Friday, August 23, 2013

Can innovation be a bad thing?

And there's lots of ideas about innovation, theories of innovation, rules of innovation, like you should open up your innovation more. You should think about all these different types of innovation, you should practice disruptive innovation. There's all these theories out there about how you boost innovation. And when I went into do my initial interviews at LEGO, they hadn't read all those books. In fact some hadn't been written then, but they had done all those things that consultants and academics say you should do, and it almost put them out of business. And I thought that was really interesting. You know, how can we be so wrong?
This quote comes from an interview with David Robertson on his book Brick by Brick. I have been trying to share ideas from the interview with anyone interested in education reform. Given that innovation is such a buzzword in education these days, I think Robertson's book might serve as a cautionary tale for those trying to reform education.

So why did innovation nearly destroy this popular toy? Robertson explains:
what had happened is that when they'd innovated, they just came out with a whole lot of toys that weren't very LEGO-ey. They weren't very popular. ... 
I got the sense that the toy-designers in the 90s were allowed to be as creative as they wanted. As a result, LEGO put out a slew of new toys but the new toys did not fit together the way the old LEGOs did; this limited the creativity of the users. So the kids disengaged.

I sometimes wonder if we are in danger of doing the same thing in education. We see teachers being very creative in designing their lessons. For example, using technology to innovate the way they deliver content. However, by focusing on innovation in teaching are we sacrificing students' ability to be innovative? When I shared this question with a colleague, he said, "I know that those times when I thought I created the perfect, creative lesson - those were the times when students seemed least likely to be engaged."

There are several other ideas I took from the interview that might apply to education but it feels like I dropped a pretty big bomb in that last paragraph. Perhaps this is a good place to stop and see if some of you might want to add your two cents. I look forward to reading your thoughts.

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