I taught innovation to a group of 6th, 7th, and 8th graders as part of my son’s middle school enrichment program several years ago. I had never taught children in a formal setting, and it was terrifying at first. The course was called, “How to Be an Inventor,” and we met one hour a week for five weeks.
I had my doubts about this…whether someone could actually learn a systematic approach to innovation. I had recently experienced the S.I.T. method as part of my company’s efforts to create new medical products. I wanted to experiment to see if a templated approach to innovation could be taught…and applied…in a setting outside of my company. So I taught these children the five templates: subtraction, task unification, multiplication, division, and attribute dependency. On the final day, each student had to take a product that I would give to them randomly, apply one of the five tools, and create a new-to-the-world product – all in thirty minutes. They had to draw the invention on the blackboard and explain why it was useful.
The first student was given a ordinary wire coat hanger. Using the Attribute Dependency tool, she invented a coat hanger that would adjust to the size, weight, and shape of the garment. Sixth grade! I had never seen such a product before. Truth is it had already been invented by Henry Needles in 1953 (United States Patent US2716512), so technically, she failed the exam. But she created something new to HER world, for sure. Each student similarly created amazing new products, some incremental, and some far out (moon beam flashlight).
If 6th graders can learn to innovate in real time, so can the business world. That is why companies are embracing more productive, systematic methods of innovating and shunning traditional methods.
Teaching children to innovate was an epiphany for me. My next innovation experiment…senior citizens. I believe a group of senior citizens could be an ideal scenario for innovating in real time. They have time on their hands, they want to be productive, they have lots of world knowledge and experience, and they think about ways to improve their situation.
Innovation for the ages…stay tuned.