Creating Innovators: a conversation with author Tony Wagner of Harvard

Hi Gang.

Thanks to the inter-webs, information is now ubiquitous and free, and when basic education and market research is available to billions of people worldwide, like your competitors, only one set of skills (beyond discipline) can really ensure your future success — the capacity for innovation.

What are the skills of innovators? Why is innovation so critical to your future — and to the future of the planet, for that matter? What must parents, teachers, mentors, and employers do to develop the capacities of many more young people to be the innovators that they want to be — and that we need them to become? What do the best schools and colleges do to teach the skills of innovation? What are some of the most forward-looking employers doing to create a culture of innovation?

I recently had the opportunity to chat with Tony Wagner, [which you can download below], who is the first Innovation Education Fellow at the Technology & Entrepreneurship Center for Harvard, and whose new book, Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change The World, addresses these questions through in-depth profiles of young innovators and the adults who have made a difference in their lives.

The thing I loved about reading an early draft of the book is the engaging depth Tony covers when it comes to identifying how innovators are raised, challenged, supported, and developed — all based on identifying and conducting over 150 interviews with some of the world’s leading innovators, their families and mentors.

One really interesting case study delves into the question: What goes into parenting a future product manager for Apple’s iPhone? What do you teach them? How do you motivate them to ask questions and be curious about their world or “think different”?

The future product manager in question, Kirk Phelps, was interested in soccer. But instead of enrolling him in the neighborhood league like most parents, this soccer mom (and dad) drove him to a blue-collar area where most of the people spoke Spanish. “I didn’t care if he was on a winning team or even a starter,” said his dad. “I just wanted him to develop his interest in sports and to experience other kinds of people.” However, when Dad wanted Kirk to watch soccer on Spanish-language TV, Kirk balked. What is obvious from the interview is how much his parents considered unstructured playtime an essential part of their children’s activities and as a way to build self-confidence.

In an interview directly with Kirk, he says, “The only reason I could do my job as a product manager at Apple was that I could talk to the optical engineers, the mechanical engineers, and the electrical engineers, and the firmware guys, the industrial designers, the packaging engineers. I couldn’t do any of these guys’ jobs, but I knew enough about what they did to have an intelligent conversation and to represent their interests when things were inevitably in conflict.” When you think about that, it is pretty amazing.

It’s this concept of “playtime” that is an underlying theme of Creating Innovators (website).

What do you suppose Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos,  Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales,  author and chef Julia Child,  and rapper Sean ‘P. Diddy’ Combs, all have in common?

They all went to Montessori schools where they learned through play.

To check out the full conversation I had with Tony Wagner, just enter your name and email address below and you’ll get instant access to the conversation in digital download format.


Pete Williams is an entrepreneur, author, and marketer from Melbourne, Australia.

Before being honored “Australia’s Richard Branson” in media publications all over the continent, Pete was just 21 years old when he sold Australia’s version of Yankee Stadium, The Melbourne Cricket Ground For Under $500! Don’t believe it? You will! Check out the story in the FAQ section (it really is our most asked question).

Since then, he’s done some cool stuff like write the international smash hit ‘How to Turn Your Million-Dollar Idea Into a Reality’ (+ the upcoming ‘It’s Not About the Product‘) and he’s created a bunch of companies including Infiniti Telecommunications, On Hold Advertising, Simply Headsets and Preneur Group.

Lots of other people think he’s pretty good too! He’s been announced as the Global Runner-Up in the JCI Creative Young Entrepreneur Awards for 2009, the Southern Region Finalist in the Ernst & Young 2010 Entrepreneur of the Year, and a member of SmartCompany’s Top 30 Under 30.

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“Now that I've got the rights back from the publishers, if you enter your email address below, you can instantly download a free audiobook version of my first book, How to Turn Your Million-Dollar Idea Into a Reality.” - Pete
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