The Sources of Innovation

What produces innovation? Why does there seem to be such an abundance of it in serious fields like medicine and computer technology and trivial ones like online dating, but so little in education, arguably the most important of human activities?

First, let me support my premise, that schooling is largely bereft of innovation. A doctor or an auto mechanic from the 1950’s, if dropped into today’s hospital or garage, would be baffled. A teacher from the 50’s, however, would feel pretty darn comfortable in today’s classrooms. Maybe the desks wouldn’t be attached to the floor, and perhaps the blackboards would have been replaced by whiteboards, but there’d be bells every 50 minutes or so, attendance to be taken, and interruptions by the principal. I rest my case.

InnovationBack to why: The thirst for money, prestige and fame are reliable spurs of innovation. Living in Silicon Valley as I do, I’ve seen plenty of evidence of that. Unfortunately, public education is not the road to travel if your goals are money, prestige and fame.

Another spur to innovate is a supportive but challenging environment, one in which failure is seen as an opportunity to learn, not a stain. Does that describe most schools? I don’t think so.

John Doerr’s New Schools Venture Fund is working to recreate in education some of the conditions that have spurred Silicon Valley’s growth. That’s an uphill battle with a number of hurdles standing in the way, including a ‘one size fits all’ mentality and a glut of ‘experts’.

Education’s ‘one size fits all’ approach to evaluating and paying teachers has to dampen enthusiasm for trying new approaches. Why bother if you aren’t going to be rewarded? Continue reading