Education Week recently wrote about the increased usage of the word “innovation” as applied to the advances being made within our nation’s educational system. However, many of those who work within that system are bemoaning the term’s empty promises. Despite its presence in everything from school memos to conference meetings to describe anything from educational software to mass teacher layoffs, innovation has become a solution without substance. Its impact on our academic institutions has yet to live up to the way in which the word is habitually referenced; however, innovation has not yet become a completely insubstantial concept. For those trying to create change in commerce and industry, its application is evident. In fact, innovation is often the driving force behind new ways to study entrepreneurship.
What is innovation? The answer may lie at the heart of its abuse within the educational system. It has become a ubiquitous motto minus any clearly defined measurements of its effects. As of now, innovation can seemingly be applied to any and all circumstances, both good and bad, thus obscuring its value. If it means everything, then it means nothing at all. To regain its significance, innovation must be reconceived, which is why this question was recently addressed to those who work across a variety of mediums: education, technology, engineering. Moreover, not only are these individuals experts in their respective fields, but also they have been recognized for innovative strategies that have led to their success.
No matter what industries these individuals represented, they all stressed the importance of several factors. One, innovation requires creativity, or a new approach to solving problems. Two, the end goal of innovation is to create greater prosperity within society. Three, to realize that prosperity, innovation has to be rooted in reality. Ideas are great, but mean nothing if they cannot be integrated into the world in which we live.
What better way to apply these tenets than to have socially-minded entrepreneurs incorporate them into their business models for revitalizing dying cities and neighborhoods? That’s exactly what a few innovative business leaders have done in Detroit, Michigan. Long seen as an example of both civil and commercial failure, Detroit is rebounding in a big way. Venture capitalists, angel investors and other business leaders are flocking to this city and breathing new life into it with their entrepreneurial energy, the effects of which can be studied both socially and monetarily.
These individuals don’t see a decaying city; rather, they view Detroit as fertile ground for economic success. They have invested their innovative ideas to create multimillion-dollar restaurant chains and Internet startups. They have funded art organizations that stimulate both the local economy and creative passions. Moreover, they have no plans of slowing down. At a recent state conference of entrepreneurs and business leaders, a challenge was laid down to have the Michigan economy outperform that of the nation in five years’ time. Innovative as defined by measurable, quantitative results.
Let our country’s educational leaders look to their entrepreneurial counterparts for insight as to how innovation can be applied for real change. More than a trendy catchphrase, this idea can revolutionize the way we think, learn and live.