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Tony Wagner on Encouraging New Innovators

How can parents, educators and business leaders support people to become more creative, innovative and entrepreneurial?

“Innovation-minded parents encouraged their children’s play, passion and purpose.”

Tony Wagner is currently the first Innovation Education Fellow at the Technology & Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard and the founder and former co-director of the Change Leadership Group at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

The quote above is paraphrased from his article My View: Creating innovators, in which he notes that many people believe that “America’s economic future depends on more students taking courses in science, technology, engineering and math.”

“However,” he adds, “it is clear to me that the more important goal is for all students to graduate from high school or college ‘innovation-ready,’ and merely requiring students to take more of the same kinds of classes will not be adequate preparation.”

For his latest book, Creating Innovators, he interviewed “scores of highly creative and entrepreneurial young people to understand the most important influences that enable someone to become an innovator.”

One of his conclusions is that merely sending a child to the “right” schools and “ensuring that they get good grades are no longer guarantees of success. More than a third of all recent college graduates are living at home today – either unemployed or underemployed. It is increasingly clear that young people who have developed a capacity to be innovative and entrepreneurial – who have the interest in and capability to create their own jobs – will have the most satisfying lives and rewarding careers in the future.

“Innovation is the skill in greatest demand in the workplace today and is the one least likely to be outsourced or automated. For the innovation-minded parents whom I interviewed, developing their children’s intrinsic motivation was their most important goal. And they did so by encouraging their children’s play, passion and purpose.”

Creating Innovators: Book Trailer

Wagner says the quality of childhood play “these parents encouraged was often unstructured and self-initiated. They brought their children fewer toys – and only ones that encouraged more creative play, such as Legos, versus video games and took them to fewer after-school lessons. These parents also limited screen time – often watching only a few hours a week of TV together as a family and keeping a close eye on computers that were strategically placed in a family area rather than in their children’s rooms.”

In spite of schooling

In her review article Parenting 2.0: Raising A Compassionate, Innovative Citizen Of The World, Not The ‘Next Steve Jobs (on HuffPost), Homa Sabet Tavangar refers to the issue of educational systems interfering with creative thinking: “Wagner’s research on young innovators and the vital role of supportive adults that nurtured — not coddled or pressured — them led him to discover that ‘young Americans learn how to innovate most often despite their schooling–not because of it.'”

She notes a good example: “The latest viral video, about Caine’s Arcade, created by a nine-year-old out of pure curiosity, joy and cardboard confirms Wagner’s arguments about innovation. Like the examples in Creating Innovators (whom readers can see by scanning QR codes interspersed throughout the chapters, in one-minute videos made by Bob Compton, the force behind thought-provoking education films 2 Million Minutes and The Finland Phenomenon), young Caine follows Wagner’s rubric, turning play into passion into purpose, with support from a parent who encourages, but stays out of the way.”

[Also see my earlier post A Creative Entrepreneur At Age Nine: Caine’s Arcade.]

Homa Sabet Tavangar is author of the book Growing Up Global: Raising Children to Be At Home in the World.

Book: Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World, by Tony Wagner.

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Tony Wagner on Encouraging New Innovators

Douglas Eby

Douglas EbyDouglas Eby, MA/Psychology, is a writer and researcher on psychology and personal development related to creativity; creator of the , and author of books including [link to book site with excerpts.]
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APA Reference
Eby, D. (2012). Tony Wagner on Encouraging New Innovators. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 4, 2020, from


Last updated: 14 Aug 2012
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