Creating Innovators | Tony Wagner

Summary of: Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World
By: Tony Wagner


In a world that demands innovation, ‘Creating Innovators’ by Tony Wagner explores the essential characteristics and skills that young people need to change the world. The book delves into the concept of innovation, its importance in every aspect of human endeavor, and the role of parents, educators, and institutions in nurturing and mentoring potential innovators. It highlights how the American education system often hampers thriving innovators and suggests ways to overcome these limitations. The importance of fostering creativity, motivation, and expert knowledge in a specific field is emphasized, along with real-life examples of innovative individuals whose experiences can inspire and guide others.

The Power of Innovation

Innovation is the key to solving America’s economic crisis. With unemployment, especially among the young, and the disappearance of middle-class jobs, a new engine of economic growth is needed. Innovation through creativity and problem-solving abilities is necessary for every aspect of human endeavor. For innovation to prosper in America, an educational system that promotes it should be in place. Furthermore, an economic structure that provides incentives for invention is needed. Tim Brown, the president and CEO of IDEO, a design firm, shares that innovation demands five characteristics of “design thinkers”: empathy, integrative thinking, optimism, experimentation, and collaboration. Innovation comes in different forms, from incremental improvements to disruptive changes, and requires innovators to be skilled researchers, analysts, synthesizers, and communicators. Innovation is crucial for maintaining our standard of living and improving the world, setting the stage for a brighter future for generations to come.

Fostering Innovation in Young Minds

The American education system and corporate world need to change to cultivate innovative thinkers. The younger generation seeks more than financial satisfaction, they yearn for fulfilling work, want to ask questions and own their work. Parents and educators must nurture skills and habits essential for innovation such as creativity, expertise and motivation through intrinsic factors like passion and purpose. To fuel innovation, older generations need to mentor and guide the young towards achieving intrinsic motivation.

Nurturing Innovation Through Unconventional Parenting

Kirk Phelps, an innovator who worked on Apple’s first iPhone, attributes his success to his untraditional parents who encouraged exploration and imagination. Lea and R. Cord Phelps raised their children to be expressive, curious, and confident by allowing them to read whatever they wanted, watch television as a family, and explore their interests. They prioritized historical education on family vacations, and Kirk was provided with opportunities to attend prestigious schools. However, he dropped out of high school and found his calling at Stanford University, where he studied engineering. A pivotal experience for Kirk was taking the “Smart Product Design” class, which brought him closer to his mentor and allowed him to work with a team. The Phelps family’s parenting style and emphasis on imagination and curiosity nurtured Kirk’s creativity, and he advises parents to support their children’s passions, remain engaged, and allow them to pursue their interests.

America’s Need for STEM Innovators

American colleges prioritize academic research over the innovation culture that inspires STEM students. Traditional science classes focus on abstract knowledge rather than practical application, which failing to develop motivational fuel for innovation. To fill this gap, Carryer, a design teacher, incorporates teamwork, competition, and play into his curriculum. These tools foster creativity, ability to pool expertise, and motivation- the key ingredients for innovation. Without innovators, America’s progress in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics will be significantly hindered.

STEM Innovators Thrive from Transformational Classes

Success in STEM fields lies beyond just college coursework as transformational classes can chart a career path that leads to innovative success. Kirk Phelps, Shanna Tellerman, and Jodie Wu all attest to classes that crystalized their career direction entirely. Tellerman’s experience is a prime example of interdisciplinary learning at the Entertainment Technology Center at Carnegie Mellon and the opportunities that brought to her creating virtual reality experiences. D-Lab at MIT was the transformational experience that taught Wu to apply engineering and design to address social problems. Dedicated teachers and supportive parents complement the transformational class to form the basis of innovative success in STEM.

The Rise of Social Innovators

The book highlights how social innovators differ from their STEM counterparts in terms of goals and backgrounds. Social innovators focus on fighting societal injustices and improving the world through “making change.” The book also emphasizes the importance of hands-on and problem-based learning approaches for young innovators. The author shares the story of Laura White, a social innovator who started her journey at the age of 14 by helping a homeless friend and later gained support for her projects by petitioning people directly. White believes that social innovators need more training in identifying and analyzing problems, which can be achieved through a liberal arts education. Ultimately, social innovation can change how cultures function by providing education through charter schools or funding entrepreneurs through microfinance.

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