Mission.io Blog

Innovation Is Dying - How To Teach Kids About Innovation

I cannot begin to describe the overwhelming feeling of relief that washed over me during the Apple event announcing the iPhone 15. I feel like Apple genuinely cares about me and my needs. I’ve been saying it for a year, and no one would listen. Every time I pick up my 172-gram iPhone 14, I have always felt like it was a gram too heavy. At last, this needless energy expenditure can end. Thank you, Apple for finally putting that $29 billion in R&D toward innovation that the world really needed right now: a 171-gram iPhone 15.

Forget everything you know about innovation from the Rennaissance to the Digital Age, welcome to the exciting Age of Inconsequential Improvements. 

Innovation is dying image

As a society, we seem to be getting more and more willing to accept lackluster incremental changes in lieu of groundbreaking innovations.

We’re all to blame. Businesses milk every last ounce out of their most recent “greatest hit”, and as a market we support it. 

It seems that even the exciting jump to electric cars is quickly being ruined. All the marketing is focused on slightly more range/power, but they are still the same interior scheme and general composition that has existed since someone decided that was the best way to do it a century ago. Seats in rows, steering wheel, doors… not much has been done to rethink the most popular way we move people around.  

After spending more than a decade throwing elbows and raising a ruckus to try to force innovation into one of the world's most rigid institutions—education—I have some strong opinions on where we need to make changes.

We need to teach our kids how to innovate. 

Or at the very least, make the learning process one that rages more actively against the dying of the light.

We need to raise a generation so familiar with creating and innovating that when they see the stamp of innovation applied without merit, they raise an earth-shattering eyebrow. 

Needless to say, this is challenging. Our current system, funding, tools, and resources are hyper-focused on making students good at remembering. The system is primarily geared to train students on how to be passive (sit where instructed, speak when asked, work where assigned, and achieve within limitations). 

The onus is on teachers and parents to figure it out on their own. 

I hear it talked about plenty by leaders/organizations/decision makers, but until we radically rethink performance evaluations and funding, and rid the world of the bane of high-stakes standardized testing (a blog rant for another day), we have to hope that teachers and parents will find a way (like they always do). 

So whether you’re a parent trying to elevate your child’s perspective, or a teacher hoping to make your students innovative ruckus raisers—I wanted to share what I have seen work.

This is not a comprehensive or final take on this theme. However, it should give us a starting point to challenge the dilution of genuine innovation.

  1. Create Stuff: Forget those dreary worksheets that make kids memorize the capital of Djibouti; that won’t help them navigate the challenges of tomorrow. Swap out a lecture on the laws of motion by writing a simple problem statement on the board, and let students innovate. You don’t even have to give any structure, just guide them to test using the resources available in the room. Let them build, draw, ideate freely. Then, just for kicks, have them swap their creations and iterate. This isn't just about replacing lectures; it's about instigating a revolution in active, hands-on learning where students can explore their way to knowledge and answers.

  2. Problem-Solving vs Decoding: You know, if we taught kids speaking the way we teach them reading, the world would be eerily quiet. Students are trained on how to sound out words and break down sentences, but often don’t understand anything they’re reading. Decoding isn't comprehension. It's not even close. When a child learns to speak, they don’t sound out each word or perfect their sentence structure. They dive in, exploring how they can communicate using the few words they know (no matter how confusing or cute it may sound). And the same goes for math. We teach them to follow steps like some algorithmic dance routine, not to problem-solve. Dump the dance card. Give them problems that are more like riddles and less like recipes—problems without a step-by-step guide. Let them trip, stumble, and find their own way to the solution.

  3. Failure is Our Friend: The only thing worse than failing is teaching our kids to fear it. Let's make failure our ally. A scraped knee teaches you more about balance than a book ever will. So let the kids fail, but make it count. Help them analyze their missteps, not as setbacks, but as stepping stones to innovation. Make it an expected part of the process—write your name, make a mistake, turn it in…

  4. Get Rid of the Silos: We need to stop being like my four-year-old that loses her mind when the peas touch the mashed potatoes. Life doesn't happen in neatly labeled boxes. Let's mix it up. Merge math problems with historical scenarios. Use literature to explore scientific concepts. The more our classrooms resemble the holistic challenges of the real world, the better equipped our kids will be.

  5. Think Out Loud and Own Your Mistakes: The best playbook for life isn't found in any manual; it's modeled by those who've been there, done that, and messed up royally along the way. Don’t be an enigma to your kids. Whether you're figuring out how to fix a leaky faucet or apologizing for losing your temper, narrate your thought process. Think out loud. Be your own case study in the engineering design process of life. Show them that errors aren't terminus points but course adjustments.