Category Archives: marshal mcluhan

Shaping Innovation

We shape our tools and then our tools shape us.

Innovation is not about the “stuff; it is about a way of thinking.

This is something that I have stated several times, but as in the McLuhan quote stated above, the tools that we have, sometimes help shape our thinking, and thus, can leave us being more innovative than we would be without them.

Here is an example…

Recently I was in a meeting with administrators, and I was going to ask them all to email one person in the room what their Twitter handle was for their school, and what hashtag they would be using. I then caught myself and thought, “Why am I dumping all of this work on one person, when we could easily just share this on a document together?”  I then stopped in my tracks, opened up a google doc which I shared publicly with everyone having editing privileges, and within about the time frame of two minutes, the document was complete with the information I needed. Instead of having one person do an hour’s worth (at least) of work, I had 30 people do less than one minute each.

Is this the most “innovative” thing in human history? Nope. But it was a “new and better” way of doing things, which is crucial. But I could not have done this if a) I had not had access to the technology, b) I never had used the technology, and c) the people in front of me didn’t have access to technology themselves.  The mindset is most crucial, but is sometimes developed my our skill set.  If you had never used Google Docs, you might not have thought to use the method that I did above.

This challenged my thinking, as I look around professional learning days where educators with a usual minimum of three devices in front of them (this could be a smartphone, tablet/computer, and a notebook with pencil), advocate for students to share a computer between four or five students at the point of instruction, or still make special trips down to a computer lab.  This doesn’t seem right.

The things that we (and our students) have access to, create opportunities and can help shape our thinking.  Innovation is not about the technology, but as McLuhan states, it definitely can shape the way we think.