Archive for Innovation

The Hunger Games – allegory — p. 3

By | January 23, 2014 | 0 Comments
Real Life Skills or Career Learning?
This is the third post in my series about lessons we can learn from Hunger Games.  Stay tuned for more posts.  The next one is : 4) the separation within and between regions, cultures and communities
Of course, we are cheering for Katniss to win the competition and her potential is telegraphed early on.  To me, one of the most rewarding aspects of her victory is that she learned her skills and wile in the school of hard knocks, as opposed to the “career” tributes who have been trained to compete in the Hunger Games.  I think the ability to learn life skills as a matter of living rather than as lessons or experiences bought is important.  Likewise, I think the ability to enjoy and embrace the work that is self-sufficiency is key.  I think early steps to learning this is simple work around the house.  I don’t think we can underestimate what we learn through mundane work. [1]  1104deer1_t300
   This was underscored for me recently during the very small snow storm in DC.  A friend posted to Facebook and was looking for someone to shovel a path to her door and to dig her car out.  I suggested that she set her daughters to do it.  She told me that her daughters were spoiled (but sweet) and did not do work.  I maintain, that if you set two kids outside with a challenge (and promise of hot cocoa) that they would not see the effort as work, but as a physical challenge.  My father used to pull my toe to get me out of bed to help with shoveling the driveway on snow days in northern PA, where I grew up.  To this day, I truly enjoy shoveling snow.  I generally do it for our own house and our neighbors in the row where we live.   Recently I have even volunteer’s for our city’s snow deployment team — where I am assigned a house to shovel out.  I am sure that I have that perspective because I was engaged in this work from an early age.  To me, for a kid, digging a car out of two inches of snow is not work, it is project management and problem solving and developing a strong sense of self. It is an early introduction to the satisfaction of hard work.


[1] See Leornard Sax’s book Boy’s Adrift where he discusses boy’s lack of engagement in school is because they are so disconnected from nature and the hands on mechanics of how the physical world works, so they are less interested in learning about it in school when they can’t apply it to anything in their world.

Hunger Games – Allegory for us (part 2)

By | January 13, 2014 | 0 Comments
Last week I started a multi-series blog about The Hunger Games and lessons we can learn for our own Panem (the country of Hunger Games).  More upcoming topics will be:; 3) the distinction between common sense learned from applied learning and that which comes from “training;”  4) the separation within and between regions, cultures and communities.  It occurs to me that this week subtitle could indeed be a cross-over for a popular Reality TV series.
The Price We Pay to Eat—could you kill and eat a squirrel?
Katniss, the main character in The Hunger Games, is poor and from a single parent family.  In order for her family to survive, she enters her name in the reaping lottery for The Hunger Games multiple times over the year.  To explain: in the story a person can get “charity” in exchange for entering his/her name multiple times in the drawing which pulls one girl and one boy’s names for the Hunger Games.  squirrel
In this case, literally poor kids are at greater risk to die simply based on their financial state.  This is the case with Katniss. Again, this is fiction and described a dystopia, but how far a stretch is it to compare to low-income youth in our real world?  Are they also fated to a similar outcome?  Furthermore, illegal activities are vital to Katniss’ family’s survival.  Katniss helps to feed her family through illegal hunting, which she sells to community members.  It is this hunting which ultimately makes her such a good competitor.  Our heroine participates in the black market to make ends meet.  When was the last time we looked at a poor person who was selling illegal things as a hero?  Hmmm – let’s pause to think about this.

Innovation Inflation is ruining us

By | November 12, 2013 | 0 Comments

Daily, I read articles and hear advertisements about innovative new products or concepts.  I must disagree.  There is little true innovation in our daily lives.  By calling anything that is creative innovative, we are de-valuing true innovation.  There is an plenty of creativity and that is a good thing, but creativity and innovation are not the same.  Here is my take on the difference.innovation

Creativity is taking a new approach on an existing issue or task.  For example, in the new Iphone, having a finger print scan is a new take on phone security.  It is creative; it is not innovative. Smart phones, personal secure access and fingerprint scans each already exist and now they are re-combined in a new way.  Creativity is the ability to enhance an existing product of concept through aesthetics, function, or added features.  The finger print scan on the iphone is creative.  It is something that you say “oh cool.”

Innovation operates in a different dimensionInnovation identifies and executes a solution to a problem or need that most do not even realize exists.  The ipod and iphone were innovative.  They changed our access to music (ipod) and ability to manage large amounts of information at our fingertips (iphone).  More importantly, they changed the way that we think about our relationship to information and data.  I maintain that without the iphone, the current quantified self movement, which hopefully will transform health and fitness in positive ways, would not exist.

I also think there is a difference in the level of execution, discipline and perseverance between creative and innovative.  I think of myself as a very creative person.  I can think of ten great ways to try something new or design a system to accomplish a task.  However, my failings come in my ability to think harder, look differently and persevere through boredom and frustration to be truly innovative in identifying a need or articulating a solution that defines an undefined problem, or changes how or whether we think (or act) about something.

 The distance between creative and innovative is great and requires three important qualities.  The first is focus and perspective.  These are two sides of the same coin.  We must be able to focus on an issue or task to see its minutiae and to endure challenges.  I think of my nine-year old friend Charles who can sit for hours and make original origami and I think that someday he will have the patience to wade through complex problems and see them in a new light.  At the same time of seeing the detail, a person has to have perspective on the scope of the issue and understand where it fits, or cteetertotteran fit in the larger context.  Achieving both of these things can be like running across a teeter-totter, bumpy.

 The second quality is the ability to see the problems.  One quality that I often don’t like about myself is that I can have a glass half-empty mindset when looking at almost anything.  Although I maintain that this is my saving grace in terms of coming up with new solutions and not settling for okay.  I am confident that this quality will help me be innovative.  And I have learned how to wrestle the inner-critic when I need to, especially as a manager.

The third quality is endurance and comfort with ambiguity.  Individuals working towards innovation have to be comfortable with long periods of being lost and not being able to quite put their finger on the problem.   True innovation takes a great deal of poking, prodding, defining and re-defining a problem and a solution.  In our world of instantaneous everything, I think the patience and ability to be comfortable with unsolved problems will become more rare, yet more valuable.