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Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World
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68 of 70 people found the following review helpful
on June 22, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Sadly, too many buyers of books about education or parenting or business are seeking some kind of silver bullet--a recipe for how to transform schools or raise better children or improve one's business. I think some of the reviews of this book reflect a disappointment in not finding quick fixes in its pages. Creating Innovators offers fascinating and invaluable insights, but alas, no recipes. Unlike many popular authors today, Wagner writes with great clarity but respects the complexity of the topics he explores. His case studies of young innovators offer rich, in-depth portraits of young men and women from a variety of backgrounds who are innovating in different ways. His interviews with their parents and the teachers whom they told him had made the greatest difference in their lives are powerful and moving.

But perhaps Wagner's greater contribution is to the broader dialogue of what it means to an educated adult in the 21st century. Building on his outstanding work in The Global Achievement Gap, Wagner goes beyond the now common calls for so-called 21st century skills (a term he never used) to explain how every young person must develop the capacities to solve problems creatively--to innovate. His profiles offer insights into what parents, teachers, mentors can do to nurture and develop these capacities in young people. Finally, Wagner contributes an invaluable perspective to the raging debate about the value of a college education. His description of the contradiction between the culture of schooling versus the culture of learning that develops the dispositions of an innovator is a unique insight--which is made all the richer by his exploration of some radically new approaches to teaching and learning in college.

This book, then, is for people who want to be challenged in their thinking and who are looking for some fresh ideas about parenting and teaching and mentoring young innovators--but not those who seek a "how-to." The book is made all the more powerful by the inclusion of more than 60 videos produced by Robert A. Compton, with whom Wagner collaborated to make their excellent documentary, "The Finland Phenomenon: Inside The World's Most Surprising School System." Speaking of video resources, you might want to look at Wagner's recent TEDxNYED talk. It's a nice short summary of key ideas from both books and will enable you to make a better informed decision about whether to buy this book. [...]
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51 of 57 people found the following review helpful
on May 13, 2012
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
In Tony Wagner's latest book, he attempts to explain what should be done to develop young innovators. After a brief primer on innovation, Wagner introduces to several young "innovators" and tells their stories. The aim is to look at these few people, pinpoint the similarities of their childhoods and educational background, and develop a recipe for producing innovative minds. In addition to talking with the people themselves, Wagner consults their parents for clues and parenting skills and styles that have proven beneficial in these specific cases.

The plan of the book is sound, but I was left with a feeling I didn't really learn anything I didn't already know. People have been touting the importance of "play" and imagination in the lives of young people for years. Teaching children to develop passions and think creatively has been the aim of educators for a long time. As in his previous book The Global Achievement Gap, Wagner is right on the money in his adverse views toward standardized testing and how it stifles creativity. However, he again portrays a very negative views of teachers in general. The young innovators he interviews in the book offer largely adverse views toward their formal schooling. It is almost as if he wants you to believe they have accomplished so much in their young lives in spite of the education they've been given. While the current state of education needs to see reform, the problem isn't really with the teachers, but rather the educational establishment as a whole. There are times I think Wagner completely gets this but he shies away from really getting to the root of the problem.

All in all though, the book is decent. Wagner has a likable style in his writing and if you enjoyed The Global Achievement Gap, you will probably like this. I really felt he was on to something, and kept turning the page waiting for some truly revolutionary ideas, but never really arrived there.
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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
I had a chance to go through this book today while visiting a school in Fairfax Virginia and I liked it. I have gone with 5 stars because it is a message that needs repeating as the educational "establishment" is still not listening, but those that rated it at only four stars have good reason to do so. I browsed the many interviews, and focused on the synthesis bits.

I completely agree with the criticism of the Quick Response codes, in this instance they are largely useless and a waste of time -- the concept is however sound, and a great deal more needs to be done to better integrate books to video and also video to books.

The author's earlier book, (The Global Achievement Gap: Why Even Our Best Schools Don't Teach the New Survival Skills Our Children Need--and What We Can Do About It) listed seven survival skills that I repeat below, and the author tells us that this book is intended to move beyond those seven skills.

01 Critical thinking & problem solving
02 Collaboration across networks and leading by influence
03 Agility and adaptability
04 Initiative & entrepreneurship
05 Accessing and analyzing information (this is HUGE and where I have spent 30 years and will spend 30 more)
06 Effective oral & written communications (to which I would add graphic visualization)
07 Curiosity and imagination

I have reviewed here at Amazon 150 books tagged Education (General) and 60 books tagged Education (Universities) with about 20 of them being core [all my reveiews sorted by 98 categories are at Phi Beta Iota the Public Intelligence Blog, this is not something one can do via Amazon now, but they all lead back to their respective Amazon page). One of them I want to link here early on because it is the first book that made me realize that teaching to the test is beating the creativity out of our kids and also NOT teaching them to think conceptually or innovatively, was Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool's Guide to Surviving with Grace.

This book was for me absorbing, capturing my attention early on with this quote on page xv:

"....most policymakers -- and many school administrators -- have absolutely no idea what kind of instruction is required to produce student who can think critically and creatively, communicate effectively, and collaboration versus merely score well on a test. They are also clueless about what kind of teaching best motivates this generation of thinkers."

For those who have not already read these two books, I would recommend:

Weapons of Mass Instruction: A Schoolteacher's Journey Through the Dark World of Compulsory Schooling
Teaching Digital Natives: Partnering for Real Learning

Based on my following three sons through the US educational system, and more recently, interacting with young people across all grade levels, my impression that radical change is needed has been confirmed BUT I would be the first to say that memorization and foundational knowledge is ESSENTIAL, and cannot be sacrificed to a "new wave" of "free play." I am reminded of the damage we did during the "self-esteem" and social promotion years. Kids need to learn to read and write and do sums, and they should NOT be promoted to the next grade until they have mastered that level of skills. HOWEVER, kids today are even more diverse in their biological and environmental skill levels than ever before, and the current answer of rigid universal standards is in my view doing much more damage than good at a strategic level. As we now know, lawyers are graduating from law schools without knowing how to be a lawyer, only take a law test, and business schools are graduating people steeped in what worked in the past, not in adapting to or inventing new solutions needed for today and tomorrow.

There are at least two bright spots in the system, but they are a dying slice that needs to be protected, expanded, and I would suggest, made MANDATORY for all students. I refer to the dramatic arts and the creative arts as well as music. In my experience, these are the last places where micro-management is not the order of the day, and what I have seen in the way of inventiveness, creativity, mutual respect among very diverse individuals, literally brings tears to my eyes when contrasted with the rows of silent children fearful of their teacher and afraid to make a single wrong move--to the point they will not ask a question about something they do not understand.

The author cites Tim Brown's Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation and I especially like a graphic on page 24 with three intersecting circles: Expertise, Creative Thinking Skills, and Motivation. I would give our present rote school system at B, but a D on critical thinking skills, and a C or a D on motivation depending on the neighborhood. Innovation occurs, according to Tim Brown, only when all three of these fundamentals come together and a "spark" lights the fire.

I particularly like the section on how learning should be and end in itself, not a path to a job -- and as 45% of all recent college graduates in the USA now know, college is NOT a ticket to an assured middle class job.

The author considers traditional education to be rigid, boring, and lacking conceptual or contextual merit. Generally speaking, I agree. The author suggests that high schools cannot be fixed until we first fix universities, I am not so sure about that but am charmed by a discussion of one university that focused on seven pillars:

01 Public education top to bottom
02 Community engagement across all problem areas
03 Public service as a calling and university product
04 Disaster response & longer-term resilience
05 Physical revitalization & cultural arts development
06 Engaged teaching
07 Social innovation (engineering innovation is at 02, 04, and 05 above)

Two quotations that provide a strategic message from this book:

QUOTE (154): "So if we are to transform high schools in America to better engage young people for an innovation driven economy, we will need to start by rethinking college -- the curriculum, the teaching methods, and the admission requirements.

I do not agree with this. I would rather start with a county school system, make education year-round, and have each student do one quarter semester in each of the trades, with an additional program to give any student that wishes an opportunity to earn every merit badge in the Boy Scout inventory, without the Boy Scouts (or Girl Scouts).

QUOTE (156): Citing Paul Buttino, who says "The value of explicit information is rapidly dropping to zero. Today the real added value is what you can do with what you know. and it is -- in the doing -- in the probing of the universe, the pursuit of a query -- that the real learning takes place."

Although I am not particularly engaged with most of the young innovator interviews, the author's coverage of Olin College, a new college started in the 1990's to offer an INTEGRATED education that could be described as applied engineering in the rich context of the applied humanities, is alone worth the read. I had no idea Olin was this coherent and focused.

The author cites Rick Miller of Olin talking about the three stages of learning, setting the stage with the observation that it is not what you know, it's the ability to ask the right questions "in situ."

STAGE ONE: Memorization-based learning tested by multiple-choice questions.

STAGE TWO: Project-based learning with pre-determined problem (and generally a "school solution")

STAGE THREE: Design-based learning where you have to define the problem (this is something I have spent a lot of time thinking about, and would observe that at this level you not only need to be someone who had read broadly, but you also need to be able to see, hear, feel, and intuit all the weak signals, understand true cost implications, and generally think at multiple levels (strategic, operational, tactical, and technical) simultaneously.

This is the whole point of the book: we need to prepare our young adults to do THREE THINGS: have a foundation in expertise and be able to find and integrate expertise; think critically in the face of completely new conditions not encountered previously; and the motivation to persist against all odds, embrace failure, and keep on trucking.

The author says that innovation thrives in a culture that welcomes experimentation. Looking around at the Industrial Era school systems we have -- many very well funded with all possible teaching aids -- one can readily agree with Dr. Russell Ackoff, one of the pioneers in system design, who lamented the fact that most of what we do in the way of governance and education is wrong to begin with, and therefore, doing the wrong thing righter is still the wrong thing.

In the author's view, the time has come to redefine authority, moving away from testing and credentialing based on dubious premises, while embracing "disruptive" innovation in the classroom and in the halls of government and industry. Of course this is virtually mission impossible with all of the leadership positions now occupied by people who came up the old way, understand the old way, and are totally invested in the old way.

I put the book down pensive about how to address the terrible short-falls in the USA with respect to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education, and also the terrible short-falls in both social innovation and sustainability design, production, and services. For me it boils down to corruption. Industry leaders lied to Congress -- and these lies continue today -- about the lack of available US high-skilled labor. What they really meant was that they preferred to import high-skilled labor at half price instead of paying the going scale for US-educated engineers.

At the same time less so in some areas, but across the USA, school boards are being starved by corrupt local leaders that make deals in the public's name waiving taxes, waiving pollution regulations, and generally short-changing the traditional sources of funding for education -- this is a case presented in Deer Hunting With Jesus. The schools have been starved and marginalized by the information technology industry, our one book industry, because its leaders have been corrupt and sought to import cheap labor instead of properly supporting the redesign and reinvestment in our own school system. This has gotten so bad that a recent Pew poll found that one third of US citizens across all ages (mostly older) could be legitimately qualified as "idiots." These are the same people that vote for political leaders who buy their votes with borrowed money--a trillion a year borrowed in our name, at the same that 50% of every federal dollar is documented as waste.

WHAT IS TO BE DONE? I see multiple possibilities.

Within the existing school systems, drama and art and music should be mandatory. These are important nodes of liberty in an otherwise onerous system, and can be used to both keep the flame of creativity alive within all of our students, and also to identify especially gifted innovators who might otherwise be pressured to drop out. They should not be electives, they should be mandatory, and include drawing what one can observe.

Within the existing school system, substitute teachers offer an extraordinary untapped opportunity. I know one substitute teacher who ran for President in 2012 and was invited to teach an honors civics class. After completing the assigned work -- and ensuring that every student completed the work -- he hosted an innovative half hour of give and take in which the students learned, among other things, that there are eight accredited parties in the USA, not two; that much of what the government reports (e.g. unemployment numbers) is not the truth; and that there are forms of legalized crime including pharmaceutical crime that rival illegal crime in the damage it does to the Republic. This individual was chewed out by the assistant principal after a teacher in an adjoining classroom reported that he had had the temerity to put the desks in a circle (the traditional indigenous form for democratic dialog) and suggested that the two party system and some of its candidates might be criminals -- a point made most ably in books such as Vice: Dick Cheney and the Hijacking of the American Presidency and Running on Empty: How the Democratic and Republican Parties Are Bankrupting Our Future and What Americans Can Do About It. The bottom line: they system does not just beat the creativity out of kids, it puts the teachers and administrative leaders into such strait jackets that the lose their common sense. Although most school handbooks encourage the discussion of controversial issues in a respectful manner, the reality is that assistant principals and most teachers are TERRIFIED of anything controversial -- they would rather graduate sheep than critical thinkers.

Selected substitute teachers, in my view, should be recruited, trained (there are many words they are accustomed to using with adults that are inappropriate with young people), and overseen as a means of injecting innovation into the existing course structure. Instead of glorified baby-sitters working to rule, they should be encouraged to both complete the principal assigned tasks AND give of themselves to the students in a constructive manner.

More can be done with once a week "break-out" sessions for all students, sessions that could begin with a speaker who presents a context and a challenge, and then be followed by mixed grade teams accepting the challenge and doing research -- mixing grades -- toward a school-wide contest in which the students, not the teachers, establish whose solutions are most meritorious.

Finally, mindful of all I have learned from Harrison Owen and Tom Atlee, two of whose books I list below, I would train all Drama and Physical Education teachers in the art and science of Open Space Technology, and have at least one monthly Open Space session in which the students decide what they want to learn, how they want to learn it, and are then given the rest of the day to do so.

Wave Rider: Leadership for High Performance in a Self-Organizing World
Empowering Public Wisdom: A Practical Vision of Citizen-Led Politics (Manifesto Series)

For me this was a very provocative book, and while it has short-falls other reviewers have pointed out, the fifth star is easily earned by the fact that it provoked this review. With my last link I will mention the single most important book I believe that no educator can ignore, the 1916 doctoral thesis of Will Durant, now available at Philosophy and the Social Problem: The Annotated Edition. That was the book that persuaded me as an intelligence professional that we must integrate education, intelligence, and research in one Secretary-General (with two others managing the Commonwealth and Global Engagement), and that we must sharply reduce spending on secret intelligence while sharply increasing spending on whole person life-long education, and on multi-disciplinary research focused on real problem such as the need for free energy, clean water, and the eradication of agricultural and industrial production practices that sicken society instead of enhancing society.

One could certainly conclude that education today is producing consumers of education, not creators of innovation. Above I have tried to summarize the key points from the book, and also provide some thoughts on what schools could do now, within their existing parameters, to leverage drama and physical education and substitute teachers. Beyond that, I have no influence at all.

With best wishes to all,
Robert Steele
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
As Tony Wagner explains, "This book is about how we can develop the capacities of many more young people to be creative and entrepreneurial. This book explores the new challenge of parenting, teaching, and mentoring young people to become the innovators that our country and our planet need to thrive in the twenty-first century."

He makes skillful use of information, insights, and wisdom from a wide and deep group of authoritative sources. That material is complemented by video content provided by Robert A. Compton. Readers with smartphones will also appreciate the inclusion of more than 60 Microsoft electronic links throughout the book. They can download a free application or, if they already have a generic QR code reader, they can scan the code on Page x.

As Wagner acknowledges in the Introduction, the process of researching and then writing this book was challenging because of its scope and complexity. "For this reason, I decided to limit the innovators whom I profile in this book to young people between the ages of twenty-one and thirty-two who fall into one of two categories: individuals who are doing highly innovative work in so-called STEM fields [i.e. science, technology, engineering, and mathematics], and individuals engaged in social innovation and entrepreneurship." He adds, "And what about the teachers whom these innovators identified as having most important in their development -- were there any similarities in their methods?" He set out to learn and then share everything he could about why and how to nurture the creativity of all children in every aspect of their lives, including but by no means limited to the classroom.

These are among the dozens of passages that caught my eye:

o "How Do We Develop Young People to Become Innovators?" (Pages 23-26)
o "Motivating Innovators" (52-55)
o "Creating a Culture of Innovation" (57-58)
o Jodie Wu: "From Engineering Student to CEO" (74-77)
o "Play, Passion, and Purpose in Another World" (87-88)
o "Coming Down from the Ivory Tower: A New 'Moral Compass' for a University" (114-118)
o "The Challenges of Twenty-First Century Teaching and Learning" (141-146)
o "Rethinking College" (153-156)
o "Extrinsic versus Intrinsic Motivation: Play, Passion, and Purpose" (176-177)
o "The Future of Innovation" (202-203)
o "Passion" (211-214)
o "Taking Risks" (224-226)
o "Conclusion: redefining Authority" (240-242)

No brief commentary such as mine can possibly do full justice to the scope and depth of material that Wagner provides in this volume. As began to re-read it prior to organizing my thoughts for a review, I was again reminded of two ancient aphorisms. The first is from Africa and suggests that it takes a village to raise a child. Therefore, everyone must share responsibility for "growing" children whose innovative thinking is motivated, indeed driven by passionate curiosity but also guided and informed by expertise (i.e. sufficient knowledge and highly-developed skills). How urgent are the needs that Tony Wagner among many others have addressed? Hence the relevance of the second aphorism, from China: "The best time to plant a tree is 100 years ago. The next best time is now."
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37 of 52 people found the following review helpful
on June 11, 2012
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I scanned this book and agreed with most of the negative reviews that the book doesn't offer a lot of concrete advice for parents on how to raise innovative children, although it might provide moral support to parents who are struggling to understand their innovative offspring.

One glaring omission that struck me, though, was the author's failure to mention homeschooling as an alternative to public or private schooling. Surely there are also young innovators who have come up through the homeschooling path -- these would have been useful examples to include. We recently pulled our daughter out of a well-regarded local charter school in part because we finally understood that the school environment was completely opposed to any sort of creativity and innovation, collaboration, meaningful social interactions, and so forth.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on June 5, 2012
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
This book is a fascinating follow-up to The Global Achievement Gap. Once again, Tony Wagner makes an engaging and cogent argument on why innovation is so necessary for success in today's economy and why what is measured in school fails to value that. Far from just being a critique on educators, Wagner not only enlightens but motivates us to see how these two can align for the benefit of our students as well as our economy. I intend to share this book with teachers, administrators, business partners and legislators.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on March 8, 2013
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
Great book - argues case well for creating innovators and the role that educational institutions such as schools can play
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on September 6, 2012
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
Wagner has delivered an interesting read with Creating Innovators. As a high school art teacher I am always looking for ideas on how to engage this generation in creative work. The wonderful links with interviews really brings the personal stories that are throughout this book alive!
The educational design scenarios that are described that fostered these young innovators are communicated in a realistic manner, not pie in the sky perfect. The descriptions of the reality of the difficulties for the teachers as well as the students and parents are inspirational. Recommended for all teachers and principals!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on June 16, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition with Audio/VideoVerified Purchase
I cannot thank Mr. Wagner enough for writing this book. This is exactly what every school teacher and principal (and administrator) should read this summer and start applying in their schools this Fall. Creating Innovators is a quick read that gives parents, teachers, anyone the encouragement needed to support creativity in their children. Bottom line: Give children and young adults more unstructured free time to play, let children follow their passions and support their passions no matter how cray you think they are a the moment. After you ready the various kid's stories presented in Creating Innovators, who come from a variety of social-economic backgrounds, you will be SO inspired that anything is possible. My ebook downloaded seamlessly through my Kindle app on my iPad. Watched all the great video snippets of the kids and teachers highlighted in the book. The ideas presented in this book should be the starting point of education reform in this country! We don't need more testing, we need more innovating!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on August 14, 2012
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Wagner's book makes a lot of sense. Let me first give him full credit for that. The critique he offers of our schools - K-16 - seems fair to me. The standardized test movement is plague that we need to eradicate from the country. We do need more creative thinking, and critical thinking, and most schools do not seem to be in that business. And I agree that it comes back to high-quality leadership - in schools, families, corporations, community organizations.
But the book has shortcomings from my perspective. He distills lessons from a body of interviews and draws sound generalizations ... from those interviews. I believe that he ought to let us know, however, that he is not talking about the vast majority of people. Rather he wants to make innovators out of the gifted minority. That's okay. But this is not innovation for everyman.
I believe he also confuses innovation with creativity as concepts. I learned (at my Fortune 100 company) that innovation involves turning knowledge into money - that is, it isn't valuable unless someone values it enough to pay for it. It might be creative, therefore, but not innovative. Further, creativity has two formats (see Michael Kirton) - and one variety does indeed lead to innovation. The other leads to adaptation. Thus you can be creative in more than one way, and Wagner does not seem to acknowledge that.
He also employs misleading dichotomies, such as making a difference versus making money. This is not an either/or phenomenon. I think you can do good while doing well.
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