Teaching innovation begs two questions: what to teach and how to teach it. For me, innovation begins with the generation of new ideas, so I emphasize cognitive methods such as Systematic Inventive Thinking (SIT). I learned it from Amnon Levav and his colleagues while I was at Johnson & Johnson. It's superior to other methods I've tried, so I continue teaching and using it in practice.
What's the best way to teach it? To master innovation, you must experience it. I find Action Learning is the best instructional approach for innovation.
"Action learning is an educational process where participants study their own actions and experience in order to improve performance. Learners acquire knowledge through actual actions and practice rather than through traditional instruction. Action learning is done in conjunction with others, in small groups called action learning sets. It is proposed as particularly suitable for adults, as it enables each person to reflect on and review the action they have taken and the learning points arising. This should then guide future action and improve performance."
Action Learning is spreading to industry and academia. This week, the 17th Global Forum on Executive Development and Business Driven Action Learning kicks off in Yokohama, Japan. About 100 human resource practitioners, educators, and consultants in the field of Action Learning attend it each year. I have attended the conference since 2003. Dr. Yury Boshyk, the conference chairman, is the leader of this community of practice and a big proponent in the application of Action Learning to methods like SIT.
Here is how I employ the action learning approach when teaching innovation techniques:
- Start with an activation exercise - a story, puzzle, video, etc - that links to the technique
- Reflect on the exercise. What is the key message of the exercise?
- Introduce the technique. Describe the steps in using it.
- Demonstrate it on something the group is familiar with.
- Working in pairs or individually, have the group use the technique with each taking a different component.
- Review the ideas generated so that people see the value of the technique.
- Reflect on whether these ideas would have been generated without the technique.
- Re-do the exercise with a product or service relevant to the group’s organization - as a group, then in pairs, each taking a separate component.
- Reflect on the exercise and the results.
- Share examples of products generated with the technique. Have the group reflect on why each is an example of the pattern.
- Ask the group for their own examples of products they believe follow the same pattern.
- Metacognition: what insight or surprising element emerged from the session?
By coincidence, a former student of mine (now president of DHL in Japan) is attending the same conference. He learned SIT from me in 2007, and he still uses it today - thanks to Action Learning.