Sarah’s Diary Episode Five

Jenny was surprised by the rankings of the Malcomb siblings’ innovation potential. Students tended to view innovation as a trait associated with assertiveness and inward looking temperament. The siblings who were considerate and caring didn’t get as high of rankings. This was an observation she wanted to explore more fully as the course continued. She decided to begin her class today with a diary excerpt from January 18, 1889.

“Ben is amazing. Each week Dad gives us a challenge to think about.  This week he asked us to think of ways we could keep our house warmer. Most of use came up with ideas to prevent losses of heat from windows and doors. But Ben’s idea was very different. He thought of ways we could distribute heat from our stoves in the living room and the kitchen to our bedrooms.”

When Jenny asked the students to reflect on what this diary entry said about innovation, they were quick to comment on how Ben thought about the problem differently. The term out-of-the-box thinking was frequently mentioned. When Jenny asked her students how they thought the phrase originated, they were unsure. She decided to give them a challenge.






After a few minutes, she asked if anyone had met the challenge. No one had, so she showed them the solution.








Then Jenny explained that innovation does require one to think differently. Then she asked: “How do we develop the trait of thinking differently? That’s essential in being innovative, and it’s the true significance of this excerpt.”

None of the students had an answer. Then she reread the second sentence of the diary excerpt: “Each week Dad gives us a challenge to think about.”

Jenny explained why that sentence was so significant. “First the siblings were challenged to think of ideas to deal with problems that often were simply accepted. They were learning to be cranky about situations that were not satisfactory. Most innovative thinkers follow their observations with questions that begin with why. Then they move to questions beginning with what.”

“The second significant word in that excerpt is weekly. We now know that most personal traits don’t reside in our DNA. They are developed through repetitive practice. Hiram was challenging the children each week to think of ideas. But the children were also provided feedback when one of the children’s ideas was judged to be the best one.”

“Notice also that there was a competitive spirit but not one of winners and losers. Each child was competing against themselves to do better. Today we would call that a growth mindset.”

“I’m going to end each class with a challenge following Hiram’s example. As you supply your ideas over the semester, we’ll see how well you develop your own innovation trait. Here’s the first challenge: How can we increase the graduation rate by 10%?”

* * *

“I try to challenge myself as much as possible, as often as possible.” – Alan Dean Foster (science fiction author)

How To Use

Useful guides for incorporating messages into discussion.