Creating Innovators: A book review by Bob Morris

Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World
Tony Wagner
Scribner/A Simon & Schuster Imprint (2012)

Why and how to nurture the creativity of all children

As Tony Wagner explains, “This book is about how we can develop the capacities of many more young people to be creative and entrepreneurial. This book explores the new challenge of parenting, teaching, and mentoring young people to become the innovators that our country and our planet need to thrive in the twenty-first century.”

He makes skillful use of information, insights, and wisdom from a wide and deep group of authoritative sources. That material is complemented by video content provided by Robert A. Compton. Readers with smartphones will also appreciate the inclusion of more than 60 Microsoft electronic links throughout the book. They can download a free application or, if they already have a generic QR code reader, they can scan the code on Page x.

As Wagner acknowledges in the Introduction, the process of researching and then writing this book was challenging because of its scope and complexity. “For this reason, I decided to limit the innovators whom I profile in this book to young people between the ages of twenty-one and thirty-two who fall into one of two categories: individuals who are doing highly innovative work in so-called STEM fields [i.e. science, technology, engineering, and mathematics], and individuals engaged in social innovation and entrepreneurship.” He adds, “And what about the teachers whom these innovators identified as having most important in their development — were there any similarities in their methods?” He set out to learn and then share everything he could about why and how to nurture the creativity of all children in every aspect of their lives, including but by no means limited to the classroom.

These are among the dozens of passages that caught my eye:

o   “How Do We Develop Young People to Become Innovators?” (Pages 23-26)
o   “Motivating Innovators” (52-55)
o   “Creating a Culture of Innovation” (57-58)
o   Jodie Wu: “From Engineering Student to CEO” (74-77)
o   “Play, Passion, and Purpose in Another World” (87-88)
o   “Coming Down from the Ivory Tower: A New ‘Moral Compass’ for a University” (114-118)
o   “The Challenges of Twenty-First Century Teaching and Learning” (141-146)
o   “Rethinking College” (153-156)
o   “Extrinsic versus Intrinsic Motivation: Play, Passion, and Purpose” (176-177)
o   “The Future of Innovation” (202-203)
o   “Passion” (211-214)
o   “Taking Risks” (224-226)
o   “Conclusion: redefining Authority” (240-242)

No brief commentary such as mine can possibly do full justice to the scope and depth of material that Wagner provides in this volume. As began to re-read it prior to organizing my thoughts for a review, I was again reminded of two ancient aphorisms. The first is from Africa and suggests that it takes a village to raise a child. Therefore, everyone must share responsibility for “growing” children whose innovative thinking is motivated, indeed driven by passionate curiosity but also guided and informed by expertise (i.e. sufficient knowledge and highly-developed skills). How urgent are the needs that Tony Wagner among many others have identified? Hence the relevance of the second aphorism, from China: “The best time to plant a tree is 100 years ago. The next best time is now.”

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