Leading Innovation

I have just begun the first course in the Stanford Innovation and Entrepreneurship Certificate and am very excited about it. The course is called Leading Innovation, and its goal is to develop leadership skills which will drive innovation. Professor Bob Sutton points out in the course introduction that there is a huge difference between leading innovation and managing routine work, stating one of the core goals of this course: How to manage creativity and innovation successfully.

The course will give a strong emphasis to honing leadership skills to drive innovation. We will learn about many interesting aspects of creativity and innovation, such as the intersection of ideas, concepts, and culture; embracing and learning from failure; learning how to build a talented and motivated team, as well as staying in tune with the people you lead. As an educator with an academic background in Anthropology, I am particularly interested in the intersection of ideas and culture. I hope to write more about that aspect as the course unfolds.

In module 1, professor Sutton interviews Perry Klebhan, Director of Executive Education at Stanford d.school and the inventor of the modern snowshoe. The core concept explored in the module and illustrated by Klebhan’s interview is the following:


Here are the lessons I learned from listening to Perry Klebhan.

To lead innovation, we must be prepared to:

Lesson 1: Cultivate a deep awareness that creativity alone does not equal innovation. The product or service is just one piece of a larger, more complex puzzle.

Lesson 2: Accept and work with the systemic nature of innovation, in that it entails creative work and all the activity that will generate a necessity or desire for whatever product or service you are creating.

Lesson 3: Apply creativity to designing a new product/service as well as to creating the experience that the customer/user will have when interacting with your product. The product itself is just a piece of the puzzle.

Lesson 4: Consider how people will interact with the product/service, understanding that this interaction is the key to implementation that leads to innovation. Experiment and engage in ethnographic work, observing people’s behaviors and attitudes towards your product/service. Ask yourself how people will own the product, and what impact it will have on their lives.

Lesson 5: Educate customers and partners around the experience you are designing and which is embedded to your creation. This is critical.

Lesson 6: Hone your interpersonal skills, for human connections are in the core of innovation.  Look to observe and understand their needs, desires, even fears. That will directly impact the success of your creation.

Lesson 7: Know that innovation is complex, in that it takes more than the sum of two parts, namely creativity and implementation, in order to really take off. Adopt an observant stance towards nuances that will emerge in the implementation process, especially the unpredictable ones that will certainly spring up from the interaction of the customers and partners with your product/service.

I am looking forward to the next module, where we will discuss creativity and the differences between routine and creative work.

Do any of the lessons above resonate with you in particular? I’d love to engage in some meaningful conversation about this topic.



  1. When you and I implemented Google Apps for Education at our school, we thought a lot about the experience of teachers using these products. First we thought about how our experience teaching would be so much improved by using them, and then we thought about the teachers experience adopting a new product into their teaching practice. We truly had to maximize the positive experiences and avoid our teachers having negative experiences.

    Another important aspect is creativity. Something that leaders in education are trying to campaign about, is how the current setup is not encouraging generations of students to become creative and hone their skills in creativity. When trying to change the entire education Paradigm, lesson five above is critically important because you have to show teachers, parents and students how education could be better. Well, this is from my perspective. I have a chip on my shoulder, because unlike other teachers, I did not have that one teacher that inspired me to become a teacher. I had a terrible learning experience and I don’t want that for my children or future generations of students.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Like Derrick I never really had an inspirational teacher and see a weakness in educating people on the “experience you are designing.” First it sounds a bit pompous to declare you are designing someone’s experience–as in manipulative. Far better to listen carefully to the user’s response and then formulate a way to suggest them towards what you intended but through using their own thoughts and gestures. Often we are over-told what something is “for” and it blocks out our chance to decide for ourselves.
    Working with teachers myself I found telling of all the advantages of adopting technology fell flat if they couldn’t see themselves doing something they normally did using a tech enhanced “solution.” So I guess I’m saying use the #6 skills you already have Clarissa prior or in place of “look what I made for YOU even though you didn’t ask for it.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. In addition to what Scott said, an important sentence in lesson 4 was “Experiment and engage in ethnographic work, observing people’s behaviors and attitudes towards your product/service.”

      This was a crucial step in implementation because the success or failure of adoption by teachers was based on how teachers felt about Google Apps for Education. Also, we left it up to the teachers whether or not they wanted to continue working with Google Apps for Education after trying it out. We gave them the choice to join future trainings at a later date of their choice or simply not attend. We obviously felt excited about the product / service, but we wanted other people to feel excited about it on their own. Often, they got excited because we were so excited. Those of us that attended all the meetings were given many chances to speak up about positive and negative experiences.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Good point about showing excitement and being consistent about it Derrick. Adopting an authentic enthusiasm is a very good way to invite people to try things. Supportive and friendly instruction from others who work in the same field reduces the fear of change as does the notion of choice. Much of the training offered makes no allowance for for a teacher’s experience and sense of self-developed accomplishment. As the tech trainers had never read any theory on adult learning, they would blast in dismissing everyone in the room as blank-slates while glossing over legitimate critical observations.
        Aside from losing people by not being able to get beyond the sales pitch, the trainers projected an attitude towards the teacher’s students as if these were unimportant. This just reinforced the the notion among teachers that technology was just another layer of distance between them and THEIR* students–another way to turn teaching into a disconnected slog through the day.
        Maybe it’s hard for people to understand that doing work you feel “matters” is not some kind of naive silliness based on a misunderstanding of how-the-world-works? Guess that falls under both #4 and #6.
        Funny how being honest about the potential for failure is seen as a danger to persuasion. But then, sales people seem to be the biggest believers in BS on the planet.

        * To me, the biggest clue to reaching out to teachers was the repeated mention of “their students.” This is a very personal relationship and commitment to serving others that challenges technology’s glorification of efficiency as its main quality. People’s relationship with their “work tools” can be quite complex and I found the notion of tech enabling a greater production of graduates was very popular with administrators but was meaningless to teachers.

        Liked by 1 person

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