Can You Teach Innovative Thinking To Your Kids?

A new book The Innovator’s DNA by Jeff Dyer, Hal Gregersen, and Clayton M. Christensen, challenges the old assumption that innovative thinking is something you’re born with rather than something you can learn. Studies have shown that only around 25-40% of innovative thinking is genetic, but that leaves room for lots of environmental input to have an effect. But how would you go about instilling this type of creative mindset in your child? And admittedly, we all know, some children are just more rigid in their thought processes than others. But the premise of this book is that even these people can be helped to loosen up a little and think outside the box.

The book is aimed primarily at companies who want to encourage innovation in their employees, but it’s easy to see how you can extrapolate the lessons to a classroom or a family that’s homeschooling. I haven’t read the book as yet, but this article about the book by Erica Swallow is excellent in homing in on the key ingredients you would want to encourage. She says the authors “have boiled the formula of innovation down to five key skills:”

  • Questioning allows innovators to challenge the status quo and consider new possibilities;
  • Observing helps innovators detect small details — in the activities of customers, suppliers and other companies — that suggest new ways of doing things;
  • Networking permits innovators to gain radically different perspectives from individuals with diverse backgrounds;
  • Experimenting prompts innovators to relentlessly try out new experiences, take things apart and test new ideas;
  • Associational thinking — drawing connections among questions, problems or ideas from unrelated fields — is triggered by questioning, observing, networking and experimenting and is the catalyst for creative ideas.

As a former homeschooling mom, I know it would have helped me just to have had these posted on my refrigerator door! Perhaps I would have spotted an innovative moment in the mind of a child more readily and encouraged it sooner. Sometimes the temptation is to squelch innovation because it may appear to be disruptive at times to the normal routine or schedule. I’m all for kids having to behave themselves, but I did try to allow for a good bit of flexibility if a child got off the beaten path (my plan for him that day) as long as it seemed productive. But these guidelines give me all sorts of ideas for ways I might have encouraged innovation to a greater degree in my kids’ thinking. I might have had a broader view of what was “productive” too.

I especially liked the premise that networking “permits innovators to gain radically different perspectives from individuals with diverse backgrounds.” I know in my own life I have especially enjoyed meeting or reading about people who live or think in ways I have never seen before. That’s one reason why I’ve always been drawn to missionary stories such as Bruce Olson’s Bruchko–it catapulted my thinking so totally beyond the borders of my white, Anglo-Saxon, American bubble. It confronted me with a more radical approach to trusting God. Christians are often needing to let God shake them up a bit, sift their ideas, winnow their ways. After all, becoming innovative thinkers is actually our calling in Christ–“…and do not be conformed to the world but be transformed by the renewing of your minds.” I might put that list up on my refrigerator after all even if my kids aren’t around to see it!

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