Lissa Layman

EDL 669, Spring 2015

Creating Innovators: Our education system has not kept pace with our changing world.  The success of our country depends on people having the ability to think outside the box and take risks, not simply follow directions.  How do we raise all young people to help change the world?   In his quest to figure out how to cultivate innovation, Wagner interviewed hundreds of young innovators, their parents, teachers and mentors.  People do not become innovators by themselves; they need support and encouragement from the adults in their lives in order to foster their intrinsic motivation.  From his case studies, Wagner found a “developmental arc in [their] progression from play to passion to purpose” (p. 28).




“...just doing something for the fun of it” (p. 27).

Learning through unstructured play was a common denominator among the young innovators that Wagner interviewed.  As children (and adults) they were given “opportunities to explore, experiment, and discover through trial and error - to take risks and fall down” (p. 29).

“In more than one hundred and fifty interviews … passion was the the most frequently recurring word” (p. 29).

Play allows people to discover things they are passionate about.  Passion drives people to persevere.

“...something far deeper, more sustainable, and trustworthy - purpose” (p. 28).

In young innovators, this purpose is often grounded in “the desire to somehow ‘make a difference’” (p. 28).  Play can spark passion but it is a bigger purpose that keeps people going.

An important mentor

        The young innovators that Wagner interviewed all had an important mentor in their lives who helped them play, discover their passions and pursue their purpose.  This mentor, however, was very rarely a teacher.  And if the mentor was a teacher, he/she was the antithesis of traditional.  “Being a ‘sage on the stage’ is problematic when you are trying to encourage intrinsic motivation and encourage students to have ownership of their learning” (p. 161).  While Wagner acknowledges that knowledge is important, the young innovators that he interviewed did not remember what they learned in school.  Instead they remembered how adult mentors made them feel and how they helped them to cultivate their passions and find their purpose.  “For students to become innovators in the twenty-first century, they need a different education, not merely more education” (p. 201).

Open-minded parenting

Wagner interviewed both parents of innovators and innovators who are parents to gather data on what parents can do to encourage innovation.




  • Provide opportunities and time to experiment, with limits.
  • When it comes to toys, less is more.
  • Family screen time
  • Intentional in “observing and extending their children’s play” (p. 210).
  • Reading as play
  • Curiosity - give children the opportunity to explore activities, whether they are good at them or not.
  • Allow children to quit activities they are not interested in.
  • Support children in whatever they do.
  • Values
  • Giving back is important.
  • Focus on “something larger than oneself” (p. 216).
  • Encourage children to lead an authentic life in which they “care about and are engaged in something that matters to them” (p. 216).