Would you believe I’m building an Innovationizer in my garage? The brilliant thing about the device is that it takes in all of what you’re doing now, mashes it up, and then coughs out what you really should be doing—or didn’t see at all. Sorry, you’re right, why build a machine to do what kids in your classroom, members at a faculty meeting, administrative council, or corporate meeting can do every time they meet?
Besides reading and writing, I once taught 1st graders science from a mobile cart—mainly because no one else wanted to do science. It was a blast. Everything from guppies to planting soil traveled on that cart—from classroom to classroom. Only typewriter tech in those days, so dirt and jumping guppies provided great excitement. The Innovationizer appeared on a seed-planting day.
I wheeled in a lot of dirt and paper cups. We’d already started the popcorn seeds by pressing them between a small curved piece of moist blotter paper, and the sides of clear plastic cups. Roots out of one end and a bit of green grass-like blades out the other—ready for transplanting. It was a planned and predictable lesson: pass out the stuff, plant the rooted seeds, add a little water, draw some pictures, add a few words to paper, label and set the containers safely near the window—then clean up.
I passed out two paper cups to each student. What could go wrong? As I opened the bag of planting soil on my traveling cart, I heard some spontaneous giggling—the kind of laughter that makes you smile, and is so refreshing and genuine about primary students. I looked up, scanned the room and quickly spotted a student in the last seat of a side row. I remember his name today, freckle-faced Chris Brown, red hair, smiling ear-to-ear, and wearing a paper cup over each ear. He had popped the bottoms out and slipped the small end of the cups over his ears.
I didn’t plan on the Innovationizer, nor did I have a lot of time to react, but what happened next helped me through a career, and a lifetime. The conversation went something like this:
“Chris, that’s an interesting look. Why did you do that?” I said.
“To hear better—like the animals.” Chris said.
“Well, I think everyone should try that.” I said, and passed out two more cups to each student.
It was a short side trip that cost me very little time, but paid incredible dividends as a young teacher, and continues to do so today. Beyond remembering to have more than enough supplies, which is prerequisite for elementary school teachers, it increased my lookout for Innovationizers in class.
Today, I look for Innovationizers teaching class, guiding schools, as well as providing education products and solutions. The point is that if you look only to what you see being done, listened to the same, comfortable line of reasoning, or do what you’ve always done—you’re not innovating.
Note: I did see Chris Brown, the Innovationizer, again. He was a student in my 7th grade language arts class. One of his journal entries was published in Stone Soup, a magazine for students by students. He looked the same, only bigger, but to this day, I see him—a six-year old, with paper cups over his ears. I wonder where he is today. I hope somewhere creatively making a difference by seeing things no one else sees—yet. Look for Innovationizers. I guarantee, they won’t be devices built in a garage, but they very well may be the creative dreamers and makers of those innovations that make us say, “I wish I’d thought of that!”