How Do We Create Innovators?

18 February 2015

Before you read this review please note that I read this book as someone who wants to learn more about building innovative environments for vendors and potential employees. I am not an educator.


In Creating Innovators, Tony Wagner explains how we as mentors, leaders, parents and teachers need to improve the development of young, potential innovators in order to help solve prominent economic and social challenges. And I believe him. Innovation is needed in every industry.

In many respects, we’re stifling youth development and innovation with outdated/traditional teaching methods and uninspiring office environments. I’ve felt trapped and uninspired at one point in every stage of my life.

Economies worldwide are struggling, poverty is widespread and technologies are both contributing new possibilities and crushing old ones. What people are doing today will be old news tomorrow. The world needs people who can identify constraints, define problems and inefficiencies, and make difficult decisions in favor of societal improvement and advancement.


A Playground Mentality

When I look back at my childhood I can remember the joy I experienced from building things. I loved building structures and spaceships from Legos, then briefly admiring them not even long enough for them to collect dust …or until my mother intervened. She was a real stickler for a clean living room!

But I never really enjoyed playing with my already-assembled Legos. For me, the joy came from the process of building. The gratification for me came (and still stems) from experimenting, learning how to solve problems, evaluating, learning how to take existing systems/practices/Lego instruction manuals and adapting them…and improving them.

Tony Wagner explores the question that constantly runs through my head: What happened to playing?

Wagner points out that many schools (at least in the US) are designed to produce high standardized test scores and “college-ready” students. Many colleges and universities are designed to produce graduate level-ready students. You may disagree with those statements but my point is, the main focus is usually not on producing innovative people. A lot of us have already lost that fearless, innovative spirit that once flourished on playgrounds and in playrooms. 


Play, Passion and Purpose.

The world needs innovators. We need them everywhere. We need innovation in science, in education, in infrastructure, in finance, in culinary arts, in plumbing and so on. And Wagner explains that innovation stems from a less traditional way of educating that thrives off of these following intrinsic motivations: Play, Passion and Purpose.

As a teacher herself, my girlfriend finds innovative ways to motivate and excite her young students everyday. Admittedly, she’s the one who told me about this book which presents evidence and methods on how we can better prepare our youth for a world that’s truly ripe for disruption. And someday her students, the ones who may have come to school with unimaginative, obedient minds, will leave with fearless, inventive minds en route to becoming some of the world’s next innovators.

I think there’s something for everyone in this book if you can get through the number of stories Wagner tells. It can get repetitive and slow down. But this explorative read is designed to help us understand what we can do to help nurture the qualities of innovators – whether you’re dealing with students or professionals. And in order to do that, it requires reflecting on who you are as a human being, identifying what’s important to you, identifying why you’re on this earth and then translating that deeper understanding into a leadership platform.

Most importantly, innovation flourishes upon creating an empowering culture that feeds on the mentioned intrinsic motivations of Play, Passion and Purpose allowing ideas–both good and bad–to foster.