I often get on a soap box about how our traditional educational settings don’t allow children to think.  Like, really think, and then let’em go figure out the answer. Then when they get the wrong one, send them back to think some more. I am probably going to catch some heat on this one. But teachers are frustrated by how tight their hands are tied in the classroom. I don’t believe it is there fault. 

Let me explain.

Before ice cream, I worked in the residential summer camp industry. Because of this I know lots of teachers. Strike that, I know lots of awesome teachers. Teachers who could take a lesson in sailing and turn it into the most robust geometry lesson you ever watched and have kids get excited at the sight of a protractor. I’ve watched an outdoor educator measuring stride length of some animal tracks his class found in a muddy spot. His class was able to determine approximately how fast the prey and predator were moving and if the two animals continued this course how far it would be before the predator won. And then, they traveled that potential distance to see if they could find signs to tell them the outcome…good news, the rabbit got away. And I’ve watched a theatre instructor give the most physical lesson on adjectives I have even seen. Just try and act out the color red. See what I mean?

In the cases above, the staff were able to explain how they were connecting these learning lessons back to objectives that we had for the camp and campers in general. I often pontificate if we were able to give our Talent (teachers) in the classroom more opportunity for creativity would they be more successful than the current parameters allow?

As an example, the school my children attend has a music teacher that teaches piano lessons during recess. During the last 4 weeks she has been scheduling lessons with my kids where we set up a computer camera to face their hands on the keyboard and she teaches. This could be an example of administrators leaning on their Talent to develop the answers on how we teach, and the pandemic has effectively removed the roadblocks of some teaching parameters. Those that have embraced this space are leaning on everyone to help solve the problems. I would suggest that this music teacher has potentially found a way to teach piano to homeschool kids, or frankly, any kid that can’t physically come to the school.  The Covid pandemic has forced many organizations into a place of innovation. We are seeing some really cool and meaningful things coming out of schools and businesses alike. 

But Rick, not every kid has a keyboard or computer or…… I know. Stay with me. Keep reading.

Some school systems have yet to develop opportunity for schooling from home. I am sure there are many reasons for this and some of them might be legitimate, but I guarantee that those schools have teachers that are more than willing and capable to figure this out. They (administrators, Board Offices, Government) just have to ask and then get out of the way.  I would bet an ice cream cone that teachers could figure out all the, “But what about’s” mentioned above.

Now. Remove the Pandemic. Is there a situation that your organization/business/you, has/have been plagued with that you haven’t been able to solve?  Is it retention, recruitment, morale, communication, values, etc? Have you looked to your members and employees (or mirror) to help solve the issue? Are you looking in places that you may not have thought about in the past?

The following was my ah ha moment in who needs to be involved in the conversation.

When I first started full time in summer camp some of our biggest program innovations happened when our facilities and maintenance staff were in on the conversation. They weren’t always there until this happened:   

On Tuesday mornings we would have our staff meetings, and then certain people would be dismissed to get back to daily tasks and other meetings would follow. Mostly this was so our facilities staff could be excused. The “All Staff” ended and we took a break. 5 minutes later a programming meeting began. I remember the Exec., after seeing that our new facilities staff member was still there, explain she “didn’t have to stick around for this.”  But she was new and she said, “I thought I would stick around and see if I can be an asset.” I remember leading a conversation to develop a program for girls specifically. When the meeting was over the facilities member pulled me aside and said, “Rick, I would love the opportunity to teach girls how to build something and use tools.”  She did it, and it was awesome! Everyone worked together to make sure that she could be the point person every day to run her class for an hour.

What’s my point?  Stick with me, we’re almost there.

Before this day many of us didn’t value the input of Facilities staff in programming design meetings.  Frankly, the folks down at the maintenance building didn’t think they had much to contribute either.  But three things happened that day: first and foremost we were able to provide a robust program where girls in the class were able to gain some new skill, gain confidence, make some new friends, and learn all of this from a strong woman. Just as important, the facilities staff member felt valued, felt listened to and felt she was contributing in a meaningful way. Lastly, I learned everyone on our staff has an important role and when we are allowed to contribute, beautiful things happen. Problems are solved.

 An added bonus…the doghouse they built went for a pretty penny at an auction. 

So, what does this mean for your organization? Who can you invite to develop great answers to solutions? How do you start these conversations?

Personally, I love using “If” statements to start conversations about innovation:

 “What would it be like if…?” Or

“What would we do if…?” Or,

“What new problems would we have if…?”

These “if” statements identify motivation. Motivation is key in innovation. Motivation is energy and excitement. Your organization will need this to start something new or, (deep breath) challenge the way you are currently doing something.

And then follow “If” statements with “How” and “What” statements like these:

“How would you suggest ….?” And,

“What resources do you think we would need?”

These statements bring about movement. They begin to show what the first steps look like.

At first this won’t look or sound like reality.  Your team will come up with some crazy stuff. Be patient.        

When innovating, it is important to point out that you don’t have to have the answers, but you do have to ask the questions.  When you surround creative and smart people around a challenge, the answer often comes from the places that are unexpected. Especially when you include folks that don’t have any perceived expertise in what you are discussing. 

Pro Tip:  Don’t try to bridle the creative flow.  Dreaming will occur and seem outlandish at the onset. In my experience it always reigns itself in organically. If you are leading these conversations, allow it, listen to it and then guide it….NEVER STIFLE IT!

Facilitator Tip:  If you feel the need to guide some crazy ideas use the “Rule of 5.” It could sound like this, “These are all creative ideas. Keeping in mind our organizational values, if you had to put them in order from most likely to be effective to least likely, what would be your top 5, and why?” Or, “What are the top 5 resources you think we would need to complete this change?”

If you want to have fun with this one? Think about an organization you are a member. Then invite smart people from both in and out of the organization to a conference video call (again, because…Pandemic). Tell them about a problem you want to solve. For example, you may want to start a conversation about how to recruit more members to your business or organization or fundraise more dollars or improve social media presence. Then ask them for suggestions to solve this challenge….AND THEN LISTEN! You’ll be surprised at who the best solutions come from or how this group may be able to solve an issue with combined input.  The only response that you have to give is “Thank You for your feedback.”         

You can’t control a crisis, but you can control how you innovate in it.   

Author’s Note:  I want to give a strong shout out to our teachers. In some cases, they do more than the lion’s share of work in the positive youth development of children. But they are also really smart people and some of the most creative I have ever met.  I wonder what would happen if we removed standardized testing and national curriculums and allowed these classroom technicians to flex their creative might and positively develop our young people? I think it would be a fun conversation to have.

I also want to point out that there is also a big piece missing in this post about Innovation. What is the role emotion plays in innovation but organizations as a whole? Frankly, emotion and emotional intelligence is a topic that must be covered in its own post. It is extremely important. We’ll get to that.