Innovators Don’t Just Drink the Kool-Aid

The phrase, “Don’t drink the Kool-Aid” originates from the horrific massacre that occurred in Jonestown, a settlement in Guyana, in 1978.  Over 900 members of Peoples Temple, a religious movement founded by Jim Jones, were killed by cyanide poisoning.  Accounts vary as to whether or not the people were forced to drink the liquid or did so voluntarily but either way the psychological manipulation in the situation is apparent.  Hence the phrase, “Don’t drink the Kool-Aid.”

Innovator's MindsetRecently I had the privilege of reading The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros  (@gcouros, and I applaud the type of leader Mr. Couros is.  While reading, I couldn’t help but think what our world would be like if all organizations had an innovator’s mindset.  Ask any inventor whose invention has taken off and I bet he will tell you about hundreds of other ideas he had that weren’t as good.  We must adopt an innovator’s mindset and encourage risk-taking and potential failure so we can uncover genius ideas.

In schools, I like to think that the innovator’s mindset falls on a continuum.  Let’s take student behavior as one example from the classroom although this same continuum can be applied elsewhere.  Administrators, I encourage you to think about how this works for teachers as well.

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When students have a fixed mindset they don’t feel like they have the power to change and often blame set traits and external factors for their shortcomings.  I told her she couldn’t sit with us at lunch because I am a mean person.   As teachers we reach out to these students, develop relationships and help them realize their potential to improve.  They start to desire change and develop a growth mindset.  What I did at lunch wasn’t nice.  Next time, I’ll try to make her feel more included.

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The next step on the continuum, in my mind, is compliance.  The students want to progress, see the teacher as an almighty superhero and do as they are told.  Miss Babcock, I asked her to sit with us at lunch today after our conversation yesterday.  We all know our compliant students because they tell you everything they’ve done well.  Miss Babcock, I pushed in [student’s] chair.  I helped pick up a piece of paper in the hallway.  I said, “thank you” when I was in line in the cafeteria.  Sometimes it’s enough to drive you crazy.  But, can you blame these students? They are doing what you told them to do and they want you to know about it.

Unfortunately, I think we are guilty of getting students stuck in stage three.  But isn’t this just a stop on the larger continuum?  If our students only comply, aren’t they just drinking the Kool-Aid?  Quite honestly, of all of the behaviors I see in my classroom, compliance scares me the most.  Yes, you read that correctly.  When a student does exactly what I say because I said to, it keeps me up at night.  There is so much good in today’s world but there is also a lot of evil.  If I send my students out into the world at this stage, will they comply with good or evil?  Think about that.  It’s terrifying!  They need to be independent thinkers.

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After compliance comes emulation.  A student leader in the class suggests changing seats at the lunch table so students who typically feel left out are included.  It works well and the next day a student who admires the leader suggests to do the same thing again.  Instead of working to improve because they are told by someone else, these students take action because of intrinsic motivation.  They look to people they admire and mimic their behaviors.

Sounds great, right?  Not quite.  This still limits the students to what they’ve already witnessed.  If our students only emulate what is modeled, they will never be better than what they’ve seen.  Aha!  Enter the innovator’s mindset.  This is when students improve upon what already exists using their own ideas or come up with something completely new.  They innovate.  Miss Babcock, I made up matching cards to make people feel more included at lunch.  Let’s all draw a card, find the student who has the matching card, and sit with that student at lunch.

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What if every student who graduated innovated?  Instead of drinking the Kool-Aid, our future generations would take action to improve upon current ideas and implement ideas that have not yet been imagined.  Yes, there are certain things that students need to comply with in the classroom.  But let’s not stop there.  Our students are so much smarter than us when we allow them to be.  Let’s make it a point to coach them towards an innovator’s mindset so we can ultimately step aside and they can come up with the solutions to tomorrow’s problems.