Saturday, December 6, 2014

How to boost creativity in your organization?

Creativity drives problem solving, innovation and entrepreneurship. It is a critical skill (and mindset) that leads to new and more efficient solutions to existing problems. It also enables individuals and organizations to find ways to address customers’ needs as a differentiating factor. In theory, creativity is widely praised and desired. But, in reality, creative solutions are often met with pushback, reluctance and even hostility.

"Being creative is going to be associated with a lot of failure," says Dr. Lynne Vincent, co-author of Outside Advantage: Can Social Rejection Fuel Creative Thought? "You have to have the confidence to persevere and continue on past the hurdles and barriers."
People say they value creativity, but in reality they celebrate the successful outcome of its implementation.  

I have seen many organizations stuck in a creativity slump as their employees focus too much on what they’re working on and they don’t see the forest for the trees.
One question I am asked often times is: how do I boost creativity in my organization?

1. Find inspiration in your mission statement. A mission statement should tell the world why you are in business, what’s your real purpose of doing business. An inspirational, motivated purpose will offer endless possibilities where creativity has no limits. For instance,
Lego’s mission: “inspire and develop the builders of tomorrow”. Their purpose is to inspire & develop children to think creatively, reason systematically and release their potential to shape their own future – experiencing their endless human possibility.

When you look at a problem, don’t look at it as a whole. Take it apart in pieces and start building a solution with the pieces in a different way. As an example, the Indianapolis Zoo knew they were facing a major issue with the new orangutan exhibit: an increase of 30% in attendance. Looking at the attendance and parking problem as a whole, they saw an immediate solution: expand the parking lot. This meant raising more funds to build a new parking lot, with the challenge of having an empty lot when the attendance is low. By taking the problem apart, they realized that they had to better manage the flow of visitors across the week, versus trying to fix a massive visitor influx on the weekend. They introduced a dynamic pricing, spreading attendance more evenly between busy and low periods, thus controlling the parking issue and providing a better experience to the visitors every single day.

3. Educate yourself. I personally spend a lot of time reading blogs, business books, watching videos like TED talks… I enjoy learning about new things, challenging my thinking, expand my horizon. As much I like to challenge people on how they think, I like to be challenged myself too.

4. Schedule unstructured meetings with your co-workers. Have one of them explain a challenge (s)he is facing, or an idea (s)he has, and start brainstorming as a group. It does not have to be work related, but debating and exchanging ideas with people you see on a regular basis is vital for bonding and strengthening relationships in the work place.

5. Get away from familiar places. I personally don’t like to spend my entire week in the office. I like to go places: Starbucks, a client’s office, networking event… We humans are creatures of habit, we like the comfort of the routine, of what we are familiar with. In order to change my mindset, I flee my normal work setting and unlock myself in a creative space; I take offsite unstructured time to re-source myself, change my perspectives.

6. Find a coach and a mentor. In a previous company I worked for, all managers had coaching sessions to talk about work or personal challenges. Since I left that company, I’ve kept a relationship with my coach whom I called whenever I need to be challenged. I’ve also developed relationships with successful entrepreneurs who have mentored me over the years. Good coaches and mentors are not the ones who give answers to your questions, but rather challenge you to find your own answers.
7. Find inspiration from your competitors. I’ve had great relationships over the years from many of my competitors. I like to meet with them on a regular basis, not to talk about our existing clients or prospects, but rather to discuss and debate on a topic that we’ve recently read about. Debates are great to gain new perspectives, help you think on our feet as you are forced on articulate on the spot your ideas to defend your position on a (controversial) topic.
8. Be a business activist. I’ve founded and am leading s.p.IN (, a social business activism platform with the goal to bring people together with different skills to work on innovative projects serving the business community. This is a great source of inspiration and creativity for me as I tackle different sets of problems and I surround myself with people I would not meet otherwise. Great opportunity to expand my horizon and learn from others.
9. Stand-up comedy or improv. As scary as it sounds, stand-up comedy is a great way to boost your creativity. I’ve done it several times and loved it. First, you’ve got to get out of your comfort zone. Making a business presentation in front of a group is one thing; making people laugh while you’re on stage is another. Which brings me to the second point: the adrenaline boosts your energy and creativity. Third, mostly with improv, is that you learn to react quickly and think on your feet.
10. Disconnect. It is important to clear your mind regularly, whether it is for a few hours or a few days. A walk in the park, time with your family, a vacation… It helps you relax, enjoy the moment. When you come back to work, your battery is refilled.
11. Encourage experimentation, lower the fear of failure. Experimentation is key to creativity. Having an idea does not mean anything until you execute on this idea. Often times, people don’t take that step because of the fear of failing. If you see experimentation (and possible failure) was a way to learn, you will always find the positive in whatever you do. The more you try, the more you experiment, the more you will find of new ways, better ways to do things. Experimentation feeds creativity.
12. Exercise. Similar to stand-up comedy, a good work-out boosts your adrenaline level. You feel energized, you exhaust any angst you may have. You focus on the outcome. All the chemistry going on in your body fuels creativity.

What do YOU do to boost your creativity?

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Find new whys to do business…

What makes your organization different from the competition? What business are you REALLY in (your purpose, not what you sell)? Why aren’t more customers buying your products or services? How much does it cost you? Why should customers buy your products or services (don’t tell us they’re cheaper or better - that’s not the answer we’re looking for, neither are you)?

What do you want your legacy to be? Innovation and growth - or commoditization, stagnation, and irrelevance?

A business exists because the founder has identified an opportunity. Opportunity is the reason why a company chooses to innovate.

If you position your business just based on what your competition does, it often leads to disappointing results. Your ambition should be to transform your organization into a place where innovation and constant emulation are at the core of what you live for. 

As an organization, you need a clear purpose to connect with your employees and customers on an emotional level, in an engaging, meaningful and compelling way

Vision and purpose is what should drive your business, your strategy and your future. Find the opportunity to make a difference, and place it at the heart of your vision. It should provide you a direction, a roadmap of where you want to be and how you want to get there. 


If your goal is only to gain a few market shares, grow by X% at the end of the year, reduce costs and increase profit margins, you clearly are missing the point. This does not excite anyone but you (OK - maybe your sales people and your banker too). Numbers are not sexy and appealing. Growth is a consequence of what you do, not a purpose.

A brand is the external reflection of a company’s inside culture and core values. In order for a brand to stay relevant, be different and unique, it must reinvent itself continuously. If a company’s products or services don’t change the game regularly, they suddenly become a commodity, as unique and innovative they could have been at some point. EVERY product and service becomes sooner than later a commodity. What’s critical is for the company to keep its brand relevant by innovating and bringing to life new game-changing products or services. You must keep delivering on your brand promise, day after day.

DON’T settle for being an er-brand. Your tactics are focused on being better at the same things that your competitors do. Red flags go up whenever I hear a pitch that explains how a new offering is just like another but is small-er, bigg-er, thinn-er, light-er, fast-er, sexi-er, whatev-er.
DO find a unique brand personality that translates into a unique customer experience, enabling your brand to rise above competitive comparison. Using brand personality in this way is not simply about developing creative communications; it’s about infusing every aspect of your operations with your unique character.

You have to switch your company’s focus from being transaction oriented to emotion oriented. A product is a transaction, an experience is an emotion. That’s your differentiator. 

It is easy to create a brand and a “promise”. What is hard to achieve is to deliver on the brand promise over and over again. As innovative as the brand promise may be at some point, other brands will follow and suddenly your promise will become commoditized, again.

McDonaldization of Starbucks…

When Howard Schultz left Starbucks in 2000, his successor Jim Donald decided to automate and time the Starbucks service, from time required to grind coffee, to mix ingredients, to minimal interaction with customers. In other word, Jim Donald mcdonaldized Starbucks. When Schultz returned as CEO in 2008 appalled by the dilution of the Starbucks experience he had brought to life, he decided to revive the brand promise. He closed all stores worldwide to (re)train managers and employees on the true customer experience, leaving on the counter $7M that day. He brought the brand promise back to its origin, and has continued to deliver on the promise ever since.

A strong and inspiring vision should be framed around how the company works to change its customers' world, for the better.

For instance, Amazon’s mission is "Our [Amazon's] vision is to be earth's most customer centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online."
This is a powerful statement as each single word is meaningful. Amazon’s goal is to be global and ubiquitous (earth’s), with a strong focus on the customer (customer centric). Although it is an online retailer,  Amazon wants to build a place (analogy to brick and mortar), where people can only find what they have in mind, abut also get suggestions and recommendations based on other buyers’ preferences or one’s past purchases.

Starbucks' mission is “to inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.”
Starbucks has revolutionized the way people interact socially. Nowadays, Starbucks is the place to meet friends, conduct business, get quiet time… Your morning coffee Joe is just the vessel for the company to create the experience. The experience is what customers make out of it. Starbucks nurtures the human spirit, little by little. Think about how your life was before Starbucks?

Lego’s mission is to “inspire and develop the builders of tomorrow”. Their purpose is to inspire & develop children to think creatively, reason systematically and release their potential to shape their own future – experiencing their endless human possibility. Lego is in perpetual beta mode: term used by software developers – a product is never finished, it is in constant iteration based on user feedback.

If you think about it, the Lego movie and the Lego theme parks are only devices to carry their mission. It is all about using your imagination and Lego sets to carry your imagination…


Smart business leaders shape the culture of their company to drive innovation. Success and constant positive results come from the implementation and execution of strategies, business models, structure, processes, technologies and incentive systems that encourage innovation.

"In today's reputation economy, what you stand for matters more than what you produce and sell", says Kasper Ulf Nielsen, Reputation Institute's executive partner. "People's willingness to buy, recommend, work for, and invest in a company is driven 60% by their perceptions of the company and only 40% by their perceptions of its products." The study shows that in order to win support and recommendations, a company needs to tell its story in a way that connects with stakeholders on a global level. "This is a challenge that even the best companies struggle with", Nielsen says. Building a strong reputation takes time. "You need to live up to your promises and be relevant in the local and global context", he adds. 

Looking for Apple’s mission statement (as you’d think they have a great mission statement given the number of game-changing products they have released), this is what I’ve found.
According to Simon Sinek, “if Apple was like everyone else a marketing message might be: We make great computers. They’re user friendly. Want to buy one? …Here’s how Apple actually communicates: everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo, we believe in thinking differently. The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use, and user friendly. We just happen to make great computers. Want to buy one?”. Although it is a bit simplistic, Sinek brings up the “why” a company chooses to do business, which should drive the how they going to accomplish their goals, and what they’re going to provide to the customers.

In an article, it was widely reported that a famous quote from Steve Jobs in the 1980's was the Apple company mission statement: "Man is the creator of change in this world. As such he should be above systems and structures, and not subordinate to them."
The "official" mission statement on the Apple corporation website, however, is not really a mission statement at all, but rather a list of products and past accomplishments. As stated, Apple's "mission" is…
"Apple designs Macs, the best personal computers in the world, along with OS X, iLife, iWork and professional software. Apple leads the digital music revolution with its iPods and iTunes online store. Apple has reinvented the mobile phone with its revolutionary iPhone and App Store, and has recently introduced iPad 2 which is defining the future of mobile media and computing devices."
Apple ends its press releases with a statement that resembles what a traditional mission statement is expected to be…
"Apple is committed to bringing the best personal computing experience to students, educators, creative professionals and consumers around the world through its innovative hardware, software and Internet offerings."
In my opinion, this latter statement, although it does not name specific products, still is very commoditizing, not inspiring. Maybe this explains why Apple has struggled so much the past few years to bring to market game-changing products and has focused more on improving existing products.

According to the Economist, Steve Jobs' mission statement for Apple in 1980 was: “To make a contribution to the world by making tools for the mind that advance humankind.”
Now, this mission statement sounds more like what drove Jobs and Apple to change the world…

What do you think? 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Can social and business activism spark innovation?

There has been a lot of buzz around embracing failure as a stepping-stone to success. Many organizations welcome the idea and contemplate the thought of celebrating failure, but they are often reluctant to embrace the concept in practice.

There are two main reasons. One is risk and failure aversion. In a work or school setting, our brains are formatted to learn theory and what the outcome should be instead of experimenting through trial and error.  People don’t like to make mistakes, and they don’t like to look foolish, whether it is an adult or a child. Trial-and-error can cause both of these things to happen when things don’t work out as expected. The second reason is that our organizational cultures are often not designed to experimenting. In larger organizations, we are often trying to improve efficiency. Doing this means that we must reduce variation and risk. But innovation and experimentation increase variation.

What smart people realize is that without failure there would be no success. Failure leads to insight. Failure leads to understanding. Failure leads to innovation. As Douglas Adams said, “Flying is learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss.” What’s critical is to be able to learn from failed experiments to lead to successful ventures. On the West Coast, many successful organizations, from start-ups to established companies, have embraced this concept, but it is more of a challenge in the conservative Midwest.
The reasons are not too hard to find. Even in the most progressive and understanding of workplaces admitting to failure brings forth feelings of embarrassment, shame and inadequacy. In more extreme organizations it can lead to understandable concerns about loss of status and even salary.

Now, Indiana is challenging failure aversion. Led by Launch Fishers and Indiana Small Business Development Center, FailFest will celebrate the role failure plays in moving companies, careers and communities forward. On November 19, FailFest will bring Indiana’s most important business leaders together to share the lessons they’ve learned from the mistakes they’ve made, both personally and professionally, in a day-long conference designed to inspire, inform and ultimately change the way failure is perceived in our society. Failure leads to innovation.
“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” – Thomas A. Edison

As FailFest illustrates, social and business activism can help challenge the status-quo.

In that spirit, a group of innovation activists that I am leading is launching a new experiment – s.p.IN – Indiana’s first social & business activism platform that brings together innovation enthusiasts and practitioners to shape the Hoosier state’s future.

s.p.IN has been developed through an iteration process, gathering feedback from business leaders across the state about what they saw was missing in the existing initiatives around innovation (from conceptualization, to brand positioning to content). The intent is to bring people together that would likely not meet otherwise and get them work on specific innovative projects aimed to help the business community. CONNECT. EMPOWER. INSTIGATE. ACT.

s.p.IN seeks to accelerate innovation by creating an open innovation and collaboration platform where professionals use their diverse ideas, experience and resources to solve specific challenges within four key themes:

·      - Planting the seeds of innovation in education
·      - Creating a toolkit for Indiana entrepreneurs
·      - Revisiting transportation
·      - Designing a roadmap for community revitalization

To provide a venue for discussion and idea generation, s.p.IN hosts monthly mini-collisions with Indiana’s top influencers and innovation leaders at local businesses. Mini-collisions focus on a set of deliverables for each topic. The first projects will be announced in December. Output from mini-collisions will be unveiled online and shared in depth during s.p.IN’s Collide Summit Indiana un-conference, where the broader community will have the opportunity to provide feedback and build on the ideas.

Will it work? If we don’t try we’ll never know. This is what experimentation is all about. No risk taking, no failure in our minds. Only an opportunity to learn and succeed in the long term.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Innovation through experimentation is key

The other night I read the story of the Wright brothers to my son. It is a fascinating story that highlights how important experimentation is to the success of innovation.

The Wright brothers, Orville (August 19, 1871 – January 30, 1948) and Wilbur (April 16, 1867 – May 30, 1912), were two American brothers, inventors, and aviation pioneers who were credited with inventing and building the world's first successful airplane and making the first controlled, powered and sustained heavier-than-air human flight, on December 17, 1903. From 1905 to 1907, the brothers developed their flying machine into the first practical fixed-wing aircraft. Although not the first to build and fly experimental aircraft, the Wright brothers were the first to invent aircraft controls that made fixed-wing powered flight possible. From 1900 until their first powered flights in late 1903, they conducted extensive glider tests that also developed their skills as pilots. Their bicycle shop employee Charlie Taylor became an important part of the team, building their first aircraft engine in close collaboration with the brothers.

Trial and error

Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn, did not build the networking site into a $1-billion valued company in one day. He developed his skills and tested ideas while launching and experimenting at SocialNet and PayPal.

Kevin Systrom, founder of Instagram developed his skills, experimented ideas while working  at Google, Odeo, Twitter and Facebook, before launching his successful venture. “The most pivotal moment for us was when we decided to stop working on Burbn (the mobile HTML5 checkin app) and start work on what would become Instagram”, confessed Kevin.

Going back to my son, he rode his bike for the first time last spring. He worked really hard to learn how to ride. Did he work out the theory of how to do it, jump on the bike, and start riding flawlessly? Did he follow my advice on what to do and what not to do? No. He started with training wheels and worked it out through trial and error, with determination, repetition while focusing on the end goal.

Experimenting is a critical innovation skill. None of us think twice about learning to ride a bike through trial and error, so why is it so rare in business?

There are two main reasons. One is risk and failure aversion. In a work or school setting, our brains are formatted to learn theory and what the outcome should be instead of experimenting through trial and error.  People don’t like to make mistakes, and they don’t like to look foolish, whether it is an adult or a child. Trial-and-error can cause both of these things to happen when things don’t work out as expected. The second reason is that our organizational cultures are often not designed to experimenting. In larger organizations, we are often trying to improve efficiency. Doing this means that we must reduce variation and risk. But innovation and experimentation increase variation. There is a tension between efficiency and innovation.

However, the benefits of experimenting outweigh these issues. The problem that experimenting solves is this: it’s nearly impossible to know in advance which ideas will work and which won’t. If we experiment, instead of guessing which ideas will work, we can test them. This helps us get better making decisions based on data.

At a Centric event last year, John Evans from Allegion explained how his company is able to kill or shelf innovation if first results are not encouraging. It is important to encourage, allow space and time for experimentation, and coach employees that potential failures are just a way to learn how to better products. Failures are just a part in the innovation process, not a discouraging and painful end. When first results are not looking positive, John Evans’s team will either merely kill the project, or shelf it for future opportunities and experiments. Allegion employees understand that some experiments may not prove to be successful, but it is not the end, just a step (back) in the innovation process.

In the experimentation process, budget and time should not be a concern. As soon as we put barriers (budget constraints, time constraints, failure aversion), we kill the intent to create, innovate. Creativity and innovation only thrive when there is no boundaries, no aversion of failure, wasting time or money.

When the Ford factory in Detroit made a 3D printer available to its employees, it never imagined that the number of new patents registered would jump by 30 percent the first year! One Ford employee, for example, designed and produced a defogging valve prototype. If he had not been able to test his idea easily, he would have probably given up before it could take shape and be developed. Providing experimentation tools thus makes it possible to release great innovation potential, invaluable in times of crisis. The material and technical obstacles to experimentation are being lifted. Many tools are free or can be pooled, relieving the need to request additional budget. It is no longer necessary to engage experts, because prototyping tools can often be utilized intuitively. When technical skills are needed, the existence of dedicated communities makes it possible to receive immediate assistance. Technically, just about anyone can thus develop his or her own prototypes. On the other hand, intangible obstacles persist. Providing tools for experimentation is not enough to change the company culture. Many teams never or only belatedly consider developing even rough prototypes. So how can one capitalize on these new opportunities and make experimentation an everyday practice

The key is to enlighten innovation through experimentation

Eric Ries promotes a core method for experimentation. Although the Lean Startup method is essentially built for tech start-up companies, it can be applied and customized to any type of business.

Here is a method you can apply:

Ideation: form a team of various skills, expertise. Collide ideas and define what need the product or service might fill. Focus on the opportunities, not the obstacles.

Build: anything can be prototyped (product, service, customer/user experience, business model…).

Test: test not only the practicality of the prototype, but validate on a small market or through trials.

Measurement: gather qualitative and quantitative data, user insight, and figure out what works and what does not work.

Learn: from the data and insight collected, apply what you’ve learned, either to make adjustment (go back to build) or to launch. After the launch, we have to accept that we may not have made the perfect product or service right away, but that it is a opportunity to improve it and perfect it along the way, by taking consumer feedback and consumer insights.

If you’re a change agent in your organization, encourage your team to do this as well. As people get better at, things will start to improve. And you’ll start to build a culture of experimentation.

It’s like learning to ride a bike.

Monday, September 8, 2014

What we must unlearn to be innovative.

I recently came across a blog from Penelope Trunk my wife shared with me about home schooling. Common themes are found in various projects I have led where companies and individuals are stuck in their traditional way of thinking and see their business become stagnant, irrelevant and eventually die.
Through our education, from kindergarten to grad school, then through our professional lives, we have been shaped in the same mold, even though we hear here and there that we need to “think outside the box”, that box being only aimed to fit into a bigger box, like the Russian dolls. Conventionalism, risk aversion and complacency kill innovation and entrepreneurship.

We must unlearn what we have learned in order to be innovative. You don’t want to be an innovation killer, do you?

Here is a (non exhaustive) list of behaviors and thinking patterns we need to unlearn.

Unlearn how to face failure. Our society’s perception of failure is negative. We try our best to avoid failure, or hide it. There is no shame in failing. Failure is merely part of the learning process. It is a stepping stone for future success. We should embrace failure and celebrate it as much as we celebrate success.

Don’t focus on the $ bottom line. If all matters to your organization is $, your future is in jeopardy. Revenue growth, increased profit margin are only a consequence of your innovation and efficiency efforts. Innovation rarely pays off right away; it takes time, money and efforts. Innovation is an investment into the future, not a short-term $ goal. You should put aside part (the rule is 10%) of your operating budget to lead innovation efforts, with no metrics on immediate ROI (otherwise it defeats the purpose).

When you look at a problem, don’t look at it as a whole. Take it apart in pieces and start building a solution with the pieces in a different way. As an example, the Indianapolis Zoo knew they were facing a major issue with the new orangutan exhibit: an increase of 30% in attendance. Looking at the attendance and parking problem as a whole, they saw an immediate solution: expand the parking lot. This meant raising more funds to build a new parking lot, with the challenge of having an empty lot when the attendance is low. By taking the problem apart, they realized that they had to better manage the flow of visitors across the week, versus trying to fix a massive visitor influx on the weekend. They introduced a dynamic pricing, spreading attendance more evenly between busy and low periods, thus controlling the parking issue and providing a better experience to the visitors every single day.

Stop thinking that your products differentiate you from the competition. Think of Apple. In its early years, Apple represented the anti-system, anti-PC world. If you were mainstream, you were a PC user. If you were different (Apple’s “think different”) or artsy, you were a Mac user. After Steve Jobs came back to Apple and made what Apple is today, suddenly the brand became mainstream, to the point of alienating early Mac adopters. Apple products went from being in a niche to being adopted by the masses. Although they changed the industry (and literally our lives) introducing i-Pod, i-Phone, i-Pad, the Apple products have become mainstream and fully commoditized. Samsung introduced their smart watch before Apple, although the i-watch had been the talk for years. Google introduced the smart glasses first... Apple went from being the industry’s #1 brand and disruptor to being second-to-market trying to catch up with the competition. As products and services are easily commoditized, the unique differentiator comes with the brand experience a company creates for its customers or users. It is much harder to plagiarize a unique brand experience than it is to plagiarize a product or a service.

Stop thinking that you need a perfect product before you launch it. Iterate to innovate. Strive for continual innovation, not instant perfection. The best part of working on the web? Google get do-overs. Lots of them. The first version of AdWords, released in 1999, wasn’t very successful – almost no one clicked on the ads. Not many people remember that because Google kept iterating and eventually reached the model we have today. And they’re still improving it; every year Google runs tens of thousands of search and ads quality experiments, and over the past year they’ve launched over a dozen new formats. Some products they update every day. Google’s iterative process often teaches the company invaluable lessons. Watching users ‘in the wild’ as they use Google’s products is the best way to find out what works, then the company can act on that feedback. It’s much better to learn these things early and be able to respond than to go too far down the wrong path.

Stop thinking that you can’t share knowledge or ideas because you fear they’ll be stolen. Open collaboration is key to future innovation, growth and relevance. For instance, during the 2013 Day of Innovation in Indianapolis, executives from Eli Lilly and Company and Delta Faucet met and decided to collaborate on their respective innovation days inside their companies. The more you collaborate, even with your competitors, the more opportunities you create.

Stop thinking you need to stay focused on your industry and stay in your natural environment to be an expert. By looking into other industries, colliding your ideas to others, opening to new perspectives, you will open up your organization to new ways of thinking and new opportunities. Often times your competitors are not the ones closer to you, but those coming from outside your industry.

The future is in how fast you are at unlearning.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Planting the seeds of innovation in education

Don Wettrick is on a mission: revolutionizing the world of education by training the next generation of innovators.

A reformed teacher (he taught to middle and high school students for 17 years), Don started planting the seeds of innovation at the Franklin, IN High School 3-and-a-half years ago, having found inspiration in Daniel Pink's book "Drive".
Because of the State's education standards, he had to find an innovative way to start his class as it was not part of the state catalogue. One class called "group discussion" was the platform for him to start his journey, as it encompassed most of the ingredients needs: group setting, brainstorming, discussion...
After a short stint in Franklin, Wettrick was hired by the Noblesville, IN High School to be their innovation coordinator. There he has found the perfect environment to carry on his mission: trust and transparency. Unlike many other schools across the nation, Noblesville HS does not block social media, such as Twitter, Facebook or Youtube. "It is a very progressive school", Wettrick explains. "Everything we do is transparent and open to everyone to see: students, parents, teachers, mentors...". He created his own channel on Youtube to explain what his students do on a weekly basis. Soon, Don Wettrick and his students will be able to work in a brand new innovation center. But above all, what makes the environment so prolific to his mission is the school's willingness to fail and to celebrate failure. The philosophy there is trial and error, and experimentation. "By empowering students to take risks, we've made them be more responsible. As a matter of fact, we've not seen any abuse of social media for instance. It is a very special and unique environment, which you don't find in many other schools, unfortunately".

What does an innovation class look like?

First, with each new group of students, Don has to teach them different skills: how not to be compliant, how to think differently, how they should challenge and confront him instead of taking his words for granted. "Right now, it is natural for kids to be compliant, to sit and listen to what their teachers have to say, without questioning. The system beats the creativity out of them. Kids have been trained that way; my first job is to unteach them". He hears new students in his class asking him what he expects them to do. His answer: "I won't tell you, you need to find your own opportunity, find collaborators, I'm only here to help you, not to tell you what to do". At the beginning, some kids freeze up because it is such a foreign and disruptive concept to them. However, they quickly grasp the benefit of it.

During the first weeks of the class, students will identify their own opportunity to develop a project. They will formulate a plan of action and time table, find collaborators and resources, like any entrepreneur would do. "Online collaboration enables access to information, resources and mentors. With Skype, Google Hangout or Twitter, my students talk to a mentor in the Silicon Valley or an app developer in Beijing", Wettrick explains. "Teachers don't know everything. If a student wants to work on a solar panel, I can't teach them. I will lead them to connect with experts (collaborators) around the world". The response from such experts is amazing. They are baffled when a high-school girl tells them she is part of an innovation class and she is developing an app. Social media is at the foundation of this innovation class, enabling students to connect 24/7 around the globe. "If we want to study neck injury, we may contact Peyton Manning. He will probably not respond, but his doctor will", says Wettrick. Professionals are shocked by the boldness of students and are willing to help these students who are curious, want to learn, and who are responsible.

Students meet three times a week in their innovation lab. Monday is the time for an open forum, a debate on a specific issue chosen by the students, or an exchange on how to solve of problem that a student is facing with his project. Students learn from TED talks, magazines such as WIRED, blogs... "The goal is to get kids interested in what's next", says Don Wettrick.
Tuesday or Wednesday is for planning, in groups of 2-3. Some times students leave the building, other times they skype, google hangout, looking for the next collaborator, doing research...
On Friday, students reconvene, a bit like a congress. They recap the week, reflect on what they've learned, write group and individuals blogs, record Youtube podcasts...

Students have worked on app development, one of them is coding for Google glass. The "Pass system" used at Noblesville High School was developed by a 15-year-old student and his collaborator out of Launch Fishers. They are working on a project to redesign hospital gowns. Students also collaborate with Universities such as Stanford.

Don Wettrick has taken his students on field trips to the Silicon Valley, is planning trips to the East Coast, to meet with some of their collaborators and other influencers.

The innovation class at Noblesville HS is elective. Because Don is the only innovation director in the school for the time being, he interviewed and selected the students himself. He does not care about the grades, he wants motivated, creative students. "My model student would be a skate boarder, because he is non-conventional, doesn't like a structured environment, succeeds by trial and error, is not afraid to get back up after falling painfully, and because he is artistic".

Controversy coming up...

Don Wettrick's innovation class is not easy to replicate in all schools because on the culture lying in the very traditional world of education. In his book to come out in the next couple of weeks - Pure Genius: Creating A Culture of Innovation and Taking 20% Time to the Next Level - Don explains what his philosophy is and how he created this unique curriculum. He even dedicates 3 full chapters on the use of social media as the foundation of teaching innovation to kids.
He expects a lot of blow back once the book comes out "because it is unconventional". He admits doesn't own the truth, he simply wants to offer an alternative. "Do I believe I have the right approach, absolutely. But I understand not everyone will agree. Innovation is not for everyone, but everyone can be innovative. The next idea can come from anybody, if they know how to think differently".

The earlier kids can learn about creativity and non-linear thinking, the better.

"Don Wettrick has turned the traditional classroom experience on its head, allowing the students to take control of their own education. The results are stunning! This book should be the blueprint for the future of education." 
Tina Seelig - Professor, Stanford University, Author, inGenius: A Crash Course on Creativity

“Can school be a place where risk-taking and creativity flourish?  Don Wettrick offers and emphatic “yes” — and shows how he’s done it. Wettrick has incorporated a range of creativity-generating concepts into his teaching and turned his classroom into an innovation factory. This book teaches you how to do the same and still maintain rigorous educational standards. You'll be amazed by his students’ accomplishments and eager to put his ideas into practice."

Daniel Pink, author of DRIVE and A WHOLE NEW MIND