Emotional Intelligence or Math and Science: Which Is Essential to Innovation?
Interpersonal skills are a prerequisite for harnessing outside-the-box thinking on behalf of others, and they’re just as important as math, science and technology training.
As someone with a true commitment to education in this country, I often ask myself if innovation can be nurtured or taught. It’s a question that’s not easily answered; but it’s well worth asking, because we have legions of bright, curious and creative children who, with the right guidance, could contribute ideas and inventions that would enrich the quality of life in our nation for generations to come.
Before I get to the ways that innovation can be nurtured or taught, it’s important to step back and look at whether our children, the innovators of the future, are gaining social and emotional skills -- like sensitivity, empathy, social mindfulness, teamwork and an ability to imagine very different life experiences -- in elementary and middle school. These are the interpersonal essentials for innovation, the precursors and prerequisites for harnessing outside-the-box thinking on behalf of others, and they’re just as important as math, science and technology training.
Think about some of the specific non-cognitive skills and attributes that lead to successful innovations -- an insightful understanding of the end-user; collaborative connections with colleagues on an integrated design; and a true openness to the surrounding world. In the end, as I’ve learned through the Committee for Children, which is helping youngsters develop vital social and emotional skills, awareness counts as much as algorithms.
If I had to pick one skill that’s fundamental for innovators, however, it would be empathy, because of the way it allows us to see things from another person’s perspective. In other words, “How can I, as an innovator, help fill gaps and needs in people’s lives?”
As Brene Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, points out, empathy is a challenging personal choice that requires us to become vulnerable in an effort to connect with others. And, for her part, Barbara Byrd Bennett, the Chief Executive Officer of Chicago’s public schools, believes that learning is a social process that helps children feel greater emotional connection and empathy.
There are other school-based skills that contribute to innovation. Thom Markham, a psychologist and school redesign consultant, feels that concepts need to be taught versus facts; creative and thinking tools ought to be employed; discovery must be rewarded; reflection should be encouraged; and teachers, themselves, have to establish and model an innovation ethos in the classroom.
Some of the best academic research makes it clear that once students graduate to careers, their creative output can be increased if organizations engage them and foster conditions that expand the breadth and depth of their thinking.
One school of thought, for instance, says that to innovate effectively and generate a dynamic flow of valuable ideas, people need structure and methodologies, rather than conventional brainstorming sessions.
Another expert -- Hal Gregersen, Executive Director of the MIT Leadership Center and a co-author of “The Innovator’s DNA” -- has stated that creativity is close to 80 percent learned and acquired and that, given the right teaching or instruction, almost anyone can learn to be an innovator (although perhaps not on the Steve Jobs or Jeff Bezos level).
Even if they don’t run Apple or Amazon, disruptive innovators generally possess five key skills, according to Gregersen and his colleagues, Jeff Dyer and Clayton Christensen:
Questioning -- which allows innovators to challenge the status quo and consider new possibilities
Observing -- which helps innovators detect small details that suggest new ways of doing things
Networking -- which permits innovators to gain radically different perspectives from individuals with diverse backgrounds
Experimenting -- which prompts innovators to relentlessly try out new experiences, take things apart and test new ideas
Associational Thinking -- which draws connections from questions, problems or ideas from unrelated fields
Innovation is a difficult skill, and subject, to teach and learn. And, when all is said and done, it’s probably more like cultural anthropology than anything else. This means that aspiring young innovators need educational tools that can help them understand people and society if they want to create cutting-edge and life-altering breakthroughs.
Unfortunately, though, anxiety often gets in the way of up-and-coming innovators, no matter how well they’ve been taught, or how well they’ve learned. Innovators constantly look down into the abyss of the unknown, and it’s usually pretty dark and scary. This inhibiting discomfort is only natural, and emerging innovators may simply have to live with it, because the fear of failure that lines the path to the future is lodged within. Indeed, even the best teachers can’t stamp out steady streams of intrepid innovators.
This article is one in a series written for CoMotion, the UW’s innovation hub. To learn more from UW innovators, visit uw.edu/innovation. Dan Kranzler is Founder of the Kirlin Charitable Foundation.
Malcolm Gladwell teaches "Get over yourself and get to work" for Big Think Edge.
- Learn to recognize failure and know the big difference between panicking and choking.
- At Big Think Edge, Malcolm Gladwell teaches how to check your inner critic and get clear on what failure is.
- Subscribe to Big Think Edge before we launch on March 30 to get 20% off monthly and annual memberships.
Neuroscience research suggests it might be time to rethink our ideas about when exactly a child becomes an adult.
- Research suggests that most human brains take about 25 years to develop, though these rates can vary among men and women, and among individuals.
- Although the human brain matures in size during adolescence, important developments within the prefrontal cortex and other regions still take pace well into one's 20s.
- The findings raise complex ethical questions about the way our criminal justice systems punishes criminals in their late teens and early 20s.
Does believing in true love make people act like jerks?
- Ghosting, or cutting off all contact suddenly with a romantic partner, is not nice.
- Growth-oriented people (who think relationships are made, not born) do not appreciate it.
- Destiny-oriented people (who believe in soulmates) are more likely to be okay with ghosting.
A new method of growing mini-brains produces some startling results.
- Researchers find a new and inexpensive way to keep organoids growing for a year.
- Axons from the study's organoids attached themselves to embryonic mouse spinal cord cells.
- The mini-brains took control of muscles connected to the spinal cords.
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.