Share the Well – A Thirst for Innovation

Share the well.

At Mount Vernon Presbyterian School, we work to be very intentional about culture. Our mission begins, “We are a school of inquiry, innovation, and impact.” To continuously live into this mission requires a deliberateness about our culture. So, we are responsible and accountable to one another in our school community through the norms that we’ve chosen. One of these norms is “share the well.”

To “share the well” originates from the offering of one’s water source to another. It literally means to invite others to one’s own source of sustenance and refreshment. Also, to “share the well” means to offer well-ness to one another… to share the health of oneself to others.

By sharing the well, we are setting the conditions for connection to others, to other ways of thinking, to deeper collaboration. To stand at the proverbial water cooler allows for essential exchange to occur. Repeatedly. Intentionally.

In addition to strengthening relationships, sharing the well also makes possible the networking and associative thinking that we know is essential to innovation. Being students and stewards of The Innovator’s DNA, we draw on “share the well” to heighten the possibilities for 1) observing, 2) questioning, 3) experimenting, 4) networking, and 5) associative thinking.

Because MVIFI (the Mount Vernon Institute for Innovation) serves as a major component of Mount Vernon’s R&D efforts in educational innovation, MVIFI feels responsible for helping to set the conditions so that sharing the well can happen systemically.

During the month of October, MVIFI has hosted three events that function to share the well at various scales of community. For in sharing the well, we enhance the opportunities for networking and associative thinking.

  1. MVPS School Visit Day.  On Thursday, October 6, MVIFI hosted 45 people from 14 different schools and organizations around the country. During the morning program, we offer a “crash course” in learning walks and instructional rounds, and we send our visitors to conduct an experiential learning walk. At the conclusion of the morning’s learning journey, we listen for feedback from our visitors. We ask them to describe what they saw, as well as what their observations made them think and wonder. By sharing the well with those who do not spend every day at MVPS, we grow from their particular vision and perspective. Such associations help us to innovate our practices by inviting outside experience to look at what we are doing as a school.
  2. Collider. On the very next day, October 7, MVIFI produced an internal professional learning day that is “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” Schools often describe their faculty as their greatest asset. Yet, ironically, few schools seem to make time and room for faculty to gather and “collide” across regular work flows to take next steps with specific strategic objectives. So, Collider was created so that Mount Vernon faculty could share the well on particular work that we are advancing as a school. Various teacher leaders offer sessions that function as test kitchens and camp fires to forward our ambitious intentions as a school of inquiry, innovation, and impact.
  3. A Night of Inquiry, Innovation, and Impact. On October 20, MVIFI and MVPS hosted an evening entitled A Night of Inquiry, Innovation, and Impact for us to “look up and look out” so that we could learn from what other mavericks are doing and experiencing in innovation spaces connected to PK-12, college and university, and corporations. We curated six speakers and a looping cellist to share powerful talks and performances about what it means to pursue three design drivers that we’ve positioned in our next strategic plan: a) How might we make school life more reflective of real life, b) How might we encourage all learners to be seekers and explorers, and c) How might we inspire each other, and the broader world, with the work we undertake? So, these seven innovation agents shared the well so that we could be challenged and stretched from our daily thinking.

As a school of inquiry, innovation, and impact, we believe deeply in sharing the well – within our own community, beyond our immediate school community, and across perceived industry boundaries – so that we might set conditions for networking of people and ideas and so that we might optimize the power of associative thinking to advance our work as mavericks.

How are you being intentional about the culture you create at your organizations and schools so that inquiry, innovation, and impact can flourish? How are you sharing the well?


This post originally appeared on, Monday, October 31, 2016.

Innovation as the fruit of embracing life as a multipotentialite

What if some people are hampered by having to narrow their focus? How might certain folks maximize their capacities by living at the intersections of their associative thinkings?

Emilie Wapnick gives a compelling talk about the nature of innovation and life as a “multipotentialite.” The three super powers of the multipotentialite may very well be the braid of new ideas strongly weaving a compelling life.

Five Practicable Skills to Innovation @MViDiploma #iDiploma #iDNA

If you wanted to be healthier, what would you do? Most likely, you would regularly practice some behaviors such as eating with nutrition in mind, sleeping significantly, exercising cardiovascularly and with resistance or weight training, etc.

If you wanted to be more innovative and develop your creative capacities as a leader of positive change, what would you do?

From “The Innovator’s DNA,” Dyer, Gregersen, Christensen, Harvard Business Review, December, 2009:

But how do they do it? Our research led us to identify five “discovery skills” that distinguish the most creative executives: associating, questioning, observing, experimenting, and networking. We found that innovative entrepreneurs (who are also CEOs) spend 50% more time on these discovery activities than do CEOs with no track record for innovation. Together, these skills make up what we call the innovator’s DNA. And the good news is, if you’re not born with it, you can cultivate it.

How are you creating the conditions in which you can cultivate your innovator’s DNA through practice of associating, observing, questioning, experimenting, and networking? How are you beginning your 100-hour knack? How are you discovering the problems and opportunities that you are uniquely capable of identifying and addressing?


Written as continued provocation and encouragement for capacity building happening @MVPSchool’s and @MVIFI’s Innovation Diploma

PROCESS POST: “Observe!” “Explore!” “Question!” as Homework

Last night, when I got home from an evening meeting, my nine-year-old, “PJ,” was incredibly excited. PJ, his younger brother, JT, and a friend of theirs next door had collected flowers during their afternoon playtime.

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PJ described to me, with great detail and enthusiasm, the shapes of the petals, the location of the flowers in the surrounding neighborhood, the apparent similarities and differences among different plants of the same species, the colors of the blooms and the insect activity around the flowers. He explained their exploration strategy, and he told me how they organized the flowers in different ways and searched for examples of flowers that would fill and complete certain categories of their organizational schema.

PJ talked for 12-15 minutes non-stop about the exploration. He had been mesmerized by his discoveries, motivated by his own sense of curiosity and momentary trying-on of amateur botanist.

What if this were “Homework?” And I don’t mean an assignment from a teacher that reads: “Go out in your yard and neighborhood and find flowers. Categorize them by features x, y, and z. Write a report about your discoveries.”

I mean this kind of assignment: “Go. Explore. Observe. Question. Be ready tomorrow to tell us what you discovered!”

Can you imagine the habits of mind that could be nurtured with such structured freedom and invitation to practice the Innovator’s DNA traits (observe, question, experiment, network, and associate) over time?

Some days, I imagine children might return to school the next day without something to report. But they would hear their friends and classmates report, and there would grow this communal “pressure” and encouragement to explore, discover, and bring in stories. Connections and associations would arise. Experiments could be proposed and designed to test hypotheses. Data could be collected. Engineering and design could emerge. Threads of history and lenses of various other disciplines would be woven together in more natural ways.

Your Homework: Go. Explore. Observe. Question.

If school is supposed to prepare students for real life, then why doesn’t it look more like real life?

If school is supposed to prepare students for real life,
then why doesn’t school look more like real life?

For more than a decade, this question has lived at the heart of my research and practice as a professional educator. While I worked at Unboundary, we created a Brain Food devoted to exploring this question.

A number of educators and school transformation agents connect to this question through an entire branch of educational practice known as “authentic learning.” At the end of January, #EdChat Radio featured the topic of authentic learning on an episode. And Dr. Brett Jacobsen, of Mount Vernon Presbyterian School and the Mount Vernon Institute for Innovation (where I work), recently interviewed Dr. Yong Zhao for his podcast “Design Movement,” and much of their conversation connects with this topic of authentic learning.

Given the habits formed by decades of industrial-age, delivery-based pedagogy, though, educators must explore and experiment with different structures in order to make room for more authentic learning – learning that is meant to serve a greater purpose than only a grade in a grade book and a future locker-clean-out session in late May or early June.

Exploring such new structures can be challenging for schools. In fact, some structures point to entirely different paradigms for schools – like “giving an education” rather than getting an education, taking a course, or whadya-get-on-that-test assessment.

Some school people imagine such paradigm shifts would lack structure – that it would be too free form, loosey-goosey, or soft-skills heavy. This is really a false set up for thinking about the structural-shift needs of schools in transformation. How “loosey-goosey, really, is your project work and real-world problem solving in your career and life?

As Tony Wagner says in Creating Innovators, it’s not a choice between structure and no structure to allow for more authentic learning. It’s a choice to build a different structure for School 3.0 – one that allows for student-learners to explore their passions and real-world purposes while engaged in challenges that exist in the world and yearn to be defined and solved. Structures that empower learners to engage in more authentic learning flows.

Creating Innovators - Structure

But how do educators make such shifts and create different structures? I believe one way we do this is to explore avenues and portals to empower students to engage in real-world problem solving. Instead of only organizing the curriculum – the track of learning – around subject-siloed disciplines, at least part of the curriculum could be organized around exploring and venturing into authentic, real-world problem solving as organizers of product-and-process-oriented work.

In my own life and work, I’ve explored opening such portals through #fsbl and #Synergy. Much of this work involves immersing oneself and other learners into the Innovator’s DNA traits – observe, question, experiment, network, and associate – through the methodology of observation journaling and curiosity-curated curriculum.

Of course, other ways exist to open those portals and explore into those worlds of authentic learning and real-life problem solving. Here are but a few inspirations and possible ways in…


Resources for engaging in real-life solution seeking:


Open IDEO is an open innovation platform for social good. We’re a global community that draws upon the optimism, inspiration, ideas and opinions of everyone to solve problems together.

NPR – All Tech Considered: Innovation

An exploration of interesting ideas that solve problems, introduce new experiences or even change our world.

Do Something is the country’s largest not-for-profit for young people and social change. We have 2,439,780 members (and counting!) who kick ass on causes they care about. Bullying. Animal cruelty. Homelessness. Cancer. The list goes on. spearheads national campaigns so 13- to 25-year-olds can make an impact – without ever needing money, an adult, or a car. Over 2.4 million people took action through in 2012.


Choose2Matter is a call to leadership and an accelerator to connect individuals and communities with a conscience. It combines technology, innovation and mentorship to solve problems that matter. It’s an important opportunity for business, brands, and communities to join forces in the causes and issues most important to those they lead and serve.

What has been inspired by students, has led to the official launch and creation ofCHOOSE2MATTER – a crowd sourced, social good community.

50 Problems in 50 Days

I’m on an adventure – to explore the limits of design’s ability to solve social problems, big and small. To do this I attempted to solve 50 problems in 50 daysusing design. I also spent time with 12 of Europe’s top design firms.

Peter Smart


InnoCentive is the global leader in crowdsourcing innovation problems to the world’s smartest people who compete to provide ideas and solutions to important business, social, policy, scientific, and technical challenges.

TED Prize

The TED Prize is awarded to an extraordinary individual with a creative and bold vision to spark global change. By leveraging the TED community’s resources and investing $1 million dollars into a powerful idea, the TED Prize supports one wish to inspire the world.

Ideas for Ideas