We know that innovation is no easy feat. What does it mean in our personal contexts, and how do we start? We look at famous innovators as “special” and in possession of knowledge outside of our realm or that they were simply born with. However, research has shown that innovation can be taught, and we can develop the capabilities that are required. Many of us grapple with learning the innovation skills that have the potential to take our personal and business goals a step forward in the right direction.
Thankfully, we have more control to design our growth as innovators than we realize. Rather than simply understanding strategies with the hope to implement them if opportunity knocks, we can structure our learning in a way that connects us to the world around us and allows us to implement innovator thinking to our own evolution. The feelings of autonomy and of belonging to something bigger can motivate us to develop unique problem-solving strategies, foresee challenges, and adapt to new contexts, as these skills slowly become part of our everyday toolbox. It’s no doubt that the most successful innovators are the most creative learners.
So, how does one design a learning experience? Let’s look at 4 simple ways:
1. Seek feedback in real-time
It can be hard to find time for reflection while solving complex problems. We often wait until the end of a goal to learn what we could have done differently along the way. You can design your learning by seeking opportunities for feedback from peers, mentors, customers, or anybody who gets to watch or interact with your work. Our most successful learners pause and engage with such feedback (for example, the comments that they receive on their completed assignments) before using it to strategize their next steps. Doing this often allows learners to apply it immediately and with sufficient context.
There is so much value in feedback, and we often don’t ask for it enough. Seeking it partly involves releasing the idea of perfection and executing fast enough to be able to iterate and learn. We tend to procrastinate due to a fear of evaluation and a lack of confidence, thinking that the final result is not “enough”. It’s scary and intimidating, but creativity in shaping a learning experience involves tailoring a strategy in a way that allows for optimal learning in the midst of the journey.
2. Share thoughts on what works and what doesn’t
As you learn, consider feedback as a two-way street. If something appears confusing or lacks seamless digital functionality, don’t be afraid to share this. By becoming an advocate for the quality of your learning, you can gain access to more resources in real-time, an improved experience that helps to make you more efficient, and greater knowledge gained at the end. We have seen that some of our most successful learners find ways to engage with our team by providing tips on content improvements and the overall learning experience through participation in the Community or any of our ongoing feedback sessions. Similar to a mentor-mentee relationship, a mentor can adjust their approach to help meet the ultimate goal of the mentee by hearing what works and what doesn’t.
3. Build connections with those who are experiencing a similar challenge
Our digital world provides the incredible ability to reach peers, leaders, and other inspiring people. There are many avenues to connect and discuss, leading to more reflective thinking about ourselves and our missions. Designing a successful learning experience involves becoming part of “something bigger”, a community made up of others facing similar challenges who share common goals and have developed unique problem-solving approaches. From the information you will gather by connecting, what speaks to your journey and what doesn’t? How can you tailor what you learn to what you want to accomplish, and who will join you along the way? Our successful learners seek out companions by engaging in communities around them, learning, and growing with others. They love to work in teams and participate in events as they use these opportunities to build a long-term network of professional connections and friends. This is a powerful way to make learning more rich and meaningful.
4. Prepare a game plan in advance
Planning a strategy for action, however imperfect at the start, is massively beneficial to the success of a goal. A learning experience can be designed by thinking critically about the scope of the goal and current circumstances before deciding how to best utilize your resources, particularly scarce ones like time and money. Creating a plan allows you to aim for a well-defined goal and to track progress along the way. For example, a lot of successful learners create a “workback schedule” where they start at the end by mapping out the lifecycle of the project and working backwards. This helps to ensure that resources are allocated quickly and appropriately throughout the process and that everything is structured intentionally to meet the deadline.
Designing our learning for innovation
So how does designing a learning experience help to become a better innovator? All of the tactics listed provide an opportunity to self-assess and improve metacognition, the intentional reflection on how we are gaining knowledge. The ability to adapt to new and challenging contexts, to think ahead and foresee opportunities, and to develop unique problem-solving approaches are crucial for making a significant impact. We often forget the amount of control that we possess over how we learn, thinking that there is an external locus. Adopting the idea that we have more power over the outcomes of our learning shows that all of us have the potential to become great innovators and make a positive dent in the world.
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