observing, experimenting, and networking, were then broken up into two simple categories, doing and thinking. Under the category of "doing", the following would be placed:

  1. Questioning---This skill allow innovators to break out of the status quo and consider new possibilities. We often hear the directive that in order to innovate within a company setting or education organization, we need to "think outside the box" which means breaking away from the status quo. However this is not an impulsive action but an action that is part of a process.
  2. Observing--Through observing, innovators detect small behavioral details in the activities of customers, suppliers and other companies that suggest new ways of doing things.
  3. Experimenting--They relentlessly try out new experiences and explore the world.
  4. Networking---Through networking with individuals from diverse backgrounds, they gain radically different perspectives.

The final skill fits into the category of thinking:

Associating---The four patterns of action listed above help innovators associate to cultivate new insights.

So, the question becomes what are the most essential qualities of a "successful" innovator?
The study points to the following essentials of a successful innovator:

  1. Curiosity-- This is the habit of asking good questions and a desire to understand more deeply. This is a quality that the brick and mortar education systems sought to control rather than to nurture. this is evident when one examines how children enter the school system overflowing with curiosity  and how by the time they have reached middle grades, this has been regimented out of them.
  2. Collaboration--This begins with listening to and learning from others who have expertise and perspectives that are different from your own. Listening is one of the casualties of the digital age. The focus on self and entitlement has made it difficult for individuals to objectively listen to others.
  3. Associative or Integrative Thinking--- This involves having and promoting a bias towards action and experimentation. Within companies this is the most difficult thing to nurture because before it can happen on the many levels within the company structure, it must be guided by a corporate vision that approves of such a path and is communicated in an organized, systemic fashion throughout the company.
The ideas that I have outlined above and in previous posts on design thinking is not exhaustive here. I have merely scratched the surface but the benefits for both business and education focused on the development of a culture of innovation are quite remarkable.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Inspiring An Innovation Generation:Part III--Design Thinking, Business, and Education

Using a design thinker mindset when designing online courses is an approach that holds great promise for developing a culture of innovation within the education of the innovation generation. It not only gives direction that is in synch with the use of developing technologies but also enables us to strive towards a worthwhile purpose, that being the improvement of the quality of life for this generation and the ones that follow.

However, what does this type of mindset have to say about training within the corporate culture? Keep in mind that if we systematically incorporate this type of thinking in the education systems that the generation of leaders coming out of this system will have a direct impact on the business cultures world wide.When we peruse the comments made with respect to the state of course design and training within the corporate world, we find a lack of satisfaction within the corporate culture as to their progress in becoming innovative. Companies such as Google and Apple who are known for their innovative services and products are often admired from afar by the rest of the corporate world who ask: "why can't we develop an innovative culture like them?"

Perhaps part of the answer to this very valid question lies in being able to identify the traits of an innovator within a corporate setting. In an interesting article titled: "The Innovators DNA" by Jeffrey H. Dyer, Hal B. Gregersen and Clayton M. Christensen published in the Harvard Business Review (Dec. 2009), a six year study was described whose purpose was to uncover the origins of creative--and often disruptive--business strategies in particularly innovative companies. Their goal was to put innovative entrepreneurs under the microscope to examine when and how they came up with their innovative ideas. The authors considered the habits of 25 innovative entrepreneurs and conducted a survey of more than 3000 executives and 500 individuals who had started innovative companies or invented new products.

They discovered that there were five essential skills that separate the innovative from the non-innovative individuals in the corporate culture. They are as follows:

  • Associating
  • Questioning
  • Observing
  • Experimenting
  • Networking
They broke this list down into two categories: doing and thinking
So, what do these skills actually mean in terms of innovation?

More in my next post. One point I will leave with you is that there is a pattern that is formed with respect to how these qualities are connected and it is design thinking that makes sense of this pattern........

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Inspiring An Innovation Generation - Part II- The Design Thinker Mindset

In the previous post, I suggested that there are certain qualities that make up an innovator that we need to nurture and encourage in the innovation generation. I think at this point it would be worthwhile to point out how the "innovation generation" is different from the generations that came before. The following five points are distinguishing qualities or observations:

  1. This generation besides having received traditional schooling, have also gone to school on the Internet. It is a fact that on average young people between the ages of 8 yrs and 18yrs spend more time on electronic devices than they do in classrooms. Perhaps an alarming observation is that when asked, students find the Internet a far more compelling teacher than the ones standing in front of classrooms. This should be enough motivation to change how we school young people and also suggest how we can mentor young people in dealing with online learning.
  2. This generation has an extraordinary latent talent ---and interest in--- innovation and entrepreneurship.  This is becoming very evident when you consider the growing number of teenagers who are actively engaged in creating mobile apps for phones, tablets and other devices. There is also an increased interest in learning how to code computers.
  3. On the Internet, young people act on their curiosity. One of the sad commentaries on public education is how when students enter primary grades that they are brimming over with curiosity, unusual questions and the desire to explore their world. By the time they reach middle grades, they have learned that their curiosity and creativity is to be controlled and they learn that the "right answer" is what is expected by their teachers.
  4. On the Internet they have learned to create, connect and collaborate far more than they are ever allowed to do in school.
  5. Many of this generation are more concerned with making a difference in the world rather than their parent's view for them that they should seek to join a profession and seek to increase their personal wealth. For employers the fact that getting ahead, moving up by promotion and receiving increased pay are not primary motivations for this generation leads to suggestions that some employers don't trust this generation and even suggestions that this generation is lazy. They don't share the mindset that this generation has.

Credit: Stuart Miles

In order to design effective e-learning experiences for this generation requires a re-visioning of e-learning as it presently is offered. Design thinking seems to address the qualities that we wish to nurture in the innovation generation.
Tim Brown (2008) in an article titled: "Design Thinking" which he wrote for the Harvard Business Review described some insightful traits that we should consider when designing e-learning for this generation. They are as follows:

  1. Empathy-- this is the ability to imagine the world from multiple perspectives and have an attitude that puts people first.
  2. Integrative Thinking---this is the ability to see all aspects of a problem and possible breakthrough solutions. Some of the real world scenarios that I described in previous posts use this understanding.
  3. Optimism ---According to Brown, this is essential because design thinking begins with the assumption that no matter how challenging the problem, a solution can be found. This flies in the face of the systemic cynicism that seems to be pervasive in our societies.
  4. Experimentalism---Solutions can only be found through a process of trial and error that explores problems and possible solutions in new and creative ways.
  5. Collaborators---The idea of the lone creative genius saving a corporation from obsolescence is replaced  with the reality of interdisciplinary collaborators. This fits with the concept of cross disciplinary learning being instituted in the design of irresistibly engaging simulations and scenarios in e-learning that I have described. With respect to collaboration I would also include the concept of developing professional mentor groups as a support for this new generation in their academic pursuits.

Credit: David Castillo Dominici
 If you take the description of the nature of the innovator and compare it with the the traits of design thinkers, you will see the need to further develop these concepts when it comes to the design of effective e-learning. This is part of the re-visioning that is needed. More later.........

Monday, September 15, 2014

Inspiring An Innovation Generation- A Re-Visioning of E-Learning--Part I

Education has been called the great equalizer. The truth is that it is not! In fact it is the great divide! Access to education in the past was determined by the dictates of government which determined which social classes to invest in that would give the greatest ROI. Although education was a great equalizer, its fullest benefits were reserved for those who would be the leaders of industry and members of the social elite in our societies. The tragedy of this type of model for educating the masses was that it was extremely difficult if not impossible for a promising intelligent student in the lower classes to better his or her station in life through education. Economic and social barriers were erected to prevent such a student from developing their full potential. The problem today is that those who benefited most from this arrangement are not willing to give it up. This was the industrial model of education.

If we accept the premise that this model is dysfunctional when it comes to meeting the needs of a new generation then what should we use as a replacement for it? We can't operate from a vacuum! Given the seismic shifts in technology, the Internet and the connectivity of today's digital learners, a new mindset and guiding vision is needed in order to harness these forces for the enrichment of a learner who can connect to others globally and collaborate on whatever issues that present themselves. A culture of innovation in all aspects of life requires a different set of skills from those who would be the innovators and digital entrepreneurs in this new and evolving culture.

Credit: Arztsamui
Tony Wagner (2012) in his work titled: "Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World", suggests that in order for a culture of innovation to develop we need to foster those skill sets required for innovation in the education systems of our societies. The change in the way that we do "schooling" needs to be systemic and not a patch work attempt. He suggests that there are seven survival skills that need to be nurtured in young people. Some of these many educators will suggest that they are already working on. These seven qualities are necessary but not sufficient in themselves for us to truly accomplish what needs to be done. They are as follows:

  1.  Critical thinking & problem solving
  2. Collaboration across networks and leading by influence
  3. Agility & adaptability
  4. Initiative & entrepreneurship
  5. Accessing & analyzing information
  6. Effective oral and written communication
  7. Curiosity & Imagination

In order to nurture innovation in the innovation generation, other qualities such as those that follow are required:

  • Perseverance
  • Willingness to experiment
  • Take calculated risks
  • Tolerate failure
  • Possess a demonstrated capacity for "design thinking".

If we see the roles of educators and students as agents of change in society that are in synch with developing a culture of innovation then we will also discover that the characteristics of a design thinker are in harmony with what is required for young innovators to be, as Tony Wagner expresses it, young people who will change the world.

In the next post, I will describe the nature of design thinkers and how it is the right mindset for educators, students and administrators who act within a new education models, as agents of change in this digital age.......

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Non-Stem Based Real World Scenarios: The "Sanctuary Scenario"

In the previous post I suggested to you that not all real world scenarios need to be STEM based scenarios. There are a wealth of alternatives that capitalize on realms of knowledge and expertise to realistically deal with real world issues. Although I am suggesting that these scenarios are not specifically STEM based, it does not mean that we can not draw on scientific disciplines when needed. The thrust of the these scenarios are social-political- economic in nature.
What these scenarios have in common are the following:
  • They emphasize the collaboration among students in which the instructor as a guide in the scenario has the ability to introduce variables into the scenario that will require the students to re-think their ideas, conclusions and actions.
  • They also strive to measure the higher order thinking skills as outlined by Bloom's revised taxonomy but also look at the measure of online collaboration and evaluate solutions that students come up with in terms of demonstrated innovation.
  • They also make use of a mentor network based upon the idea that the solutions that students come up with require cross disciplinary thinking. Disciplines that are represented in the mentor network depend upon the requirements of the scenario. This requires that the scenario be analyzed to determine what knowledge and skill sets are required in order to come up with a viable solution to the issue.
  • Whenever possible, full use of an online immersive environment germane to the scenario complete with the ability to have students role play with the use of avatars should be employed.
  • Recognition from the outside world for student efforts through the posting to a professional online journal germane to the scenario is necessary so that students feel that what they are doing is valued outside the course.

Coming back to the scenario mentioned in the previous post, the desire expressed by Ali and probably many more like him who live in countries in conflict, is to have a generation that is not born into an environment in ongoing crisis where children are taught from the time they can walk to fight, identify enemies and even kill. Instead the desire is to have sanctuary, peace and form friendships with others unlike themselves, to hope and dream of growing up and having the opportunity to change conditions for the better.

For this scenario, the collaborative challenge is this: " Students are to come up with workable pathways to peace for the collection of nations that they are members of. In this challenge, they will be randomly assigned two nations that are in conflict. In the" sanctuary immersive environment" they enter, they will have access to all the necessary data on the nations that are needed. Their teacher will act as a the person who will coordinate their networking with the mentor group and give them feedback on changes occurring in these nations that might have an impact on the decisions they make. Students will be required to collaborate in gathering information among themselves and with their mentor network. They will be required to defend the solutions and decisions they make before their teacher and the mentor group.

The mentor group will be made up leaders in the following disciplines:

  • Ancient and Modern Middle Eastern History
  • Cultural Anthropology
  • Ancient and Modern Cartography
  • Ancient and Modern Linguistics
  • International Diplomacy
  • Ancient Systems of Governance
  • Ancient Religions
This list is a suggestion and in its description there is a hypothesis to be tested, that being, that the root of the conflicts that are occurring in the Middle East now is found in the history of the nations involved. By examining the roots, the students can identify the ongoing causes of the present conflicts and postulate, with the guidance of their mentors and teacher, points of possible resolution.

When students present their solution, a computer simulation will extrapolate the effects that might result if their decisions were put into effect. For example, a decision to have a tyrant of one country imprisoned could result in a neighboring country seizing the opportunity to invade as one effect. The mentor group will and should have a role in the assessment of the final solutions that the students come up with. The mentor group also provides the opportunity for students to post their solution to a professional blog or online professional journal for feedback and questions.

There is much more that could be done with this scenario. What I have presented to you are the broad strokes in order to provoke your thoughts and discussion.

Next Post-------Promoting a new mindset for the design of online courses