Volume XIII | Issue 2 | Fall 2012
In Creating Innovators, author Tony Wagner profiles young American innovators such as Jodie Wu (right). Her start-up company, Global Cycle Solutions, builds bicycle-powered corn shellers in Tanzania. Photo: global cycle solutions

Change makers for the future

Author promotes the importance of nurturing young innovators

You will need more than a comfortable place on the couch and your reading glasses to get the most out of Tony Wagner’s new book, Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World. Also required: a smartphone to instantly access more than 60 web links that supplement the written text with video, audio, websites and other online material via Quick Response (QR) codes. It is, after all, a book about innovation. More specifically, Wagner has developed a roadmap for creating the change makers of tomorrow, beginning with the children of today.

“The long-term health of our economy and a full economic recovery are dependent on creating far more innovation,” Wagner says in his introduction. The evidence illustrating that necessity is compelling: In 2009, 51 percent of U.S. patents were awarded to non-U.S. companies. 

creating the change makers of tomorrow

“If we are to remain globally competitive in today’s world, we need to produce more than just a few entrepreneurs and innovators,” Wagner says. “We need to develop the creativity and enterprising capacities of all our students.”

He sets out to illustrate how that can be done by exhaustively examining how today’s young innovators have found success. He devotes an entire chapter to Kirk Phelps, product manager for Apple’s first iPhone. Readers scanning the QR tag will hear Phelps’ take on innovation first-hand. 

Also profiled is Jodie Wu, a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Wu founded a company that builds bicycle-powered corn shellers in Africa.

The text also offers a fascinating glimpse at what goes into the making of an innovator, particularly parenting techniques and influences. 

Teachers and students

Wagner devotes considerable space to the challenges of teaching and learning in the 21st century. The teachers and students he interviews make it crystal clear that teaching methods have to change to encourage creativity in students, and schools must be flexible in providing support to students who may learn in ways not conducive to traditional instructional methods.

And it’s essential to incorporate new ways of creating knowledge—instead of seasoned veterans penning tomes on how to conduct war, for example, the U.S. Army now writes these manuals as wikis, with soldiers of every rank contributing just-in-time learning from the field. 

In his final chapter, Wagner pens a letter to young innovators. “Being an innovator and an entrepreneur is a blessing and a curse,” Wagner writes. “The blessing is that you have the capacity to see and do things others around you may not. The curse is to realize your potential and the potential of your creation, you have to work hard at a lot of different things. But you can and you must persevere. Your personal sense of satisfaction and the future of your country and our planet all hang in the balance.”  

How it works

Readers will find a series of QR tags throughout the book which, when scanned with a smartphone containing appropriate software (search for “QR readers”), will take them to web pages where they can watch videos related to the schools and innovators’ lives described by the author.

Creating Innovators is available for free to residents of Oregon and Siskiyou County, Calif., through Select Books.

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