Adventures in Innovation, Personal

Adventures in Innovation: Five Takeaways from the Google Innovator Academy

An Experience of a Lifetime

Last week, I had the privilege of attending the Google Innovator Academy in London.  I can say, without a doubt, that this was one of the most amazing and impactful learning experiences of my professional and personal life.  Every minute was filled with learning experiences to develop our innovation projects.  If I was excited about my innovation project before the academy, I cannot even explain how excited I am to continue working on this project with the guidance that I received while in London.

While I work on my Innovator project over the next year, I know that it will be difficult and challenging at times.  I am dreaming big with this project.  I want to do something that can have a positive and transformative impact on education.  While at the academy, I realized that you should dream big but also understand that there will be times where you fail – and that’s okay.  It’s not failure, it’s opportunity to improve your original idea and make it something even better than you previously imagined.

Before you read this, you may want to consider reading a previous blog post: Adventures in Innovation – My Google Innovator Journey.

Let me share five more takeaways with you from the #LON17 Google Innovator Academy.

Five Takeaways

1.) Understand the problem that you are facing and fall in love with it.

Without a doubt, my favorite part of the Google Innovator Academy was going through the design thinking process to understand my problem and develop solutions.  All of the Innovators came into the academy with ideas on how to fix the problem they had discovered.  However, when we arrived, we were encouraged to let go of all our preconceived ideas and solutions.

Les McBeth encouraged us to create a lot of solutions to our problems, whether they were good solutions or bad solutions.  Each Innovator took a piece of paper, folded it into eighths, and were given 1 minute per each box to draw a solution to their problem.  The first 4-5 boxes
were relatively easy but I started running out solutions at the sixth box.  After we completed all 8 boxes, Les challenged us to find the our “wow” solutions and the ones that could be done now.  This activity was fast-paced and did not allow for us to overanalyze any solution that came to our mind.  From this activity, I was able to narrow in the focus of my solutions and add some ideas that enhanced previous parts of my solution to the problem.

Through the design thinking process, I realized that the I needed to focus on the problem.  The solution is simply the tool to fixing the problem.  I know – that sounds obvious.  It is very difficult to focus on the problem when you have all these ideas of how to solve it.  However, to truly solve the problem, you must understand and fall in love with it.  This way, you are passionate about the problem and want to put in the time and effort into solving it.

2.) Always focus on the users when solving your problem.

Before we arrived at the academy, we were asked to complete several tasks to prepare for the work we would do on our projects.  In one of these activities, I developed questions to ask my users (the teachers) about the problem.  As a reminder, the problem I chose was based upon the idea that teachers are not receiving the support  that they need to properly implement technology into the classroom.  (Read more about it here.)  Although I understood that I needed to focus on the problem, Mark Wagner and Les McBeth helped me to realize that I needed to put my focus on ensuring that any solution I developed would be of interest to the users.  After all, I might think that my solution is the best idea in the world but it doesn’t matter if there isn’t anyone else that is interested in using it.

Due to this session, I have embedded multiple opportunities for teachers to beta test my program and offer feedback into my yearlong plan.  I will need the feedback of educators that I can trust to give me an honest opinion and will be able to see problem areas that I am unable to see.  The feedback of these teachers and educators from dozens of different backgrounds will ensure that I am being true to my users.

3.) 8 Pillars of Google Innovation

During Mark Wagner’s spark session, our cohort was introduced to the 8 Pillars of Google Innovation and it completely changed the way that I look at my innovation project.  The 8 Pillars of Google Innovation is not a complicated idea, in fact, it is a simple list of things to remember when developing a project.  As I go through developing my project over the next year, I want to keep myself focused on these pillars to ensure that I am developing an innovative project that has a profound impact on my users.

The 8 Pillars of Google Innovation will help me to remember to dream big and believe in the impossible – but start small.  Don’t move too fast and do to much at once.  Break it down, step by step.  This is the reason that I have developed monthly goals to pace myself throughout the next year.  The pillars help me to remember to build in processes for receiving feedback from users to continually modify and refine my project for continued innovation.  Also, I should never stop dreaming about my project and get stuck with my current solution.  My solution may evolve based upon my interactions with my users, so I need to remember to never close my mind to new ideas.  I will need to share my program with my users while the program is in development but, especially, once it is ready to be released to the public.  Through this, I will be able to find new solutions to ideas based upon the needs of my users.  Finally, never fear failure.  As I mentioned before, failure is just an opportunity to try again and to develop a better solution than previously imagined.

4.) Eat the Whole Apple

Have you ever eaten a whole apple?  I have (during David Hotler’s spark session) and it actually isn’t that bad.  Simply, start from the bottom of the apple and work your way up towards the top of the apple.  By eating from the bottom of the apple to the top, you don’t even realize that you are eating the core of the apple.  Once you get it out of your mind that you cannot do eat the whole apple, or that you shouldn’t be eating the whole apple, then you can eat the whole apple.  (Side note: You may still want to remove the seeds.  We are pretty sure you’ll be fine but you don’t want to eat to many of them as the Google Home relayed to us during this session.)

Our whole lives we have been shown to eat an apple a certain way.  It has to be eaten from the sides and towards the middle.  The core and stem are left behind and you throw away the excess.  The question is…why?  Why do we eat an apple that way?  Do we have to eat the apple that way?  Are there ways to eat an apple that were previously unimagined?  

Now let’s relate that to education.  Think about yourself as an educator.  Think about the tools that you use in your classroom or school and the way that you teach.  Think about the problems that you face on a daily basis and how you solve them.  How could you use these tools or strategies in a way that was previously unimagined?  Let me give you some examples:

  • Traditional – Use Google Forms as a survey.  New Idea: Use Google Forms for assignments.
  • Traditional – Use Google Slides for a presentation.  New Idea: Use Google Slides to create an interactive “Choose Your Own Adventure” story.
  • Traditional – Use Google Drawings to create a picture.  New Idea: Use Google Drawings as infographic.

As you can see, these are just simple adjustments to already used tools.  Try not to get stuck on how it’s “always” been done by try to think about how it “can” be done in an innovative or new way.

5.) My Lagniappe

Tinashe Blanchet introduced our cohort to the word “lagniappe” and challenged us to find what our own lagniappe.  A lagniappe is “something given as a bonus or extra gift”.  What is your lagniappe?  What is it that you give that is more than you are already giving or are required to give.

For myself, I am a Math & AVID teacher, a Team Technology Leader, and an AVID Coordinator.  There are a lot of responsibilities that go along with the roles.  I take each role and responsibility very seriously and have spent considerable time developing these classes and programs.  However, that is what I am supposed to do.  Although it is what I love to do, it is just the basic requirement of any educator that is in these roles.

So…What is my lagniappe?  What is my “bonus” or “extra gift” to others?  I believe my lagniappe is my blog and the resources that I share with teachers all over the world.  I love writing my blog, sharing resources, and having conversations with other teachers about their students and classrooms.  I haven’t felt any desire in requiring people to pay for my resources.  I simply want to share what I have developed in hopes that other teachers can use it in their classrooms, too.  Am I required to do this?  Not at all.  It’s just that little extra thing that I love doing and giving back to others.

In relation to my innovation project, it has definitely challenged me to dream big and think “What if…?”  Although I have a solution to my problem, I have been challenging myself to think about the “extra” I could be giving or creating to offer greater support to teachers when I publicly launch my project.  It could be something simple, an idea or extension of a previous idea, but I will keep asking myself this question:

How can I give just a little bit more?

Next Steps

The Google Innovator Program is a yearlong program and I have just finished outlining my monthly goals for the next year.  I would like to share this with you soon but I am hesitant to do this until I have been assigned a mentor and we begin going over my innovation project.

Here are a few of my next steps:

  • Begin developing the self-assessment form for the BoostEDU program/service.
  • Begin building a website for the BoostEDU program/service.

BoostEDU is the current name of my innovation project but it is definitely in development.  I need to do some research to see if it is a name I am able to use or if there are copyrights that will prohibit me from using this name.

Throughout the next year, I will be sharing my journey in a series of blog posts titled “Adventures in Innovation”.  I look forward to sharing more with you in the future!

2 thoughts on “Adventures in Innovation: Five Takeaways from the Google Innovator Academy

    1. Thanks Nick! It was great meeting you in London! Look forward to hearing more about your Innovator project, too!

Leave a Reply