QUESTION: What is worthy of understanding in "innovation"?

"You mean to say they've taken what we thought we think and made us think we thought our thoughts we've been thinking our thoughts we think we thought... You think?" Patrick

Start capturing your thinking about innovation here ... [scroll down to the bottom if you want to add a note about the page edit for the page history log]

Just like our struggle with the idea of "knowledge building," the term "innovation" means different things to different people. What is innovation? How does it fit in the Key Competency Thinking? Why do we value innovation? Why would we want it in schools? What does innovation look like in classrooms? How would we recognise innovation? Can we teach for innovation? Can we provide environments that nurture innovation? Can we learn to be innovative? (Pam)

“act of liberation … the defeat of habit by originality.

”The cognitive characteristics of “creative thinking”, the creative act, have been characterised by Koestler (1970 p98), as an “act of liberation … the defeat of habit by originality.”

New Zealand schools valuing creativity are influenced by Torrance (1962); indeed “fluency, flexibility, originality and elaboration” have become default criteria for what constitutes creativity in many schools. I believe that this mantra misrepresents infrequency as a form of originality, and overvalues elaboration and fluency in the creative process. If we are genuine in valuing the “no. 8 gauge fencing wire” thinking in our culture then we need to explore wider understandings of creative thinking and innovation.(Pam)

It appears that the term creativity and innovation will be as elusive as other terms of eduspeak to define.This just creates more questions as to how we are meant to teach/assess creatvity.?In my mind in order to be creative you need to think deeply about a subject matter-we have to be a master in our fieldand an expert in our discipline.To do this students need real time to explore and think deeply about what they are learning.How is this going to happen in schools as they are structured now?Between the hours of nine to three it feels like a pressure cooker already as we grapple with numeracy,literacy and other requirements and I am uncertain that the new curriculum draft addresses this.
Another question that has also intrigued me is that to be skilled at creating and innovating do you need to be more than passionate about a chosen field do you need to have an obsession? ( By Joves!)

Ahh Joves "grappling" in my experience is always associated with obsession - to gapple is to grab, to grab is to lurch, to lurch is to tilt, to tilt is to teeter, to teeter is to be out of control, to be out of control is to fall like a stone - these are not the actions of a passionate and measured mind - they are in truth an indicator of something out of control - an obsession - in truth passion without obsession is a lacklustre and overly bland experience. (pam 24/9/06)

Something new under the sun

Someone said, there is nothing new under the sun. I think the 'new' thing is a result of innovative thinking and it is simply a rearrangement of what is already there be it matter, knowledge etc. It is seeing, merging, imagining and 'creating' something which appears to be new. I understand innovation to be a re-arrangement of something already known by a person who thinks in different lines or patterns. Lin [3/92006]

Do you think Lin that people who can think in different lines or patterns know stuff without necessarily being able to say how they know it? "the heart has its reasons that reason cannot know" And if so where do these sudden aha moments come from? It seems to me that innovation is all about "feeling" and in schools we dismiss feeling in favour of "knowing". (Pam) [3/9/2006]

I guess "feeling" is not good enough in that it's not referenced. Haha. (cK) [3/9/2006]
Ahh cK ... you have nailed the essential challenge ... and the deceit that purports to be innovation in the context of schools (Pam) [4/9/2006]

Innovation could also be seen as the creation of a new need that people now can't do without (ipods, Oral-B brush-ups, Subway sandwiches) - (Graham Wegner, Adelaide, 10/9/06)

Innovation defined by mass media - intersting thought Graham - and probably more honest than anything that has gone before or after - ratings and dollars already define what counts (we are told) as news - is logical to extend this to innovation and education - or at least to expose the influence of dollars and mass media in educational reform - riding the knowledge wave and all that (Pam11/9/06)

While innovators can be said to be creative, can it also be said that all creativity is also innovation? ( Antre - 15/9)

I go back to Confucius. He said (Book VII - The Analects) ) : I transmit (knowledge) but do not innovate;.......I never enlighten anyone who has not been driven to distraction by trying to understand a difficulty or who has not gone into a frenzy trying to put his ideas into words.......' I understand from my readings that Confucius thought all further knowledge or innovations came from knowledge first. The grappling of the knowledge and being frustrated with what is known might lead to further knowledge and then innovation? Is innovation knowledge building/torturing/twisting/understanding? Lin

Originality plus appropriateness

Being innovative and creative is something which occurs when a new idea/way of working is matched well to a context. (Ann)
I agree Ann, originality has only been necessary and sufficient in the arts and perhaps literature – innovation in other endeavours like dentistry certainly requires both originality and appropriateness.
  • Mrs. Sol Schwimmer is suing me because I made her bridge as I felt it and not to fit her ridiculous mouth! That's right! I can't work to order like a common tradesman! I decided her bridge should be enormous and billowing, with wild, explosive teeth flaring up in every direction like fire! Now she is upset because it won't fit in her mouth! She is so bourgeois and stupid, I want to smash her! I tried forcing the false plate in but it sticks out like a star burst chandelier. Woody Allen "If the Impressionists Had Been Dentists."

I am interested in how we deal with the vulnerability of the creative personality in schools/ and staffrooms and society - "The man who invented fire was probably burned at the stake." Ayn Rand How do we deal with the fact that “by encouraging creativity we are encouraging a departure from society's existing norms and values.” stuff? There is some new research on how to deal with the creative schizoid in business that is quite revealing. Have commented about here (Pam) [4/9/06]

Knowing something deeply

Douglas Hofstadter's idea is "Variations on a Theme as the Crux of Creativity" (a 1982 essay in Metamagical Themas) . This implies a few things. You probably have to know something deeply before you can come up with a good variation. It has been said that it takes 10 years to learn a field deeply, eg. Mozart, started at 5 yo and was a master by 15 yo. One educational implication is that it is important to spend time on basic skills as part of approaching the creative edge. I think the fluency part of the mantra is important. It also implies that slippage is a part of concepts within themselves, you don't necessarily need to juxtapose two ideas together (Koestler's bisociative requirement) because things naturally divide anyway, just like the elementary particles of physics are always dividing into something new. This is a critique of Koestler's work.
Extract from Hofstadter: The notion ("Variations on a theme") encompasses knobs, parameter, slippability, counterfactual conditionals, subjunctives, "almost" situations, implicospheres (things that never were but we can't help seeing anyway), conceptual skeletons, mental reifications, memory retrieval - and more

Howard Gardner (Multiple Intelligences) said in one of his books that it was important to encourage young people to learn one thing really well

Marvin Minsky (Society of Mind 7.10):
... in order to accumulate outstanding qualities, one needs unusually effective ways to learn. It's not enough to learn a lot; one also has to manage what one learns. Those masters have, beneath the surface of their mastery, some special knacks of "higher order" expertise, which help them organise and apply the things they learn. It is those hidden tricks on mental management that produce the systems that create those works of genius. Why do certain people learn so many more and better skills? These all important differences could begin with early accidents. One child works out clever ways to arrange some blocks in rows and stacks; a second child plays at rearranging how it thinks. Everyone can praise the first child's castles and towers, but no one can see what the second child has done, and one may even get the false impression of a lack of industry. But if the second child persists in seeking better ways to learn, this can lead to silent growth in which some better ways to learn may lead to better ways to learn to learn. Then, later, we'll observe an awesome, qualitative change, with no apparent cause - and give to it some empty name like talent, aptitude, or gift

If correct, the section of the Minsky quote, that I have bolded, has tremendous implications for organised education, with its emphasis on measurement. Keeping everyone busy on tasks that can be measured may undermine creativity and innovation.
- Bill Sep 9

Think this is very significant Bill - I worry about creativity and innovation of diverse students being measured, evaluated and "rewarded" by the "middle classes" who make up the paid workforce in schools.

Our approach to teaching creativity in schools seems to imply the understanding that teaching the creative process will necessarily lead to creative outcome that is marked by originality. For example, The British National Curriculum in Action Project - Creativity, Culture, and Education, describes the characteristics of creativity in the context of schools as
  • “Thinking or behaving imaginatively;
  • imaginative activity is purposeful;
  • creative processes must generate something original, and
  • creative outcome must be of value in relation to the objective,”
Department for Education and Skills (DfEE) Report, 1999 p30).

This understanding hinges on our interpretation of originality and innovation, for to recognise innovation requires that some things remain the same. We need to ask Should we attempt to measure innovation? How can we (teachers) reliably and validly recognise the context of innovation of students? Do we expect that the insertion of strategies like SCAMPER and synectics will allow everyone to be innovative? How will we recognise innovation if every student is thinking innovatively, in an original way?” (Pam)

Koestler's "bisociative act"

Koestler (1970) argues that creative activity, be it in humour, discovery or art is the result of a bisociative act. These are acts that juxtapose two ideas that normally do not get thought of together. Bisociation demands flexibility and establishes an unstable equilibrium that leads to creative originality. Understanding Koestler’s argument would lead educators to rich frameworks for building creative endeavour such as the bisociation involved in Fraser’s work with young New Zealanders on building creativity through metaphor, (Fraser 2000).(Pam)

I'm interested in Koestler's conceptualisation of creativity in terms of a "bisociative act"... it is linking for me to the notion of genius and reminding me of William James' definition of genius as simply "perceiving in an unhabitual way". So often as teachers, and individuals, I think we perceive those who demonstrate innovation in their thinking and doing to be doing so out of some separate/ entirely unique domain or by utilising some thinking processes beyond the normal powers of those of us mere mortals who struggle to form coherent thoughts at the end of the day. I'm therefore fascinated by the idea that 'all' that genius requires (and I'm using this term loosely I recognise)is that one see, as it were, in a way that has not necessarily been seen before - or in other words, Koestler's linking of two concepts, notions, aspects that have not been linked before. It makes me wonder if we would not find more innovation in schools if we demystified the notion for our students and ourselves and started actually valuing those individuals who are able, without any input/thanks from us, to think outside the box on a regular basis. But then, as has already been raised by a few others in the discussion, our schooling structure seems to exist as a behemoth that only serves to perpetuate status quo in the narrowest, rationally quantifiable sense. There doesn't seem, in current structures anyway, to be any real avenue for those geniuses out there - perhaps this is the important purpose for wikispaces as I'm just typing this now... thinking perhaps it is the vehicle and the road for mapping out dichotomies, connections and previously unconnected people and thoughts in order to allow a space for genius and innovation to rise with the froth... Lynne 4/09/2006

Arthur Koestler's The Act of Creation (1964)is such an amazing book Lynne. You should borrow it some time. I believe we trivialise what creativity might be in New Zealand schools with our extended brainstorming - SCAMPER and mantras of Fluency/ Flexibility/ Originality/ Elaboration.
I also love Root Bernstein's Sparks of Genius (Mariner Books). His observing/ imaging/ abstracting/ recognising patterns/ forming patterns/ anaalogising/ body thinking/ empathising/ dimensional thinking/ modeling/ playing/ transforming/synthesising would align so well with the creative mathematical mind.
Am certain that we could value creativity more - and the new draft curriculum might well faciliate this in an institution that focused on the needs of the creative individual or team of individuals rather than the needs of the institution. But if we don't know how to teach for innovation we are probably better putting our energy into ensuring the creatives survive their compulsory education undamaged rather than pretending we can help them flourish with extended brainstorming lessons
And the wiki as a tool for connecting the unconnected - clever - they are free, can be stripped of advertising if associated with education - can be as complex or as simple as you desire - and can be locked down to a few or opened up to the multitude - wikis have heaps of potential for educators - they are very cool (Pam 4/9/06)

On being vulnerable

It is worth noting that novel and innovative thought does not sit comfortably within institutions. The curious mind, the question, and the questioner are not necessarily valued or encouraged in society, let alone in staffrooms and classrooms. Moltzen, describing the early educational experiences of highly achieving creative New Zealand adults, uses the descriptors “fraught and miserable”, (Moltzen, 2004).(Pam)

Innovation necessitates taking risks by exposing our explorations of our thinking. Because it is innovation it is not yet known/accepted and therefore risky. That is why innovation is often experienced in the privacy of our minds - and stays there. LIN

A retreat to that "happy place" Lin - I know it well But then I cannot seem to help leaking (Pam) [5/9/06]

I guess one of the bad things about being creative/innovative/different is that people are scared/weary of your ideas and think you're weird, which has already been discussed. But I think the most annoying and frustrating thing about being different is that some people treat this as 'simply' a reaction, a need by that individual to be different - as if the person being creative is merely being different for the sake of it or for attention. I thought that being innovative was coming up with a creative idea/solution to a specific problem that may or may not be known before that innovative solution. (cK)

Those who are vulnerable - made to feel weird, odd, or simply in need of a complete personality transplant need to exit the gaol created by confined and restrictive thinking and find wider, more open, and accepting spaces. Not always easy to do of course, in which case the answer appears to be to close down, withdraw and become invisible. It never ceases to amaze me how many intentional or unintentional gaols are created in classrooms and schools or how many people love to wallow in confined thinking. As we appear to be awash with Robben Islands in this world I highly recommend a good quiet long read of Nelson Mandela's 'Long Walk to Freedom' for inspiration for those who are inclined to leak. For those who do not understand the vulnerable and for others who need to know their experiences and reactions are so essentially human, try reading "Reading Lolita in Tehran" by Azar Nafisi (Review,12084,1039915,00.html) for a understanding of the everyday reactions to living with oppression. The similarities will amaze you. (Antre 15/9)

Ballet Russe

I went to Ballet Russe tonight and one amazing ballerina said that she admired another ballerina who was innovative - she transformed a known, traditional sequence of dance by her personal inner feelings and gave it a new meaning/style. I still think innovation (what leaks out of you, Pam) comes from within that quirky mind which sees things differently to others/what is expected or known and manifests this new 'idea' so that others receive reconstituted/transformed messages - one mind to another via something physical or tangible. LIN

I too saw Ballet Russe and was transported to another world. However I am wondering, if innovation is based on personal feelings and comes from within, surely all people are innovative? We all have unique feelings and ways in which to express them. What makes one person's innovation more important or valued, than anothers? The ballet dancers were certainly creating something new and using "fluency, flexibility, originality and elaboration" however, in this situation, I think the other definition - "the defeat of habit by originality" is more applicable. The second definition perhaps captures the intangible nature of innovation? (Cheetah)
Am beginning to suspect I am the only person on the wiki who has not been to see Ballet Russe. Whilst I must sympathise with your creeping solipsism [is a common psychological condition of educators in week 8 of term3] I have to contest your claim "surely all peopel are innovative" - all people are special but innovation requires an additional sense of unique or rare or unusual insight - unique by definition requires that we cannot all be responsible for the ideas we count as "out there" If we are all out there - then out there becomes the norm - the status quo.To recognise innovation requires that some things remain the same. The telling question is “How will we recognise innovation if every student is thinking innovatively, in an original way?” (Pam) [7/9/06]

No not the only one Pam though I stood in the theatre and considered it then opted for alternatives - Mrs P @ the Claremont and Russian Dolls both of which I also recommend. Thanks to those who recommend Ballet Russe. I'll now make the effort to try and see it. Have arrived at the wiki a little late after much prompting from Pam and have been intrigued by this discussion about innovation - hooked so to speak!. (Antre 15/9)

Revolution versus Evolution

Understanding innovation is something I have been grappling with recently and find it is a quite muddied area of understanding. I am interested in the notion of innovation in the context suggested here - can innovation be considered to be the same as creative interpretation or enhanced skills? Can an individual working within such a heavily a rule bound area such as ballet be innovative? If so are such people necessary to create and sustain interest in what is no longer an innovation but has become part of our understanding of traditional genre. Salman Rushdie has quite a bit to say on this in relation to reinvigoration of the novel in his series of essays called "Step across this line". And what does this say about what innovation is - is it small steps to slowly and surely evolving change? Or is it really more about those giant steps that wo/mankind can sometimes take? (Antre - 15/9)

How do we recognise innovation is also a good question? Is innovation akin to beauty and recognition of such dependent on the beholder? (Antre - 15/9)

Think this is a good question to grapple with Antre, we keep demanding innovation
  • "For New Zealand, the development of a prosperous and confident knowledge society means the development of new skills and knowledge. It will require a culture of continuous enquiry, innovation and improvement, risk taking, and entrepreneurship. This can only come from the education system." Steve Maharey June 2006 Enabling the 21st Century Learner.
but what are our criteria - do we have some generic identificatory targets - Would we recognise innovation when we trod on it or would we (as i suspect) merely scrape it off the bottom of our shoe and lobby for more pooper scooper regulations. (Pam 15/9/06) Which leads me to think about how we might do it if we knew what it was (perhaps if we know what it is then it is no longer innovation?)

In terms of creating innovation in education once we know what it is I quite like Christopher D Sessums post on Transforming Learning: revolution versus evolution And as you might expect I sit with revolution
[At the conference he attended] The revolutionaries argued that
  • change is a cultural issue that requires commitment from all stakeholders – teachers, managers, and students;
  • an evolutionary approach was essentially “revolution for those who lack conviction;”
  • the evolutionary process is a “perpetual series of disappointments;”
  • dabbling as such equals the death knell of transformation;
  • managers fear commitment (because they are mostly men); and
  • the evolutionary process is like a falling feather, whereas a revolutionary process is like the flight of an arrow.
The evolutionaries argued that
  • transformation is about people;
  • widespread consultation and buy-in is needed between stakeholders in order to plan, prepare, and communicate effectively;
  • transformation takes time and training;
  • reflection and evaluation is what an evolutionary process is all about; and
  • that an evolutionary process is careful, nurturing, iterative process, that requires lots of evaluation and reevaluation as transformation occurs.
Sessums interpretation is more profound - check out Bill's clarification below](Pam15/9/06)

I'd like to explore (seek the views of others here) on the meanings of the words revolution and evolution. I visited the Christopher D Sessums link and think it's necessary to read more than the section quoted by Pam above to pick up on his interpretation. These words (revolution, evolution) are deeply contested, you can see this when advertising companies start to promote things that were previously feared as too subversive to mention (eg. Che Geuvara lip gloss ads, revolution as trendy buzzword). My take on this is that revolution arises when there is social ferment, that many people feel that change has to happen and that it is being blocked by those in power and that efforts towards evolutionary change have been made but have not succeeded. Revolution is not seen as necessary by the majority until such conditions arise. Revolution is about a radical rupture in ideas (new ideas conflict with traditional, entrenched ideas) and that that is then transformed into some sort of political event, which alters social relations in a signficant way. eg. the overthrow of apartheid in South Africa is an (uncontroversial?) example. It's difficult for me to imagine a revolutionary process arising out of rapid technological change, without it spilling over into the political arena in a big way.

Some further extracts from the Christopher D Sessum post. The first two better capture my understanding of the meanings of the words.
Evolution -
"As a metaphor, evolution suggests an organic, natural process, and as such an institution can be seen as a living organism with specific traits that grow, change, and adapt allowing it to survive over several generations. This metaphor also hints at the notion of change over an undefined amount of time. Biologically, one associates evolution as taking place over thousands and millions of years, thus setting up the desire for bringing about change at a more rapid pace (i.e., to keep up with the changes in society). Information technologies have evolved at such a blinding pace over the past few decades which in turn have left many universities and schools scrambling and reacting slowly at best."
Revolution -
"Revolution, on the other hand, frames the notion of change as relatively sudden and drastic process – as a rebellion. In some cases, revolutions are led by a majority of a particular populace, in other cases, by a small band of radicals. Revolution hints at a violent overthrowing of one body over another, as perhaps one set of unsanctioned ideas offered against the prevailing norms. Revolution can also be considered a process of social change that involves breaking away and replacing a particular status-quo, thus transforming a society."
Other metaphors -
"Is framing the debate of transformation as an evolutionary or revolutionary process the correct way to look at the current situation? Might there be a better set of metaphors? How might the notion of emergence fit this proposition? What might Paulo Freire think?"

wrt this last quote, Virginia Postrel ('The Future and its Enemies') says that words such as "left" and "right" have lost their meaning and posits a statist / dynamist dichotomy.
(Bill Sep 16)

Ahh Bill you are right to correct my sloppy and careless extraction - what i pulled from the post was not the analysis but the raw content from the conference - [have square bracketed my sloppiness above] Christopher's analysis is where the insight and real interest lies. I like your comment or challenge to words that hold/ reinforce simplistic dichotomist positions. Words are treacherous in this way - so prone to limited and predjudicial interpretation - I guess is what leads Jay Cross to post about terms like "Blogs"
  • "It’s time for us to come up with a vocabulary that’s not an obstacle to installing learning technology. Take the word blog. For some people, the word sets off alarm bells. They envision amateurs, threatening hackers, neo-nazis, the Drudge Report, people obsessed with kittens, semi-literates, unverifiable nonsense, spammers, porno freaks, political extremists, teen age confessionals, MySpace flirts, people who are out of control and lawsuits waiting to happen. It’s enough to give disruptive technology a bad name.So let’s not speak of blogs or slimeheads. Let’s talk about Project Logs. Or Collaborative Project Documentation. Or Knowledge Logs. Or professional journals."

I like blogs but have had more intense conversations in past lives about the use of the term "gifted" - I stuck with gifted but it sure does alienate educators in New Zealand, and perhaps it limits what might happen for kids (Pam 16/9/06))

What others think ....

Torrance E.P. (1987) Teaching for Creativity. In Isaksen, S. G. Ed. Frontiers of Creativity Research: Beyond the Basics. pp189-215. Buffalo, NY. Bearly Ltd

Westby, E. and V. L. Dawson (1995) Creativity: Asset or Burden in the Classroom?Creativity Research Journal Volume 8, Issue 1