The Innovation Learner: University Research, Innovation Talent, and more!

In Today’s Innovation Learner:  We’ve culled news from around the web to bring you the best sources on innovation today.  Learn about the “100 Important Innovations That Came From University Research,” the 10 underrated hotbeds of innovation in America, the innovations that could save your life, and more!

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Today's Innovation Learner

Learn Daily to Innovate Better

We want to help you learn innovation in real time. Be sure to check out the innovation articles in our daily innovation e-newspaper, The Innovation Learner. The focus of this daily publication is on sourcing you current articles that can help you to innovate in your work and life. Here are a couple of articles from a recent edition.

What Doesn’t Work in Student Leadership Education and What You Can Do About It

During my research on high quality leadership programs – interviewing more than sixty stakeholders about what matters most for student learning and leadership development – I rarely (if ever) heard that the following program elements were contributing positively to student learning and leadership development.

Here is a list of what I didn’t hear:

1. Lecturing about a book. This may be hard for you to do and may also be hard for the students to stay alert for.

2. Assigning a lot of reading. Many times students won’t even remember what they are reading while they are reading it.

3. Corporate case studies. Do you have much in common with General Electric? I didn’t think so.

4. Studying famous leaders. Do you have a lot in common with Stonewall Jackson? I didn’t think so.

5. Quizzes. I hope students have a good memory.

6. Exams. I hope students have a really good memory.

Many of these elements are traditional foundations of college courses, and many are prevalent in leadership courses and programs across the country, but in general, you need validated “roots that work” to branch your program out. My new book, Root Down & Branch Out: Best Practices For Leadership Development Programs, brings key findings to practice from research conducted to determine the most important characteristics of high-impact leadership development programs. What contributes most to student learning and leadership development, and how can you design your program, course, or educational experience better?

The Grounded Theory Model of High Quality Leadership Programs describes:

• 16 roots – or positive attributes – that serve as a strong foundation for your program

• 40 branches – or actions – that bring the positive attributes to life in your program

• 34 acorns – or outcome effects – that are a result of positive attributes and actions


These attributes, actions, and effects are organized into three clusters that help you to grow your program:

Cluster One: Participants Engaged in Building and Sustaining a Learning Community

Cluster Two: Student-Centered Experiential Learning Experiences

Cluster Three: Research grounded continuous program development

The important lesson here is to build upon what works. Perhaps you have assessed your own program and have discovered that quizzes and exams contribute significantly to student learning and leadership development. If so, you may be a rare case, but build upon it. My guess is that the lecture listening, textbook reading, and quiz answer memorizing that students do generally doesn’t matter as much for their learning and development as a leader than working on real projects in teams, and then reflecting and making meaning on that to strategize better for future leadership projects.

In my student leadership education book I’ve included sixteen best practices for you to consider growing from, many of which may already be working in your program. Others will be new ones to experiment with. The path forward is simple: do more of what is working and less of what isn’t. Just because you’ve inherited it, others are doing it, or you have done it in the past doesn’t mean you should keep on doing it. Grow your program and leadership development naturally… with is already working. Take a look at what works in your program and root down and branch out from it.

To demonstrate, here are some “branch out” ideas for what you could try based on the “what doesn’t work” examples I started with.

1. Lecturing about a book. Instead, branch out and try bringing in a guest leader to tell their real stories.

2. Assigning a lot of reading. Instead, try having students develop and present their own ideas.

3. Corporate case studies. Do you have much in common with General Electric? I didn’t think so. This looks too much like reading. Instead, have them create a case about a real experience they have had, maybe something in their student organization that others could identify with.

4. Studying famous leaders. Do you have a lot in common with Stonewall Jackson? I didn’t think so. Have students study themselves through self-assessments or interview someone they know.

5. Quizzes. Instead, try a reflection journal or portfolio students are building over time.

6. Exams. Instead, try a final team project where they do something for real…such as something the students choose and are passionate about or a service project.

The Innovation Learner – A New Daily Innovation E-Publication

Do you want to learn how to be a better innovator on a daily basis? Would you like to develop your leadership skills from scanning expert articles? If so, we’ve created a new daily e-newspaper just for you. It is called “The Innovation Learner.” Check out the first issue. If you like it you can subscribe for free. I’ll also be tweeting the new issue daily when it is out.

Book Recommendations from UW-MANIAC

Here are some recommended books from UW-MANIAC members at the University of Wisconsin. UW-MANIAC (Madison Area Network for Innovation and Collaboration) hosts a variety of innovative and creative events…and attendees are always sharing books about organizations, change, design thinking, innovation, creativity and leadership with each other. Add any other recommended books that you can think of in the comments and I can add them in. Also tell us what you like about the book to personalize it. You can click through each book to view more about it on Amazon.

High School Student Leadership: Service Learning Hunger Projects

Photo from the Canstruction Madison 2012 website.

Leadership programs and courses are becoming popular in middle and high schools. So is character education and service learning, which is a great tool for teaching high school students leadership. Turning student creativity loose and letting them take real action in teams can be good for student learning and development. Here are some example high school student projects around the topic of hunger. 

Canstruction Madison
Twenty two teams competed to build structures out of food donated to the Middleton Outreach Ministry Food Pantry.  Teams consisted of student organizations, architect firms and design companies.  Over 1000 people came to see the canstructions, and in 2012, over 28 tons of food were donated.  Read a recap of the even here.

Can Creation Build
Student teams raised money on behalf of a local food bank.  The five teams who raised the most competed to build a structure out of canned goods.

Hunger Knows No Season Challenge
Students form competitive teams, campaigning through their neighborhoods in order to gather collections for a local food pantry.  The team that collects the most food wins a pizza party.

Share Our Strength’s Great American Bake Sale
Culinary students picked some of their favorite recipes, baked them during class and sold the results as part of a nationwide anti-hunger effort.

Empty Bowls Project
Students created artistic bowls which were sold for $10 to community members, along with a simple meal of bread and soup.  Proceeds benefited a local food bank.

Cupcake War to Fight Hunger
Students, faculty and community members baked cupcakes with various springtime themes.  The cupcakes were sold to help end childhood hunger.

Free Rice Project
Students answer questions in a variety of subjects from Math to SAT preparation in an online game from the World Food Programme.  Correct answers award grains of rice that will be donated to those in need.


Fitchburg/Leominster Free Rice Competition
Students from two neighboring high schools used the Free Rice Project to create a friendly competition, earning over one million grains of rice. This innovative approach utilizes gaming and a global humanitarian agency.

Photo by Ruthie Hauge/Sun-Times Media

Houston Vs. Hunger
Students raised money by selling T-shirts and girl scout cookies, as well as raising donations from local businesses.  Collectively, the school raised nearly $15,000 and put together over 40,000 care packages for a local food bank.

Flipping The Leadership Program

Influenced by Khan Academy’s “Flipping the Classroom” model, we are designing, building and facilitating new innovation focused leadership development programs for students at Dartmouth’s Rockefeller Center and for faculty & staff at the University of Wisconsin. These new programs are rooted in what has worked well for learning and leadership development: real challenge & project based activities, feedback, reflection, a relationship focus, and highly collaborative, experiential methods. In addition, these programs are now branching out into integration with new online technologies, such as social media, video, and web apps.

Innovate and grow your leadership program by rooting down, branching out, and then flipping it.

Biomimicry is an innovation technique that allows us to address our challenges by learning from nature. As a leadership developer, you want your participants and your program to grow.  The oak tree is a metaphor for sustaining growth: one acorn can produce an entire forest of mighty oak trees over time. These oaks keep producing more acorns, the forest grows, and the environment is impacted for the better. In developing and growing our leadership programs, we need to root down and branch out, much like the oak tree does.

Root Down:  If you were to peek into a high quality leadership program, you might observe what I found in my research of high impact leadership programs – the foundational roots of what makes a leadership program matter most for learning and development:

I. Participants Engaged in Building and Sustaining a Learning Community
II. Student-Centered Experiential Learning Experiences
III. Research Grounded Continuous Program Development

Hopefully – and more simply – you would see participants developing something together, engaging with each other, and connecting purposefully in pairs or small groups. Pedagogies like these are strengths of many leadership programs. Other fields and disciplines can learn from this as they attempt to make their content more “hands-on” and personal for participants.  Leadership programs are exceptional at group based, experiential, interactive and collaborative methods of learning.

It has been difficult, however, to shake lecture and reading. Many times a program or course needs to have some of this. Hopefully the key word is “some,” as there are more engaging activities that could make up the bulk of the program. The most current opportunity for innovation now is to:

  • leverage what we know about what works for leadership learning and development inside classrooms and formal program meeting times, and
  • leverage what we can do with technology, multimedia, the web and social media to create better leadership learning experiences outside of the classroom or meetings.

We want to continue to root down in our highly experiential, interactive, group based methods, but branch out into experimenting with methods that may improve the experience or investment.

Branch Out:  We can now take our lectures and reading to higher engagement levels by creating videos that deliver this kind of content. The videos provide an opportunity to be more engaging than simply listening to a lecture or reading text. A video can integrate the audio with the visual to activate the brain in more connected ways, showing models and metaphors visually. You can then host your video on YouTube – or a number of other sites – and embed on a blog.  This allows you to share it on social media platforms and receive direct feedback and questions.  Modern technology allows us to create new programs at a much higher quality level and cost effectiveness than we could have done just one year ago.

The Trunk:  The trunk connects the roots to the branches, just like new innovations you experiment with in your program are connected to and supported by the best practices of leadership development. For instance, if you are building upon a “Flip the Classroom” style program with a component of the program that requires participants to view videos, why not design the videos with best practices in mind?  In the programs we’ve built for the University of Wisconsin & Dartmouth, we have socially designed so that groups can view the videos together. These videos are reflective or strategic activity based, so it provides an opportunity to share what you are constructing, gaining feedback and iterating upon it.

People can also be paired up to do videos and activities together. This structure can make a big difference by building mentoring and coaching relationships into the program. The videos are a more engaging way to provide content, guiding people through reflection activities. This design can be even more effective if the social element is added where students are working on the video activities in small groups or one-on-one. Even if it is just one student viewing the video on their own time, a content design focusing on guiding step-by-step activities that the student can do can still be personal and internalized if it is a guided reflection where they are making meaning.

The Time Is Now for Growth:  I have been waiting for an opportunity like this in the leadership development field for years. I feel the time is finally ripe to root down in live interactive, experiential and group-based learning experiences when participants are together in the formal meeting, but to complement that with visual, reflective and strategic activity focused video or online workshop modules.  The moment for innovation is now due to the quality of technology, low cost, and speed of implementation.

Like the oak tree, our programs should always be growing by rooting down and branching out. My new book – based on research of high quality leadership programs – shares 16 root-attributes, 40 branch-actions, and 34 acorn-outcomes that I always begin with in designing a new leadership program or innovating an existing one.  In closing, I ask you, “What are your roots?  What are your branches?  What can you do to root down and branch out to grow?

In the Leadership Education topic area, I focus on helping people to innovate the way they educate to enhance learning & development. It is based on my research and experience with leadership programs, and innovative education. These currently include blended programs based on Flip The Classroom style, as well as my book, Root Down & Branch Out: Best Practices For Leadership Development Programs.

Click here to see all programs in the Leadership Education topic area.

How to Flip the Classroom: Program for Higher Education

How to Flip the Classroom: Experiential Group Activities in the Classroom and Video-guided Reflection Outside of the Classroom

Have you heard of the “Flipping the Classroom” trend, made popular in education by Khan Academy? Are you interested in learning more about the implications of this innovative program development and teaching model, and how it might apply to your college or university? This workshop is debuting at Dartmouth and Darin can bring it to your campus or organization.

In this workshop program, participants will investigate tools and interactive techniques to foster experiential group activities during meeting times and utilize digital media (video, examples and demonstrations) to deliver content as a part of learning focused programs. Participants will additionally learn about this model in action in higher education for students at Dartmouth’s Rockefeller Center. The “Create your Path” personal leadership & innovation program integrates engaging digital content to guide reflection exercises, while utilizing the precious classroom time for students to interactively learn from each other. You will also learn about this approach for faculty and staff at a University of Wisconsin Innovation Initiative.

In the Leadership Education topic area, I focus on helping people to innovate the way they educate to enhance learning & development. It is based on my research and experience with leadership programs, and innovative education. These currently include blended programs based on Flip The Classroom style, as well as my book, Root Down & Branch Out: Best Practices For Leadership Development Programs.

Click here to see all programs in the Leadership Education topic area.

How to take an idea from Google and scale it down to you

I try to spend a couple of weeks in San Francisco each year. It is like a “study abroad” program to learn the latest in innovation just being there. I have many friends who are out there now leading startup organizations. I learn a lot from them, not only about the latest web apps and technologies to use, but also about leadership and innovation. There is no substitute for learning this stuff from being on the streets, close to the ground and with the people doing it like it should be done.

One of these people is Rishi Shah, a founder of Digioh, FlyingCart, and a popular blog called GettingMoreAwesome. I’ve known Rishi for years since we shared a tiny office in Madison. We even took a roadtrip from Wisconsin to San Francisco together when he moved out there and I get the opportunity to check in on him each year. Each visit I see growth, there are new products, new team members, new results, and new innovations. Rishi is new school and old school. He develops web apps and subscribes to the Lean Startup philosophy but has a whiteboard in his office with “Call Customers” written on it.

I got to spend a week on Rishi’s couch. If you really want to learn about and from someone…you’ve got to crash on their couch. When we roadtripped out to San Francisco 2 years ago it was just Rishi leaving the Midwest, taking a risk on moving to San Francisco. When I visited last year, Rishi had convinced his lead developer, Robert to move out to San Francisco. I remember they had taken a tour at Google and were blown away. They came back from that visit inspired and with smoothies. The thing they kept talking about was how amazing it was that they had Odwalla smoothies there for employees.

This recent visit Rishi added a new developer, Ben, to the team. Now there were three Wisconsin guys in San Francisco merging the Wisconsin work ethic with San Francisco innovation. They were also operating leanly…sharing a co-working space, working around the clock, sharing meals together, having a lot of fun, and getting absolutely incredible amounts of productive work done. But remember, you learn the most crashing on the couch. Each morning at Rishi’s place I was awakened to a very loud blender. Each morning Rishi wakes up early and makes a 30 ingredient smoothie for his team of 3. He blends fruits, vegetables, and grains with vitamins. He puts the smoothies in a to-go container and brings them to the office. His team starts the day with energy, nutrition, and something to look forward to. Rishi (knowingly or unknowingly) brought one of the best ideas his team saw firsthand at Google to his scale in his co-working office space. He brought in the smoothies. But, Rishi didn’t buy the expensive pre-packaged smoothies. He is operating lean and effectively. He made more nutritious, tastier, and less expensive smoothies each morning…homemade. He also made one for me each day and they were amazing. Maybe he will pivot and get into the smoothie business.

The innovation lesson I learned is that you can start right now. Rishi is working towards building a significant organization like Google. He doesn’t have a campus with thousands of employees. He has an office of 3 people in a co-working space. He found a way to bring one of the most inspiring ideas from Google to his company at a scale and in a way that works best. This single act of making smoothies in the morning shows a lot about Rishi’s character. He really cares about his team and having a positive organizational culture. He literally does it first thing in the morning.

I was inspired by Rishi and how he was leading his organization in a lean and innovative way. From crashing on his couch I saw that he was living sturdily and Spartan-like. He was living simply to invest in his team and product development. Rishi also blends not only new school smoothies but also old school philosophy into his business by focusing on the customer. I saw him do each day what was written on the whiteboard…call customers. Many organizations won’t even respond to customers emails…but Rishi reaches out and calls them first! This is why his team’s FlyingCart and Digioh products are growing and doing exactly what their customers want…because he knows! He’s talked to them himself…and he’d probably make them a smoothie if they crashed on his couch.

Work Freedom: The who, what, where, when, why, and how of work checklist

It’s a valuable thing to work with who you want, on what you want, how you want, where you want, when you want, and to own what you work on. It’s meaningful to have a quick but thoughtful answer to the question of why you want to work on what you do. If you have the freedom of what, where when, why, and how of your work…and earn enough to support yourself…bravo. This is the ultimate work freedom checklist. I may estimate that only 1% of the population get to do something like this and are able to sustain it. This is well beyond entrepreneurship. Many entrepreneurs I know can’t work on exactly what they want to make ends meet, or if they do they lose the freedom to work when, how, and where they want…they are limited and they lose some of their original freedom entrepreneurial motivations. Other people that work in organizations have more who, what, where, when, why, and how freedom than the entrepreneurs.

If you do want to complete that checklist you also may need to make some sacrifices. Generally this is financial. So the goal here is to be comfortable living simply, which is actually “richer” than living with many resources that you have to maintain, defend, and worry about. My happiest times of life included living in a tiny dorm room or sharing a hostel room traveling for weeks with just what I could carry on my back. So if you can wean yourself off of needing more maybe you can focus on working how, when, where, and on what you want.

I thought about this as I returned from a week in Peru and am about to journey on a 15 day adventure to Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco. This trip is costing me very little since I’m using Frequent Flier miles at the lowest rate and staying with friends the whole time. My friends are also really innovative so I learn from them…it’s like a professional development experience. As a bonus I get to escape the Wisconsin winter for a bit too. When I travel I’ll be doing interesting meetings, events, sharing ideas and strategies with friends, as well as writing and designing new programs from coffee shops. This trip for me is a signal, example, and validator that I get to work how I want, when I want, where I want, and on what I want. It is valuable. What did you check on checklist? What couldn’t you? If this is important for you, is there one aspect of the checklist you can work on? Start check-by-check with actionable ideas.