Category Archives: george couros

5 Ways to Lay the Foundation for Innovation #InnovatorsMindset

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In my new book, “The Innovator’s Mindset“, one of the things that I discuss is understanding that we are not able to change others, but are able to create the conditions where change is more likely to happen.  Instead of  pointing fingers at others, it is important to recognize what we have the ability to do, and develop conditions where innovation is more likely to happen.

Below are five focuses I share in the book on how to “Unleash Talent”, with a quick synopsis and some questions.

1.Powerful Learning First, Technology Second

Although the words “innovation” and “technology” are not synonymous, we do have to understand that technology can be transformational in our learning. When we immerse ourselves in learning experiences with technology, it helps us to make better decisions on what type of learning can truly happen in our schools. For example, if a student wanted to play violin, and there was no one in your organization that knew how to play, where would they go? YouTube most likely, yet if it is blocked, what opportunities have we cut off from our students?  When purchasing technology in our schools, these should be informed decisions on what is best for learning, not on what technology is cheapest or what people are most used to.

Questions to Consider:

  1. How do you model and explore new opportunities for learning in your own practice?
  2. What opportunities are you providing for informal learning, exploration, and “play”, with new technologies in your organization?

2. Strengths-Based Leadership

It is tremendously hard for people to be innovative in an area they hate.  That is why Jim Collins talks about not only getting the right people in the bus, but also getting those people in the right seats.  One superintendent I worked with this year, Juan Cabrera, stated that it is better to find the best people and fit jobs around them, as opposed to create jobs and try to fit people into them.  Tapping into the strengths of people as opposed to constantly focus on their weaknesses, develops confidence and competence along the way.  If you cannot identify the strengths of the people you serve, they might not be the problem.

Questions to Consider:

  1. What are the current strengths of your organization, and how do you continue to move them forward?
  2. What ways are you tapping into these strengths?

3.  Less Is More

If you truly think about the areas that your school or district is focusing on, are there more than three? If you asked twenty people in your school what are the main focuses of your school, would they all have the same answer? An analogy that I have heard recently is that teachers don’t have too much on their plate, but they actually have a platter.  This needs to change.  Instead of trying to do everything (ultimately poor to average), we need to focus on a few things that we can excel at that will eventually become common strengths.  The best organizations will come back to and revisit something over and over again throughout the year, as opposed to simply moving on to the next thing. We need to focus more on depth than breadth.

Questions to Consider:

  1. What initiatives are you focusing on in your school district?
  2. What would you take off the plate?

4.  Create Meaningful Learning Experience for Educators

We often create what we experience, yet there are too many times where we are told what a classroom and learning should look like, as opposed to experiencing it in our classrooms.  It is important to provide information and context, but do we make time to dig deep.  If you think of things such as “EdCamps”, that experience is mostly used for adult learning, but then “Maker Spaces” are mostly used by students. If they are great learning experiences, they should be for all learners, not just a certain group.  The question you want to hear from professional learning is, “That was amazing…how do we do this in our classrooms?”  We cannot have one type of practice for our learning, and then expect things to change in our classrooms.

Questions to Consider:

  1. How do you both personalize learning opportunities while moving the co-created vision forward for your school/organization?
  2. Which elements of the “8 Things to Look for in Today’s Classroom” do you already see in your professional learning opportunities? What elements are lacking?

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5. Embrace an Open Culture

How do we make great learning go viral? This is a key question in how we move from “pockets of innovation” to a “culture of innovation”?  Social media is powerful for making global connections, but how do we break down these walls in our own schools.  Here is one suggestion:

What if tweets dailly

Everything you need to create a “culture of innovation” is probably already in your school; we just need to bring it to the forefront.

Questions to Consider:

  1. How are you actively sharing your learning with your school and global community?
  2. How do you make the great learning go “viral” in your school, to move from “pockets” to a “culture of innovation?”

These are not in any specific order, but all things we should focus on to move forward as an organizations.  I go deeper into each area in my book, but would love to hear your ideas on how these things are brought to life in the context of your own schools.

​The #InnovatorsMindset: What We Can Learn from Carly Rae Jepsen and the Harvard Baseball Team #CE15

The following excerpt is from my new book, The Innovator’s Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity, which will be published this month (October 2015) by DBC, Inc. This same post has also been shared on Edsurge as well.

I walked into the room and could tell right away.

I had never met the teacher, Jeff Unruh, before and knew very little about him, but the atmosphere in his classroom spoke of his commitment and passion. Turning to the colleague who was with me, I asked, “Do you think he is on Twitter?” I wanted her to make an educated guess, and her thoughts were the same as mine: definitely.

How did we know? Everywhere we looked, we could see the marks of connection, collaboration, and, yes, innovation.

Unique seating spaces, and an environment that encouraged students to take risks and think differently gave clues of this teacher’s values. Notices about “Genius Hour” and the school’s recent “Maker Faire” were prominently displayed. And his class was learning how to play chess with a master player, who also happened to be a grandparent of one of the students.

Notice that I haven’t mentioned anything about technology in this classroom. While students had access to computers, it was the learning environment that was different. It offered multiple, amazing opportunities for learning tailored to reach students where they were at, and tap into their strengths and passions.

I asked the teacher if he was on Twitter. He said yes, but explained that he didn’t share that much online. What he appreciated most was the information and people it gave him access to. I could see how that information had been integrated to make his classroom look inviting and engaging. But when I asked if using Twitter had had an impact on his classroom, he thought for a moment and likened it to the “boiling frog” anecdote; gradual changes had helped him get to where he was now. Just by being a “lurker” on Twitter, he’d been inspired to take small steps that made a noticeable difference.

Now, I am not saying that if you are not on Twitter, you are ineffective. Being on Twitter doesn’t make you a great teacher any more than not being on Twitter makes you ineffective. There are a lot of great teachers who do some pretty amazing things despite choosing not to connect online. That said, Twitter and other social media give you 24/7 access to new ideas and interactions with forward-thinking teachers. A network helps people become better. How could it not?

Looking at this teacher’s classroom, I realized it looked nothing like my own when I first started teaching. Honestly, I did not have the same information available that educators do now. I had the teachers in my school to bounce ideas off of; but compared to the global conversations that now occur daily, I was fairly isolated. Today, isolation is a choice. Our connectivity and learning opportunities have changed in recent years, and, thankfully, teachers are taking advantage of those changes to benefit themselves and, more importantly, their students. We have access to not only information but also to each other. We need to tap into that.

Call Me Maybe?

I apologize for what I am about to do right now, but do you remember the song Call Me Maybe from 2012? Carly Rae Jespen’s viral hit seemed to be all over the place. If you turned on the radio, there it was. If you went on to social media, there it was. It became for many (including myself) a song that you hated, yet knew all of the words to. There have been catchy songs before, but this spread quickly—not unlike a plague.

In addition to being catchy, the song was also successful because the audience did not simply listen to it, they recreated and remixed it. If you didn’t like the original, you might have liked the version done by the Harvard Baseball team in a van, or Jimmy Fallon’s version using instruments from an elementary music classroom, Sesame Street’s version involving the Cookie Monster, or even the remix of President Obama singing every word of the song—which someone created by taking snippets from his speech and aligning them with the song. I hated the song until I saw Jimmy Fallon’s version, which appealed to the teacher side of me. After hearing it, I even purchased the original. The unique versions of the song somehow pushed listeners back to what the original artist had created.

The parodies and variations that are common today are quite a change from traditional copyright thinking. The old mindset of artists was, “If you copy or revise my work, you take away my opportunity to make a living.” Now, the ability to remix and reshare, creates a culture where everyone can win. In Lawrence Lessig’s TED Talk titled, Laws That Choke Creativity, he spoke about the difference between my generation (and those more seasoned than me) and the younger generations. He explained, “We made mixed tapes; they remix music. We watched TV; they make TV.” And because that happens, professionals benefit from the mass sharing, and amateurs enjoy and learn from the ability to freely create. The lines between “amateur” and “professional” have blurred. Admittedly, some professional artists may see this blurring as a risk. In contrast, those with an abundance mentality know that this new era allows them to tap into different people’s unique strengths and create a more powerful product or brand.

So what does this have to do with education? Everything. Chris Anderson, the entrepreneur who reinvented TED Talks, discussed the idea of Crowd Accelerated Innovation in his 2010 TED Talk. Pointing to the example of dancing, he noted that the ability to see dancing through videos has accelerated people’s skills as well as the popularity of the art form. YouTube makes it possible, he notes, for people to be self-taught. And, at the same time, the visibility it provides has raised the bar for excellence. Anderson even acknowledged that seeing great talks by others inspired TED speakers to create more powerful talks themselves. Anderson noted three key elements to Crowd Accelerated Innovation:

  1. People who share a common interest. “The bigger the crowd, the more potential innovators there are. That’s important, but actually most people in the crowd occupy these other roles. They’re creating the ecosystem from which innovation emerges.”
  2. Visibility to see what others are doing. “You need clear, open visibility of what the best people in that crowd are capable of, because that is how you will learn how you will be empowered to participate.”
  3. Desire to change, grow, and improve. “Innovation’s hard work. It’s based on hundreds of hours of research, of practice. Absent desire, not going to happen.”

Jeff Unruh, the teacher I mentioned previously, significantly changed his practice in a short time because he was a beneficiary of all three of these things.

  1. He connected with other educators not only in his school and district, but also through social media (the crowd).
  2. Their ideas were shared openly (the visibility) and he was able to disseminate what would work best for the community he served.
  3. Ultimately, his want (the desire) to become better fueled his classroom to become the innovative environment that our students need. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Nothing great has ever been achieved without enthusiasm.” Jeff exemplifies that in spades.

Liz Wiseman and Greg McKeown explain in their book, Multipliers:

“It isn’t how much you know that matters. What matters is how much access you have to what other people know. It isn’t just how intelligent your team members are; it is how much of that intelligence you can draw out and put to use.”

So, whether it is developing better dancers, creating or remixing music, or designing a better classroom experience, the more open we are, the more likely something amazing will come out of it. Innovation expert Stephen Johnson says, “We can think more creatively if we open our minds to the many connected environments that make creativity possible.” As educational leaders, we must promote and capitalize on open, connected learning.