Developing Minds Ready for the Innovation Economy

As part of the Generation Do It Yourself (GenDIY) series, our team has posted more than 100 blogs by and about young people charting their own course to a career they love. Four Millennial career progressions are illustrative:

  • After flirting with physics, Omar Bawa studied law and business. After working as a humanitarian lawyer, Bawa, now 24, launched Goodwall to help young people make good postsecondary decisions.
  • Serving as an Americorp member in Arkansas helped Andrea Price appreciate the importance of youth wellness. After launching a campaign to fight hunger and a company to promote fitness company, Price added a graduate degree and worked for a foundation before launching The Giving Net, a community development organization.
  • Jon Merril attended culinary school and worked in four kitchens before getting the chance to open a restaurant as head chef. Two years later he sold everything to travel and launch Vagabundus Project, a cooking and travel web series.
  • Over the last decade, journalist Andrea Wien contributed to a dozen publications while changing jobs every year or two before writing a book, Gap to Great, and founding a company to help young people consider and plan gap years.

What do they have in common? They move from project to project driven by curiosity and a desire to make a difference. They directed their own learning while making the most of teachers, mentors and work experiences. They formed impact organizations. They exhibited an innovation mindset.

Innovation Mindset

“If your job is monotonous, it will likely soon be gone. Machines are more capable and cost less. If you solve problems for a living, you might have a bit more time,” said TechCrunch contributor John Hauer (@Get3DJohn).

Four of 10 young people in high school will end up freelancing, another four will manage projects inside organizations — either way, it’s a project-based world.

As noted in January, low-skill gigs may stick around for a while but they won’t pay well. Short-term rule application tasks (e.g., tax prep, financial planning, legal filings, financial reporting) are quickly being replaced by automation. Most lucrative will be long-term projects requiring content knowledge, project management skills and non-routine deliverables.

On a more positive note, Kevin Kelly, Senior Maverick for Wired, says continual tech upgrades create protopia (instead of utopia or dystopia) where every day just a little better than the last one. But being “perpetual newbies” we’ll need to “get really good at change.”

How in the world do we help young people develop minds ready to thrive in a project-based world? In Smart Cities, our three-year investigation of learning ecosystems, it was an innovation mindset that seemed to set apart people making a difference. It’s a bias toward effort, initiative and collaboration.

An innovation mindset starts with two traits that predict success in life: grit and self-control. Stanford University professor Carol Dweck calls it a “growth mindset,” the belief that abilities aren’t fixed but can be developed through dedication and hard work. Paul Tough summarized these findings in his new book Helping Children Succeed.

Additionally, we saw innovators (like the four GenDIY examples above) taking initiative, creating new tools and new organizations to advance a cause. That almost always happens with the help of a team — we called it maker mindset and team mindset.

Knowledge and skill are important but it’s an innovation mindset that may be most critical for success in the idea economy.

Innovation MindsetDispositions are created through experience and influenced by relationships. We can surmise that the best preparation experiences would be non-routine assignments requiring the application of knowledge to challenging problems. This is project-based learning.

Projects Build an Innovation Mindset

Instead of reading textbooks and filling out worksheets, we should ask students to tackle real problems. Instead of cramming for tests, students should be preparing for public presentations.

The Buck Institute for Education (BIE) set the Gold Standard for project-based learning. Critical elements include a challenging problem, sustained inquiry, authenticity, student voice and choice, reflection, critique and revision, and public product.

As BIE suggests, as students develop they should gain more latitude over project topics and how they present their public product (i.e., voice and choice).

As discussed in May, the team at GettingSmart thinks the UN’s #GlobalGoals make a great list of challenging projects topics for young people.

Global Goals

Some projects should be team-based and others should be individual efforts (in part to avoid the free rider problem).

Good project-based learning isn’t new but the way new school models are combing it with personalized learning is an exciting equity-seeking development. These 10 school networks using personalized project-based learning to make challenging work accessible to young people who haven’t had the benefit of strong preparation.

This blog is part of “It’s a Project-Based World” series. To learn more and contribute a guest post for the series, see the Project-Based World page. Join in the conversation at #ProjectBased.

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Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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Martin Sumichrast

Hi Tom, You are really an amazing writer, this post shows your hard work. I appreciate it.

Gary Gruber

Terrific examples that can serve as models for others. Need go get this in front of high school juniors and seniors especially for what has been called The Gap Year, a name I propose changing to The BRIDGE YEAR. Short piece on my blog that I posted last February
Thanks for sharing such important good work.

chariel isreal

Excellent post pre college education on career will enhance post college decision on career

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