Innovation has always flourished in the United States. With a shared conviction that the future can be consciously shaped for the better, Americans have innovated in every technological and social field imaginable, and they keep on innovating. One might say that innovation is part of American DNA, a part that has played a vital role in building a strong, diversified economy that offers amazing opportunities to its citizens.
But this innovation capacity must not be taken for granted. The study and workshop described in these pages show that it is important and feasible to help innovators discover their talents and contribute to the nation’s capacity for innovation. Education—at all levels—is the key. With an educational culture that encourages and promotes innovation, the United States can sustain its technological leadership for generations to come.
As this monograph makes clear, educating for innovation is complicated and, in many ways, a nascent discipline. There is no “one-solution-fits-all” approach to innovation education. Efforts to promote innovation in the workplace are very different from those appropriate to a 6th grade science classroom, for example. And even in the same educational venture, students with different capabilities and strengths will need different approaches to bring out their capacity to innovate. Moreover, no models exist for evaluating innovation programs at any level, nor are there established ways of predicting the innovation capacity of a student.
This project was the first major step toward a more rigorous study of innovation and the factors that encourage and discourage it. It has yielded new, valuable insights from thoughtful discussions with 60 exceptional innovators from numerous fields. Each one of them participated in the study hoping that the richness of their experiences and thoughts could help enhance the United States’ innovation capacities. From the workshop itself came lively contributions from stakeholders in industry, government, and all levels of education.
We have deliberately avoided imparting a framework to consolidate the insights and opinions from the workshop—and that, we feel, adds to this monograph’s strengths. Educators and other professionals can use insights from the workshop’s unedited discussions in ways that make the most sense in their environments. And that use will
in turn lead to more research and a better understanding of how to help all kinds of students become innovators.
It is common to close with a “call to action” followed by a bullet-pointed list of recommendations. Perhaps in the future, when more research on educating for innovation has been done, such a list will exist. For now, however, our call to action for educators is simple: Use this monograph. Use its insights to develop “educate to innovate” programs in departments, classrooms, training courses, or even small groups of students. Develop metrics for evaluating such programs, and discuss your successes and failures with others trying to teach innovation. For leaders in academia and industry: Encourage your educators to use this monograph and develop mini-laboratories for strengthening innovation, and develop lines of communication that broaden the conversation about education for innovation.
Everyone interested in innovation can find something in this monograph to inspire them. We hope that such inspiration translates into new initiatives and partnerships to improve education for innovation—because it is clear that innovation can, indeed, be taught—and thus sustain the United States’ position as an innovation leader for years to come.