Thursday, December 18, 2008

Questions for the Innovation Corps

In my first session with the "Innovation Dream Team" that I suggested in yesterday's post, I would first present them with these questions:
  • What innovation challenges do you foresee for the years ahead? What kinds of teams will be needed to meet these challenges?

  • What kinds of contexts lead to innovative thinking?

  • If you were asked to spend a month in a sixth-grade classroom with the goal of planting the seeds of creative, innovative thinking, what would you do (or where would you begin)?

  • How would you ensure maximum opportunities and support for teacher innovation?
Of course, I would Webcast the session and encourage local groups composed of educators from all levels of the system, students, and innovative people from nearby businesses and schools. I would set up some groups on all the social networks in education like Classroom 2.0 and Students 2.0, as well as in groups frequented by creative professionals like Design21 or Innovation People on LinkedIn.

Imagine the buzz!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Innovation Corps: Start with a Dream Team

My Innovation Corps idea continues to intrigue me. If I were Arne Duncan, the new Education Secretary, I think I would want to plan an ideation session with a mix of visionaries from scientific, technical and artistic fields, as well as some entrepreneurs who are especially skilled at turning good ideas into products.

Here are some possibilities off the top of my head.

Eric Drexler, one of the pioneers in nanotechnology, whose 1991 book Engines of Creation clearly explained the benefits of the technology.

George Lucas, creator of Star Wars and sponsor of Edutopia.

Charles Burnette, a design educator who developed Design-Based Education. Design thinking, he says, is "a process of creative and critical thinking that allows information and ideas to be organized, decisions to be made, situations to be improved, and knowledge to be gained."

David Perkins former director of Harvard's Project Zero or its current director Steve Seidel. The mission of Project Zero is "to understand and enhance learning, thinking, and creativity in the arts, as well as humanistic and scientific disciplines, at the individual and institutional levels." Lois Hetland, author of Studio Thinking (see my earlier post)

A journalist like Sara Dickenson Quinn of the Washington Post, who specializes in visual communications. (I know there are a few more journalists I would add, but I will think some more and do a later post.)

Tom Kelley from top design firm IDEO to share his ideas about innovative workplaces and teams.

Bob Lutz, GM Vice Chairman, Product Development, and Chairman, GM North America.

Bill Gates and Steve Jobs

Some social entrepreneurs—people whose ideas have helped make the world more livable. One that comes to mind is Muhammad Yunus whose idea of extending microcredit—very small loans to very poor people in undeveloped countries—has changed so many lives.

Yo Yo Ma, the brilliant cellist who also is an expert on collaboration and global sensibility.

Eric Booth, a teaching artist and author of The Everyday Work of Art

A great installation artist like Ilya Kabakov (imagine what his creations take in terms of both imagination and practical skills).

Someone like Tori Amos, who is always pushing the envelope and always producing something new artistically across disciplines.

I know there are many more good candidates. What do you think?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

How About an Innovation Corps?

Every so often, I make a list of questions as away to crystallize or at least harness what I've been paying attention to and thinking about. The last few questions on my list today were:
Should schools and educators be held accountable for developing creative, innovative thinkers? Do we need to create an "innovation corps" that would develop and deliver rich tasks and experiences that reflect the kinds of skills, thinking, and experiences that are most likely to exist among our next crop of amazing young people who change the world? If so, what would such an organization look like? How would it operate? Would it be connected to the education system? If so, how? If not, what kind of credential or opportunity would it give to students?
Right now I have a blank page in my notebook waiting for ideas, but, as is often the case, I came back to my desk and found a relevant news story that suggests part of the answer. The item in the Wall Street Journal was about a program a Giant Campus, which offer camps (both virtual and actual) to "inspire kids and teens with technology while engaging them in 21st century skills such as creativity, problem solving, communication and collaboration."

Today's item was about a new project called Project CEO. According to the media release, "participants start with their own business idea and work with a team of peers and instructors on refining the idea while creating support materials with cutting-edge technologies. At closing ceremonies, camp attendees present their business where guests have a chance to invest in the company using Giant Campus bucks. Teens go home with business materials such as a company logo, business cards, a Web site and a presentation to share."

Giant Campus also offer camps for kids who want to develop computer games and make films.

These camps are not affordable for many students, but it would be well worth making such opportunities more widely available for a broader range of areas. It also might be valuable to develop connections between projects. This is a challenge that could not only develop skills students need but also bring together adults with creative minds in a new way.
A post from Sean at The Bassplayers blog suggests that education systems are failing students who "think differently." He says: "The system doesn’t understand creativity. It robs all students of their creative consciousness and replaces it with structure, structure, and more structure, only to prepare them for a 9-to-5 job, Monday to Friday, every week of every year for the rest of their lives." I don't get a sense that Sean is looking for an easier educational experience. He just wants some "leeway" for imagination and thought.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Arts Education Connections #2: Overview of Approaches

This is an overview of the four ways of approaching the arts. (For readers who may have even less fine arts training than I do.)

Students' work in each of the arts disciplines can be categorized as:

Art-making (or production): Performing a musical composition, a dance, or a play. Creating an original work of visual art, writing a play, creating a dance or dramatic improvisation, composing music, etc. Includes a number of technical components, such as learning dance steps or proper intonation on an instrument and notating a composition, mastering paints and other media, and learning how to block a scene in a play. Includes the generation of original ideas, the involvement and expression of emotions, and the making of meaning.

Art history: Connecting art to people, places, and times. Gaining a better understanding of artworks, periods, and styles by examining them against a larger context of history and culture. Using art to better understand events, periods, and other phenomena.

Criticism: "Reading" works of art. Responding to the form of artworks (how the elements and principles have been used) or to their expressive qualities. Formulating and supporting hypotheses about the meaning, importance, or value of works of art.

Aesthetics: Examining theories regarding what makes art good, important, or valuable. Connecting works of art to bigger philosophical questions and ideas.

As you may imagine, these approaches often overlap and enrich one another. I intend in my "Arts Education Connection Sunday series" to explore how they might also overlap with and enrich other disciplines and help develop 21st century skills.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Arts Education Connections #1: Elements & Principles Overview

Although sources vary on what are considered the elements of visual art, music, dance, and drama. My list as an example:

Visual art elements: Line •
Shape or Form • Color • Space • Value • Texture
Visual art principles: Balance •
Contrast • Emphasis/Focal Point • Movement/Rhythm • Proportion/Scale • Repetition • Unity/Harmony

Music Elements: Duration •
Intensity • Pitch • Timbre
Music Principles: Composition •
Form • Genre • Harmony • Rhythm • Texture

Dance Elements:
Action/Movement • Body • Relationships • Dynamics • Space
Dance Principles: Climax and Resolution • Contrast • Development • Repetition • Sequencing • Transition • Variety • Unity

Theater Elements: Characters • Plot • Setting • Script • Dialogue • Staging
Theater Principles: Balance • Collaboration • Discipline • Emphasis • Focus • Intention • Movement • Rhythm • Style • Voice

As you'll notice, some elements and principles are shared by different arts. That is the first indication that these elements and principles are powerful concepts that are widely meaningful. The word cloud below (made at provides a first look at the overlaps.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Arts Approaches, Elements, and Principles Widely Relevant

For the past couple of years, I've been working with visual arts and music educators on innovative standards-based units that are organized around essential questions. Of the projects I have done with the arts education community, this one was by far the most content focused. Therefore, my professional learning for the project included considerable time learning and thinking about approaches to art and the arts elements and principles.

The ways of approaching art are art-making, art history, criticism, and aesthetics. (State standards and other writings vary in the terms they use for these four areas.) The standards I have reviewed encompass all four of these areas and people who advocate for comprehensive arts education say that students need instruction in all four areas in order to be competent in the arts. Arts elements can be defined as the components or "ingredients" that go together to create works of art. Arts principles (sometimes called "design principles" or "composition principles") can be defined as ways of applying the elements to achieve desired effects. (Some examples of elements are line and color in visual arts and melody and harmony in music. Variety and repetition are examples of principles in both music and visual art, as well as in dance.)

I was thinking about how all these basics in the arts are powerfully connected to all disciplines. Why are the arts so often at the periphery of the curriculum? What if we explored these connections?

I am going to start a new feature based on this thought called "Arts Education Connections." Every Sunday, I will write a post about how a particular element, principle, or art approach might connect to other academic areas.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Visual Thinking

This video on visual thinking strategies from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston expresses how studying art develops critical thinking skills. I think money spent on test prep would be better spent on trips to a nearby museum. Visit for more information.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

New Free Tool for Creating Online Magazines

I found a tool called Issuu for creating online magazines. Thought I would try it here with Links & Threads, a newsletter I create for the Ohio Arts Council. This issue contains features that illustrate why the arts can be so powerful in preparing students for the future.

To see the issue full screen, click on it. (There are problems with full screen in Firefox, however. I had to use Safari.)

To see more issues of Links & Threads, as well as other good content, go to the Ohio Arts Council's Web site.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Thinking in Pictures

A typical report on education and the economy written circa 1998 would most likely have a collage that includes photos of young knowledge workers: one in a white coat holding a test tube, perhaps one wearing a suit seated at a computer, and maybe another adjusting a CNC lathe or some other advanced manufacturing equipment. Two guys and a woman. Probably one of African-American descent.

Today, the picture would certainly be different. It might still include a scientist, probably doing something environmental like examining a plant. There might be a technician or nurse with a medical imaging device. And there would probably be design team—a multicultural group of hip young people in a cool space strewn with all kinds of curious looking toys and gizmos and drawings.

The lathe might be replaced by a solar array. There might be a laptop in the picture or perhaps someone would be using a Blackberry, but the computer would be like the phone in those business images of yesterday—just a routine tool, not a major part of the story.

What's the point? I thought I would try thinking in pictures. Maybe that's one way to develop imagination. It was easier than my usual analytical approach and the time seemed to go faster.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Who am I to talk?

I've never brought a technology breakthrough to market.

I don't have 20 years of classroom teaching under my belt.

I'm not a fabulously well-to-do entrepreneur who turns ideas into millions.

I'm not a poet or artist whose work has been validated by critics and audiences.

So who am I?

Why do I have the potential for adding something to the conversation on innovation and the role of arts learning in developing creative, innovative thinking and other 21st century skills? See what you think:

I am an independent observer of innovation (and its opposites). My career experiences are:
  • Supporting various education reform initiatives as an independent analyst and writer

  • Working with teams of educators—sometimes as a technical writer who clarifies, sometimes as a outside perspective who brings a beginner's mind and renaissance tendencies to a creative challenge

  • Explaining the work of NASA R&D teams to managers, funders, and the general public

  • Teaching communications courses to technically oriented people
I think those experiences have helped me see the big picture of learning and understand different perspectives. If you've read Frans Johansson's The Medici Effect, I stand at what he calls "The Intersection"—the place where disciplines and cultures meet. The Intersection, says Johansson, is where we see "extraordinary discoveries" and "pathbreaking innovations" like those that occurred through the patronage of the Medici family in fifteenth century Italy. My search for answers is taking me not only into the knowledge bases of education and the arts but also into the arenas of business, technology, neuroscience, psychology, and more.

Perhaps also, because I am a knowledgeable outsider, I can bring a beginner's mind to this issue. Maybe I can be what Cynthia Barton Rabe calls a "zero gravity thinker"—someone who is burdened by neither GroupThink nor Expert-Think and so is able to ask questions that help those on the inside see things in new ways. (Her book is Innovation Killer: How What We Know Limits What We Can Imagine—And What Smart Companies Are Doing About It).

I hope soon to begin blogging about my interviews with experts, creators, innovators, and other inspirational people.

I hope also to share insights about my own encounters with works of art, strategies for enhancing creativity, and occasional (hopefully not too self-indulgent) reflections on my own experiences as a learner, the evolution of my particular brand of creativity and how it was stifled and nurtured, ways I try to nurture the imaginations of children in my life, and other relevant experiences. (That will take some getting used to since doing so much writing for clients tends to push "me" way in the background).

Finally, I think we all need to weigh in on this issue. Our schools are at a turning point and much is at stake. Technologically, change is accelerating. Nationally, we are at the edge of chaos—a place of great potential for new beginnings. None of us has all the answers for navigating the Age of Innovation, but I'm pretty sure we need new ways of thinking and a different approach to the test-driven educational improvement of the NCLB era.

I hope if you read this, you will be more confident in the future value of Artful Innovation, and I invite you to share your ideas, expertise, and observations whenever you wish.

Image by Juanrondonleon @ Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Reflection and New Statement of Purpose

I'm sure many of those who have happened upon this blog to date have been uncertain about what "Artful Innovation" means and what I'm trying to accomplish.

1) Some were probably expecting resources. Does the blog offer classroom strategies or techniques that could be applied to a variety of challenges? Maybe an online course or eBook that could help in thinking and working more innovatively?

2) Some may have expected to see promotion of expert services. Is the blogger an innovation guru? A designer? An artist with a broader lesson to teach? Is she going to share all kinds of exciting stories about her meetings with teams in Silicon Valley and her workshops in China?

Neither are the reality . . . at least not yet.

This work began primarily as an advocacy blog inspired by a belief that innovative thinking and other vital 21st century skills are developed in the context of making art, learning about the arts, and using the arts broadly as a way of knowing, a form of expression, a creative catalyst, and a proxy for the invention and innovation being furiously pursued by today's global economies. Those are not the only benefits of arts education, but they need to be acknowledged, and I hope to help make the case.

The Artful Innovation blog is a prelude to a more in-depth project about that core belief and as a supplement to more focused arts advocacy writing I do for clients. It has been helpful as a way to connect with other people who have similar interests and to stay motivated and somewhat intentional in the process of reading widely and developing my own line of thinking in a dialogue that I feel is still somewhat diffused and peripheral.

I have been getting more serious about structuring my "case" in a more coherent, logical, and (I hope) compelling fashion for publication and will probably be pulling things together on a companion Web site soon.

In reviewing my postings, I see that this blog has become much broader than my original tagline or statement of purpose implied: (In this Age of Innovation, learning in and through the arts is essential for everyone). That's because making my case about the arts requires a broader view. I need to explore individual and group innovation objectively, and I need to look at the bigger picture of education. Although the arts education literature is rich and the diversity of work in the arts is dazzling, a strong case will involve exploration beyond the knowledge base of arts education.

Moreover, my core belief must begin as a question: Are the arts important in developing innovative thinking and 21st century skills? And I must make sure my audience understands what I mean by arts education, innovation, and other concepts.

Therefore, my new tagline for the Artful Innovation blog is:

Exploring artistic responses to the challenges of education, organization, and human development in the Age of Innovation.

It reflects the broad scope of my current investigation, which I hope will funnel effectively in a useful, informative, thought-provoking site that I will launch by the new year.

So who am I to make this case? Check back tomorrow.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Hypothesis: Arts and Incubation

My recent rambling about time and space bring me to this state—here is a core idea I will be exploring further.

The creative process of is often described as four stages: Preparation, incubation, illumination (the aha! moment), and verification. Rather than viewing their job as "preparation," schools need to be concerned with developing students' abilities to work in all four stages. The incubation stage takes time. It's a time of playing with knowledge and ideas, applying skills without definite ends, generating many ideas and possibilities. In other words, it's not going to have standardized, easy to measure results.

Among the many benefits of engaging in arts learning and practice, I think, is the possibility of activating alternate ways of thinking (and the neurons that accompany those ways of thinking). As students work on music or art, what they have learned through conscious methods is being processed by the unconscious. Yes, that's only a theory and I need to support it.

Monday, December 1, 2008

A Rich Dialogue on Arts Education

I have made a commitment to follow a discussion on the Arts Journal Web site that is happening this week ( Sixteen bloggers with expertise in arts education policy and practice are participating in a "Debate on Arts Education." The main question is "Will our culture suffer if we don’t do more to teach the arts?" The catalyst for the dialogue is Cultivating Demand for the Arts: Arts Learning, Arts Engagement, and State Arts Policy, a report by RAND.

Laura Zakaras, one of the authors of the RAND report kicked off with a list of questions. Some of the first day's discussion goes beyond the usual reasons for valuing the arts—those that are most frequently discussed by insiders. The discussion is rich and I would encourage arts education advocates and those interested in innovation to read it.