Encouraging innovation

By Brian Irwin, Academic Innovation

Recently I came across this article about innovation on CNN – http://edition.cnn.com/2009/BUSINESS/11/26/innovation.tips/index.html

Though it focuses on business innovators and inventors, it made me think what can we take away from it and apply to our context in terms of innovation in teaching and learning practices.

Firstly it talks about innovators putting things together in new and different ways that other people have not thought about.  However, it strikes me that innovation in teaching practice is a much more personal and practical thing in terms of context.  For instance, if you do something that you have never done before but lots of other people have done, then that is still innovation for you.  I don’t think it should be every teacher’s goal to do things that no one has ever tried before, but instead to try things that make sense for their situation.

Later it says that innovators think outside the box and try to challenge themselves by learning new things from outside their area.  This seems counter to some beliefs that teaching ideas should be tailored to the specific needs of a subject group or course team.  Ideas that are tailored might receive the warmest welcome from a group, but other ideas which are from completely different areas might help spark creativity more.

Next in the article it discusses the idea that creativity is learned – if you practice being creative, you will be more creative.  How often do many of us do the sorts of activities they recommend, like writing lots of different questions about a particular problem over time to get the best questions about it?  This is something I am going to try soon.

Finally the article talks about the need for talking to different people outside of your usual circle.  They are the most likely people to help inspire new ideas as they may be doing different things or have another way of looking at problems.  This should help remind us that during events and workshops we need to encourage cross-fertilisation between areas instead of just focusing on one department or faculty.  Of course, there is a need for balance in the types of engagement that are held in order to help encourage relevance and participation.  It also highlights the need for discussion as part of whatever we do – encouraging folks to talk together and share ideas rather than having a one-to-many type of dissemination model.

I’d welcome others’ thoughts on how we can encourage this type of creative and innovative approach to working.


2 responses to “Encouraging innovation

  1. The idea that thinking outside of the box is ‘counter to some beliefs that teaching ideas should be tailored to the specific needs of a subject group or course team.’ I would argue that open thinking is always healthy and productive and that, if people can learn how to do that and find the time or situation to support creative thinking, they will always map what they discover to their own situation – there isn’t a danger that people will needlessly generate ideas therefore. The challenge for innovation is to help people prioritise this kind of thinking and support them in applying it in their academic work.
    I like the suggestion of encouraging cross-fertilisation. ‘Association’ i’s a basic creative device and, in a university context, very easy to employ. But simplest of all is the view that creativity is an attitude and so can be assumed. It needn’t be hard or time-consuming, and adopting a creative attitude usually results in a load more fun each day!

  2. I think if you try something new it needs to have a purpose and the aim for me would be to complement or enhance – maybe both. – Cross fertilization – yes bring it on!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s