Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Youth as Innovators

I had the pleasure of working with Michael Joseph at the Global Youth Conference in Vienna. He is a member of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Youth Commission, from the Antigua and Barbuda RC. A number of points he made in his theme paper, "Youth as Innovators," caught my attention. We had a chance to sit down and talk about his paper at the conference.

He saw the problem of differentiating creativity and innovation. Innovation, he notes, has a very pragmatic side; it brings "ideas to life"; it moves them forward. Innovation gives ideas arms and legs. Conversely, "ideas without motion are nothing but fairy tales." That may be a bit strong, especially if creative thinking is a prerequisite to innovative action. But nevertheless action is needed to have impact. I'd like to think of creative thoughts as actions in waiting.

I found the Wikipedia entry on Innovation interesting. The authors write:

“Innovation differs from invention in that innovation refers to the use of a better and, as a result, novel idea or method, whereas invention refers more directly to the creation of the idea or method itself. Innovation differs from improvement in that innovation refers to the notion of doing something different (Lat. innovare: "to change") rather than doing the same thing better.”

The "use of a... novel idea" is exactly what Michael was driving at.

I asked him what he felt was the most important idea in his paper. He said, "to try it". I love one of his closing remarks: "try a bad idea for the right reasons". It reminded me of the famous Thomas Edison quote on failure: “I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.” Michael liked that.

For some additional thoughts, see my "Six Views on Innovation"

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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Innovation and the Global Youth Conference

"A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new." ~Albert Einstein

"Act as if it is impossible to fail" --Joy Jamal Eddine, Special Olympics

I am at the Red Cross and Red Crescent Global Youth Conference hosted by the Austrian Red Cross in Vienna this week. As in the Imagine Cup student competition where I volunteer each year, I am continually impressed with the energy and passion that students and graduates bring to world and local problems.

One of the sessions was about Youth as Innovators. Here are some thoughts I prepared for this session.

I would like to tell a story I told at a meeting with the Saudi Red Crescent earlier this year.

I recall a young student in a mixed age classroom. It was the time to make oral presentations. Everyone was nervous.

The teacher asked who wanted to go next. A small hand wheMn up in the back corner of the room. "I'll try" the young voice said. Some laughed as he shuffled to the front of the class. He was smaller than the rest and spoke with a very soft voice. The rest of the class had difficulty hearing him.

One of the older and taller students stood up, walked to the front of the class and standing by his side, (here is the technology part...) gave him an old fashioned megaphone so he could be heard by all.

It was a good presentation. When he finished everyone applauded and agreed he had some of the best ideas they had heard yet.

Now what did you hear about innovation in this story?

I hear three things. First the younger student had the courage to try it. He took the risk of failing and made it a success. For the past six years, I have been a judge for the Microsoft Imagine Cup competition. It's the largest software competition in the world for students from most countries. I see more innovation in one week than all year. Why is that? Imagine Cup students have...

1) No business experience
2) No marketing experience
3) No time
4) No money
5) No sense of limitation

and it's this last one that makes all the difference. These students just try it and refine it. Notice the order: Try it and refine it.

Second, what the taller student did was give voice to the whispering. When we stand up for those who are weaker in our organizations and communities, that's what we are doing. We are becoming Chief Amplifiers. And it is this role that is so important to leadership and innovation.

Third, The new ideas came from the back of the room. Often the ideas from the far corners of our organizations that have the possibility of becoming the really big ideas for the future. Innovation can come from where we least expect it. Be open to surprise.

Here are some discussion questions:

1. What if your organization were to give greater voice to the small ideas?
2. What are you doing to become a "Chief Amplifier"?
3. What can you do to discover the good ideas in the far reaches of your organization and harvest for the good of all?

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad