What does “Innovation” actually mean?
It’s one of those ethereal questions that persist in the education sector. Everyone has an opinion, everyone knows it’s important and most people use the term liberally – especially when it comes to technology integration. Let’s clear that up right out of the gate: innovation is not synonymous with technology. Can technology can be innovative? Of course. Can technology be used in innovative ways? For sure. But the presence of technology in a classroom is not an automatic innovation homerun. Try throwing a load of iPads into a classroom where the teacher doesn’t know how to use them properly and this will quickly become crystal clear.
So if that’s what innovation doesn’t mean, what does it mean? In 2016, Idea To Value interviewed 15 of the world’s leading innovation experts and whilst there were some common themes in their responses, there was also a fair degree of variance. Here are a few examples:
“Anything that is new, useful, and surprising.” - Drew Boyd
“Creativity is thinking of something new. Innovation is the implementation of something new.” – Paul Sloane
“The introduction of new products and services that add value to the organisation” – Kevin McFarthing
“The future, delivered.” - Jorge Barba
Ultimately innovation is about introducing something new to create new value - whether that be Apple adding a LIDAR camera to the new iPhone, Uber flipping the taxi busines on its head or an educator changing the way that learning is experienced. It is purposeful change that brings something new to the table. This is why my personal favourite definition of innovation is this:
“Innovation is change that unlocks new value.” - Jamie Notter
Notter says that the key word in that sentence is “new” – it isn’t just about adding more value to a product, system or concept, it’s about finding ways to add brand new value.
It’s also generally accepted that innovation can take three forms: innovation of product, innovation of process and innovation of model. Within an educational framework, this essentially translates to :
Innovation of product = Innovation of learning
Innovation of process = Innovation of teaching
Innovation of model = Innovation of school
Notice that technology doesn’t necessarily factor into any of these? It can definitely play a role and in many cases acts as an accelerant, but it is by no means the sole means to drive towards innovation. Think back to those iPads in that classroom I mentioned earlier… is the iPad innovative? For sure – but that’s Apple’s innovation. How an educator integrates the iPad uses it within the context of their pedagogy – that’s their space to innovate.
In order for innovation to blossom, schools must strive to create and maintain a culture of innovation. Much like with a garden, this takes time and effort. It also means commitment and investment from all stakeholders. School leaders play an especially important role. They must be open to change and supportive of their staff as they try new things. They also need to accept that you can’t strike gold every time and celebrate failures as much as successes. In fact Carol Dweck’s concept of the growth mindset is particularly relevant within the world of innovation, where evaluation and iteration are just as vital as that initial spark of creativity that lights the fire of innovation.