Next Step: Innovate Open Young Minds

By MICHAEL GRABER & JOCELYN ATKINSON

Our last Let’s Grow column focused on an outgrowth of our efforts with some sharp peers, the Memphis Innovation Bootcamp.

One objective of the Bootcamp is to build a community of innovators. The more we socialize these methods and tools, the larger the social and business problems can be met with creativity, empathy and the widest range of possible solutions.

Thus far, we have held mini bootcamps with companies, university and college students, and non-profits. The number of innovators is growing; however, the impact – thus far – is limited to product development and a little bit of city planning, thanks to our peers at the Memphis Mayor’s Innovation Delivery Team.

No offense, but it is an almost insurmountable challenge to open the minds of career-track, socially conditioned professionals to see the city through the lens of pure possibility. To remedy this business-centric application of innovation, we are making strides to take the Bootcamp to high schools, both public and private.

If we can teach Design Thinking to the emerging generation it will achieve many benefits, including: stopping the brain drain from the region, mixing multi-generational teams of volunteers working together to make the region a healthier and more vibrant community, seeing the region with eyes of potential, stimulating a culture renaissance and, most important, teaching creativity and critical thinking to the generation who will inherit Memphis.

The impact of design thinking in education has two overarching, positive benefits: First, it insists upon a multi-disciplinary approach – design thinking demonstrates that bringing together seemingly disparate perspectives can be key to discovering effective solutions. Therefore, this approach shows students that the most complex problems are best solved using an interdisciplinary approach.

Second, the power of collaborating with others: design thinking emphasizes that through collaboration (rather than cutthroat competition) is critical to the learning and problem solving process – a mind-set that will be valuable to their scholarly, professional and personal lives.

But the real benefit is teaching the power of empathy with others. Design thinking teaches students that the best solutions are empathy-driven and created for real people with real problems. By understanding that an answer to a problem is only as good as the person using it finds it to be, students understand that solutions that really connect to others are more valuable than solely empirical or logic-based problem solving methodologies taught today.

The world is what we make it. Teaching students empathy, collaboration and methods for being cunningly creative will empower the city for generations to come and inspire all of us to make it a better place instead of merely accepting the status quo as is.

Jocelyn Atkinson and Michael Graber run the Southern Growth Studio, a strategic growth firm based in Memphis. Visit www.southerngrowthstudio.com to learn more.