Monday, February 02, 2009

Medici Effect - How to Foster Innovation in Your Kids

I'm sure Frans Johansson, author of the Medici Effect, never thought his book would be reviewed on a Mommy Blog. But, that's exactly what I'm doing. Please don't laugh.

Being an engineer, technical innovation is what I do for a living. So, I like to study innovation -- the history of it, and the future of it. Recently, I read the Medici Effect (by Frans Johansson), a book about the future of innovation. It's a fascinating book and really relevant to my career. But, as I was reading, I couldn't stop thinking about how it related to parenting. The ideas in this book were so relevant to raising kids, that I just *had* to write about it!

Mr. Johansson did a good job convincing me that success in many careers is achieved through innovation. Not just fields like science and engineering, but creative fields, like art, writing, and music, and others such as economics, marketing, and medicine. Innovation will be a key skill in the world of tomorrow. Well, if it's a key skill, than I want to make sure my kids have it! Reading, writing, arithmetic, and innovation! Sign me up!

The key idea of the book is that the next wave of innovation will not be incremental (like improving the efficiency of some manufacturing process by 2%), it will be intersectional - innovation at the intersection of several fields.

Assuming this is true, how do I incorporate this into my parenting? What skills can I give my kids to allow them to participate in the coming innovation revolution? This was the question my brain kept asking throughout the book.

Mr. Johansson, if you are reading, your follow-on book needs to be, "Child of Medici - Preparing your kids for the coming innovation revolution".

The book gives some great exercises to practice intersectional innovation. Here's my attempt at translating 5 of them for kids.

1. Reversing Assumptions
1) Think about a problem you are trying to solve. Write down the assumptions associated with this problem.
2) Reverse the assumptions.
3) Think about how to make those reversals meaningful.

How to apply this to kids:
Try to change the situation. Try to put a puzzle together upside down. Ask them leading questions, like "What if water flowed up, instead of down?". Kids are naturally very creative, so get them questioning how things work, and what would happen if they didn't work that way.

2. Create Constraints
When a yoga instructor broke her arm, she had to completely change how she taught, what poses she could do, etc.

How to apply this to kids:
Ask them to draw a picture using only straight lines, or only dots. What can you build with only 10 Legos? Dance with your right arm tied behind your back.

3. Creating Intersectional Ideas
Learn to connect seemingly unrelated concepts.
Take a new magazine (one that you don't normally read) and select a random page. Try to connect something on the page with what you are currently working on. If you can't find a connection, or the connection seems forced, flip the page. Repeat.

How to apply this to kids:
I think this one sounds fun as-is. Pick two pages on a magazine and have the child draw a picture that uses both things. Have them tell a story about the two things, or make up a song.

4. Geting Used to Failure
It's impossible to innovate at the intersection by flawlessly executing well-defined plans.

How to apply this to kids:
Let them know that it's OK to try things that might not work. If they ask for your help on something, encourage them to try it themselves. Let them experiment and make several attempts. Don't rush in with a solution. Praise the creativity in the solutions that didn't work.
Remove explicit rewards - they kill off creativity. Reward for the number of different possible solutions, the number of things they tried rather than the result.

5. Acknowledge fear, but don't be paralyzed by it.
NASA astronauts who acknowledged their fear suffered from less motion and stress sickness in space than their fear-denying comrades.

How to apply this to kids:
Use scary situations as a learning experience. Let them know that it's OK to be afraid, but it's not OK to let your fear stop you from doing things. Have them acknowledge their fear, and to have courage in spite of it.

"Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear." - Mark Twain

What do you think? Is fostering innovation in your kids important to you? What ways do you foster innovation in your kids?

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