What powers learning and innovation in school? In business?
(Originally published Nov 17, 2021 on Medium.com)
Imagine for a moment that you have just climbed onto a bus with your team.
Maybe you know where you’re going, maybe you don’t. But you want to go somewhere. Somewhere where everyone can learn. Where innovation can happen.
But the bus won’t start.
You check under the hood and it becomes instantly clear what’s happened.
There’s no engine.
This is as far as you’re going.
You sigh and climb back onto the bus to tell everyone what you found.
You ask for ideas on how to get the bus to move. Inevitably someone will suggest a workshop where everything will be discussed and examined except for the bit about the missing engine.
It will feel like work, but it won’t result in motion. Morale will begin to plummet. Gossip will begin to spread. Progress will falter. Motivation will evaporate. This seems like a lot of nonsense, but yet this is how many leaders interact with their teams. This is how they try to power the bus of innovation.
The idea is that if leaders get the right people on the bus (the team) then the group can help direct and navigate the bus towards Destination: Innovation. Which is partially true, but this truth only matters if there’s an engine.
A lot of learning, and a busload of innovation work, goes unrealized on teams and in classrooms because the key component to both is either underutilized or absent from the rest of the design.
One of the greatest motivators for students and professionals alike is curiosity. It makes the learning and the innovation happen. In one of his famous Ted Talks, the late Sir Ken Robinson called curiosity “the engine of human achievement”, and he was right.
And yet most teams and classrooms board the bus with everything except the thing they need to carry all of them into new and exciting territory.
Innovation. Growth. New ideas. Breaking the status quo. All of this requires a commitment to providing a safe space in our work and in our learning environments where people can ask questions. Where they can experiment. Where they can try, fail, learn, and repeat.
A place where curiosity is the designed default in the culture.