Daily Archives: June 26, 2008

Design and Innovation with Arnold Wasserman

Arnold Wasserman is the man behind The Idea Factory. I discovered him thanks to a recent interview by Joan Badger and Ben Hazzard for their SMARTBoard Lessons Podcast.

Wasserman echoes Sir Ken Robinson in saying that we all come hard wired to be creative, and we then teach that feature right out of our children as they progress through school.

In discussing his company’s work with Singapore’s education system, Wasserman asks how we go about reintroducing our two hemispheres to one another, and concludes that we need to figure out how to use the ideas of K-6 education in the upper grades. He says:

“The brain knows how to be creative and the mind gets in its way.”

In other words, as we get older (and more “educated”) the mind encounters enough information that it begins to put a harness on the brain, stifling it from using ideas that do not mesh with the reality to which the mind has been exposed.

Wasserman references Google’s 80/20 rule as a way to nurture innovation. The rule states that employees can spend twenty percent of their time focused on their own ideas. This allows “the mind to get out of the way of the brain.”

“The Learning Journey” is a method that his company uses to “get the mind out of the way of the brain” by shakings things up. He suggests that to innovate it helps to see how innovation is working in other fields in order to understand how innovation works, in general, as opposed to within a specific field.

Wasserman’s tips to discover the principles of innovation:
First – see how it is done in other fields
Then – try to solve a problem in yet another field, completely different from your own (the proverbial “sandbox”)
Now – translate this to your field

The main reason for getting out of your comfort zone and exploring a completely different field, where you then have to solve a problem, is that “expertise is the killer of innovation.” The more you know about your own field, the more difficult it is to innovate. What is required is to “think back into the company from the minds of those outside it.”

This last bit reminds me of teaching. It is said that the best way to learn something is to have to teach it, and I agree with this concept. However, sometimes if you know a thing too well, it becomes very difficult to think back into the learning from the mind of someone who is struggling to learn that very thing. Yet more food for thought for educators on summer break.