Where does innovation begin?

… in order or in chaos? Definitely at home.

Miss Frizzle, of The Magic School Bus kids’ science series fame, always says that scientists “take chances, make mistakes, and get messy!” She’s a proponent of the necessity of experimentation for learning. That’s definitely one of the main points kids take away from this great show; if you want to learn something, you have to get really into it and get your hands dirty, sometimes very literally.

Carol Dweck, a Stanford Professor of Psychology, was on the Harvard Business Review’s Ideacast recently. She talked about a “growth mindset” and the hallmarks of this successful attitude: being unafraid of challenges and taking reasonable risks, being able to work outside your usual comfort zone, being focused on the process rather than the end result, being unafraid of and learning from failure, and being able to lead others into confusion with confidence. She recommends praising people’s processes instead of their intelligence and abilities.

I was struck by a friend’s statement long ago that, “I’d rather have my kids grow up and remember that I was a fun mom than have them remember that we always had a clean house.” Now, I value a clean house. I believe that order and cleanliness bring about calm and happy feelings in a family. It’s necessary to sanity sometimes. Sometimes, but not the entire house every second. That kind of sanitation can produce insanity.

I want my children to be great thinkers, good decision-makers, creative artists, and clear-headed scientists. I believe that to nurture my four members of the next generation of innovators, I must allow them time, space, and freedom to experiment now. Without limits? No, definitely not without limits. But they need freedom. They need to be able to play games of imagination wherein they make tiny executive decisions. They need time working in the kitchen with an adult. They need to be able to take small chances.

They need to be able to think up ideas and post signs like this on their bedroom door and know that someone will come to try it out. This is a beginning entrepreneur… who needs a marketing class, but that comes later.


I am a strong supporter of having a space in the house for creativity. I love good design and there are many talented people out there who can make a good-looking craft room, Martha Stewart’s being a prime example. But some people even make beautiful craft rooms for children, like the one below from HGTV’s website. One wonders how long it stays clean or, if it always does, how much real children would really enjoy it. Perhaps there are children who feel very comfortable in this room and use supplies neatly and put everything away when they’re done. I have loads of respect for kids like this but I doubt they will produce loads of innovation when they grow up. Other good things, yes, certainly, but not that which results from experimentation and exploration.


Our own art table (below) is a total disaster most of the time. Oh, I spend significant amounts of time reorganizing it because the kids like to approach order and will use the space more often if it doesn’t look scary, but most of the good stuff happens in those illuminating moments as the pendulum swings from order to chaos and maybe even back again. Reordering doesn’t always happen right away, though it is also a necessary part of a good learning process.


It’s hard for me to live with this table so I frequently think about how much I hope it is useful to the mess-makers. (Will I keep it when they all grow up?) I expect them to do great things someday: to believe in their own powers of creativity and apply them in an area of life they find exciting and rewarding.

I hope their minds stay open to effective processes, interesting ideas, new perspectives and innovation. I hope they will be just as willing to think, learn, grow, and share at age 15, 27, 46 and 83 as they are now. I hope they learn the value of both messiness and order.

I also hope you are doing something to nurture that next generation.


Additional recommended viewing: Steven Johnson’s “Where Good Ideas Come From” video.

3 thoughts on “Where does innovation begin?

  1. Pingback: Sci Fri: On the art of fixing a shadow | Thirty Marens Agree

  2. Pingback: Beauty for ashes | Thirty Marens Agree

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