Things I Know 271 of 365: Innovation takes both less and more

Imagine once more, I said, such an one coming suddenly out of the sun to be replaced in his old situation; would he not be certain to have his eyes full of darkness?

– Plato

While the reading in grad school is just as ridiculously intense as promised, if I time it properly, I can still be curator of at least a small sliver of my reading diet.

This morning, heading out the door, I picked up a copy of William Glasser’s The Quality School. I’m not sure where I got it, but it was on my shelf.

Early in the book, Glasser writes, “We should keep in mind that the power of innovation is not that it increases the number of innovative people but that it gives the effective people we have a better chance to demonstrate their effectiveness.”

The quotation struck me as tweetworthy (and given the tonnage of reading I’ve been doing, that bar is high).

Joan Young responded, “That quote makes me wonder how many innovators lie dormant in settings that don’t foster creativity. Thanks for making me think.”

John Spencer jumped in, “I agree. And yet creativity often thrives because of the limitations, barriers and restrictions of a context.”

The conversation turned to the allowances afforded by limitations. Young commented she had arrived at her most creative solutions when confronted with distinct limitations.

This makes sense to me. It echoes the sentiment of last year’s EduCon Friday panelists.

Innovation, the panelists seemed to contend, comes from the intersection of necessity and limitation.

I don’t contend this is untrue, but it can’t be the only path to innovation. Or, they aren’t the only necessary ingredients.

When I think of spaces where creativity and innovation can thrive, I think of the playgrounds of my youth. Before everything was safety-coated, they were spaces of steel, wood and gravel. If you squinted, they looked like residential construction sites.

For my friends and I, they were castles, pirate ships, mansions, and underground lairs.

Our resources were certainly limited. I’d also argue our excess stores of energy necessitated building some sort of imaginary worlds.

There weren’t the only pieces that let the playgrounds become whatever we wanted and needed them to be.

Two other factors cleared the way for our imaginations.

Our parents were nearby, watching from the periphery in case someone got hurt, but otherwise refraining from interference. They needed to be their for their own piece of mind, and we needed them there in case we got in over our heads.

We also needed one another.

These were our first moments of collaboration. We were writing the rules of the game. Where I saw a castle, another might see a space ship.

Because of our limitations of space, our necessity of play, the safety provided by our parents’ watchful eyes and the want to play with another, we settled on a space castle.

And that was the beauty of the recipe. We didn’t know what we couldn’t do, so we did it.

Gradually, our parents increased their perimeter and we became more responsible for ourselves. Unfortunately, this also led to access to more resources. While they weren’t castles or space ships or space castles, they were new and shiny.

I sometimes wonder about the guy in Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave.” I’m certain, after seeing the light and the forms of things, he had to wander back home. With all he’d seen, I still imagine him working some cave Thanksgiving to see what his family saw dancing across the wall.

“Oh, look at that fernodan!” someone must have said.

“There’s no such things as a fernodan,” I bet he said.

How they must have laughed at him.

3 thoughts on “Things I Know 271 of 365: Innovation takes both less and more

  1. Thanks for the mention and for the thought-inspiring conversation today. You addressed many of the factors I was thinking about, especially the part where our parents were at a safe enough distance allowing us the freedom and space to create.In any case, I hope others also ponder what it takes for innovation to happen and to honor the time it takes. Process is often tricky to pin down, isn't it?

  2. Thanks for the mention and for the thought-inspiring conversation today. You addressed many of the factors I was thinking about, especially the part where parents were at a safe enough distance allowing us the freedom and space to create, while providing a presence if needed. In any case, I hope others also ponder what it takes for innovation to happen and to honor the time it takes. Process is often tricky to pin down, isn't it?

  3. I would agree that they are not the only two ingredients, but they are vital. Curiosity, fun, delight in the novelty – these are all driving my novel-writing right now (perhaps a bad example, since it is creativity but not necessarily innovation). And yet, the limitations that I have (narrative structure, staying on topic, word choice) have forced me to be more creativity. They belong together. Paradox. Tension. Nuance. Call it whatever, but they're vital.

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