My seventh-grade son asked me to volunteer at his school to teach something nonacademic and fun, like how to rollerblade, bake cookies, and so on. I called the school and asked if I could teach a course called “How to Be an Inventor.” I had taught Systematic Inventive Thinking in many innovation workshops for about four years at that point, so I was confident I could deliver a fun and useful program for kids.
To my surprise, the school administrators said no.
I was dumbfounded. I thought the school would welcome a minicourse on creativity. I asked why. They insisted it was impossible to teach someone, especially kids, how to be an inventor. They were worried that the course would set too high an expectation and that I would “break the children’s little hearts.” Like most people, the administrators were stuck on the idea that creativity is a gift that some have and some don’t.
After long negotiations, the school finally agreed to let me teach my course. Ten kids signed up, all seventh and eighth graders. For five weeks, one hour each week, I taught them the same innovation techniques that you learned in this book. I taught them exactly the way I teach adults, except that I used examples kids would find interesting.
The last class was their “final exam.” Each child went to the chalkboard, and I gave each one a common household product: a coat hanger, a flashlight, a watch, a shoe, and so on. None of the children had advance knowledge of the object he or she would be receiving. For the next thirty minutes, each child was to apply to his or her product one of the five innovation techniques learned in class. Their goal was to transform the ordinary object into a new-to-the-world invention, draw a picture of it on the chalkboard, and explain how they had used their technique to create it.
The first presenter was Morgan, seventh grade. She had been assigned a wire coat hanger—a simple, one-piece device with no moving parts. For most people, this exercise would have been very intimidating because a coat hanger seems too simple and mundane to innovate. But not Morgan! Using the Attribute Dependency technique (chapter 6), she invented a coat hanger that expands up or down or sideways depending on the size and weight of the coat hung on it.
Next was Nicole. She had been given a white Keds sneaker that I borrowed from my wife for the class. She’d also used Attribute Dependency to create a shoe with a sole that matched the user’s activity or weather conditions. “I invented a shoe where the bottom can be changed depending on whether you are dancing or bowling, or maybe when it rains or snows,” she explained. As with Morgan’s invention, it was new, useful, and surprising.
And so it went, right down the line, with one child after another using systematic creativity to offer up a new invention. I was very relieved to know that I wasn’t going to be breaking any little hearts.
At the end of class, I held a graduation ceremony. I awarded the students certificates pronouncing that they were officially inventors. They were to go out into the world and create many new, awesome inventions. They had huge smiles on their faces. (So did I.)
It was time to pack up and leave as the class was over, or so I thought. As I was walking out of the classroom and down the hallway, I turned and noticed the children following me. I picked up the pace a bit because I wanted to get home. They picked up the pace too and stayed right in step with me. Then Nicole, nearly running at this point, shouted out, “Drew, Drew! I have another idea: a shoe that expands as your foot grows.”
Nicole and the others couldn’t turn it off ! Their little minds were still working in high gear even though the course was over.
I have since taught the method to third and fourth graders in the Wyoming City Schools in Cincinnati. When applying the Multiplication technique, one of the students, Sam, followed my instructions to the letter. As before, I had given each student an actual product to work on, and I had given Sam a bright red University of Cincinnati umbrella. Dutifully, he created an umbrella with two handles: one in the usual place, and one on top of the umbrella, at the tip (the Multiplication technique, chapter 4). As the standard part of our methodology, I asked Sam, “Now, who in the world would want an umbrella with a handle at the bottom and another handle at the top? Why would that be beneficial?”
Sam thought about it for a minute. Then he jutted his arm into the air, screaming wildly, “Ooh, Ooh, I know! I know exactly why you would want it!” I held my breath. Sam said, “If the wind blows your umbrella inside out, all you have to do is turn it around, grab the other handle, and start using it again!”
Copyright 2015 Drew Boyd