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What Is an Innovator's Mindset: Book Study Part 1

As a part of a summer book study, I have the fortune of reading George Couros’s The Innovator’s Mindset.  I am using this post to reflect on Part 1: Innovation in Education which covers chapters 1 - 3.

Like with any good vision for change, Couros states the purpose, or the “why” of his strategies.  He advocates that today’s learners should be encouraged to become creators and leaders. This will then create a better world.

The title phrase Innovator’s Mindset is the what we want to advocate for.  But what is the Innovator’s Mindset? The Innovator’s mindset is one in which the individual is not only attempting to increase and ability or skill.  The innovator’s mindset is one in which the learner looks to create new ideas and understandings with this ability or skill.  

This pushes the idea that learners should not simply be consumers of content, but creators.  The business leaders of today are not looking for workers who simply bring them problems.  The desired workforce of today (not just tomorrow) is one that is full of problem solvers.  Those that aren’t simply looking to verify that they got the right answer, but answer new questions.  In the innovator’s mindset, learners start with what they know about a problem,  find out what they need to know, and find an innovative way to synthesize this information.

Couros is clear about the term innovation.  He states that innovation is not simply something new.  It is something new and better.  The process of innovation does not always lead to something better at each step.  Couros is clear to state that innovation requires failure.  By that he means, each iteration in the process may not be a step forward.  Some may be a step backwards.  But, each step provides an opportunity for learning via reflection.  An innovator’s mindset is one in which the learner is reflective about the failure and perseveres.  The innovator’s mindset tells us that we can’t get better unless we are willing to take the risk of failing.  It is only by choosing to risk failure again that will lead to the path of a successful innovation. The path without risk is not the path of new ideas or innovation.

Couros is clear to state that innovation is not about dealing in the realms of stuff.  I have lots of cool tech stuff and it is great, but it doesn’t lead to innovation on its own.  (In fact, new stuff means I have to find new ways to innovate.)  Innovation deals in the realms of ideas.  That is why being a networked learner is so important.  There are only so many understandings and ideas a learner already possesses. The ability to seek out new understandings is an essential part of the problem solving process.  An innovator builds on what she already knows by finding new information and creating new understandings.  True networking is a two way process, though.  Too many times learners simply become consumers of knowledge.  The innovator takes time to share innovations with their network.  The bigger the network the better. An innovator’s mindset looks to share ideas with an authentic audience, the bigger the better.  Sharing innovations with the world is the only way those ideas will change be able to change it.

If a learner innovates on an island, will anyone hear it?  Yes, if she has wi-fi.

When a learner connects with her network, she needs to be observant.  Observant in realizing that the best ideas to help innovate don’t simply come from a Wikipedia article.  A learner with an innovator’s mindset sees with eyes that don’t see learning confined to the walls of the classroom.  The innovator’s mindset sees the connections between the content and skills in the classroom and their lives away from the classroom.  The skills learned in math class can be used to gain new understandings in science class or a walk through the park.  The understandings of rhyme schemes  can be used to inform their favorite songs.  It goes both ways.  A lyric in a song they hear can inform vocabulary in science class or history class.

True innovation starts with two aims.  They are they the ultimate goals of the innovation and the interests of individuals involved.  In education, this means the focus is on a learner’s goals and interests.  Couros states this element as empathy.  Simply asking the following question, “What is best for this learner?”  The best educational practices find a path that allows learners to reach their goals and addresses their interests. It finds a ways to leverage each individual’s passions.  Just as importantly it looks at each student’s goals.  It understands that all students have different goals based on where they are starting and where they are going.  Empathetic instruction is instruction that is relevant to each student.

The Innovator’s Mindset is for all.  By that I mean, it is a model that is just as powerful for educators as well.  Let me walk through the 8 characteristics again as put forth by Couros through my educator lens.
  1. Empathetic - Implementation of Personal Learning Projects
  2. Problem Finders - Finding a way to make physics accessible to all students
  3. Risk-Takers - Trying to bring elements of personalized learning into an AP Physics course
  4. Networked - Presence on Twitter and Google+ where I get great ideas from the world
  5. Observant - Games that may be for play such as Angry Birds, have great applications to physics classroom.
  6. Creators - 15 year old course text has required creation of new instruction using great tech tools such as Pear Deck
  7. Resilient - I’ve been teaching for 15 years and I’ve grown leaps and bounds, but have fallen flat on my face many, many times.
  8. Reflective - The blog you are reading right now.

As far as the professional development portion of the innovator’s mindset, Couros is ardent in pointing out that it requires “clear guidance and support”.  It needs to be understood that educators, just like learners, have different goals and interests.  Professional development needs to take into account that all educators start at a different point of entry with their own problems they are looking to solve.  Great PD will allow for the Innovator’s Mindset to flourish.

That’s a lot to take away from the first ⅓ of the book.  Getting ready for more.  

To George Couros: If you happen to read this, I really enjoy the book so far.  Also, would it be impolite if I called you George in future posts?  After a while, typing Couros seemed a bit impersonal for such a personal book.

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