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Rethinking Innovation in Education

Learning in Victoria in 2020

Charles Leadbeater
Draft January 2011

1. Why Education Needs Innovation

We do not need innovation primarily to accelerate the spread of best practices of
the current education system but to create ways of learning that are much more
productive and effective, for children but also for society.
For a long time in the last century there seemed to be little divergence between the
kind of education we provided; the kind of education that was needed, by
individuals, economy and society; and the kind of education we could provide. It
seemed as if we were using the best means possible (modern schools, professional
teachers, formal exams) to deliver the kind of education (the transfer and
accumulation of knowledge in separate academic disciplines, tested by exams)
that a relatively stable economy of large, hierarchical organisations needed. For
much of the 20th century the goal was to improve and extend access to better
quality schools for more people and to reduce inequalities in outcome due to class
and geography.
In the last three decades two big things have changed how that approach is seen,
First, we are slowly and painfully learning more about what works to generate
better outcomes from these 20th century, mass school systems. Above all else
teacher quality and student motivation seem to be key.
Yet even as we have started to hone these approaches to improving the systems
we have for example through inspection regimes, league tables, improved
teacher training a growing doubt has set in about whether this incremental
approach to improvement will be enough. This is the second big development :
the recognition that doing better what we have been doing up to now might not be
enough to equip our children and society to cope with the challenges they face to
live more successfully.
So all around the world children, parents, governments want more education.
They believe fervently in its capacity to lay the foundations for higher standards
of living, a more civil culture and more mature government.
However all around the world children, parents and employers voice concerns that
education is not adequately equipping people with the kinds of skills, aptitudes
and approach to knowledge they will need to prosper. Reproducing knowledge
will be increasingly automated by digital technologies. So being able to do that
will not in itself be a critical skill. Instead what will be valuable is applying
knowledge in inventive ways in novel contexts. Whereas in the past we have seen

education as providing people with access to a fixed stock of knowledge; now it is

much more about getting people to find their way into flows of knowledge that are
constantly changing. Collaboration will be critical to all of that.
People both want more education and yet discontent with how education works is
rife and widespread.
That is because there is a growing gap between:

The kind of education systems we have.

The kind of learning we need.
The technology available to enable new ways to learning and how it is

The opening up of this triangular space between what we have, what we need and
what is possible, is why we need innovation in learning. For the sake of argument
call this the space of what is possible.
Those kinds of gaps open up the whole time in the economy: powerfully
incumbents often fail to recognise new needs and under exploit the potential of
disruptive new technologies. Sometimes these incumbents can resist change for
years. However when technologies, consumer expectations and organisational
forms are all shifting at the same time then it is difficult for dyed in the wool
companies to continue to control their industries. New entrants emerge to pioneer
new organisational models which meet new consumer needs in different, more
effective ways. Often these new approaches come from upstarts and outsiders,
sometimes backed by venture capitalists pouring in to explore the new
possibilities. This is often a highly uncertain process. Many new ventures do not
succeed before some find products and business models that work. Older
established companies have to go through a painful process of restructuring and
change. However it is through this process of innovation and entrepreneurship that
industries explore new ways to meet new needs.
That kind of process is almost completely absent in highly regulated education
sectors. Innovation strategy in education is first about persuading a wide range of
people to recognise both the scale of the need and the scale of the possibility to
meet these emerging needs in new and more effective ways. Then it is about
helping a wide range of players, inside, outside and right on the margins of the
education system, to take steps to close the gap between what we have and what
we need by creating new ways for people to learn new kinds of skills.

2. Learning in 2020
Framing challenges and opportunities matters to give people involved in
education a sense of the kind of innovation that is need and what is possible.
Creating a shared frame of the challenges and opportunities for - professionals,
parents, policy makers, politicians, new entrants, technology providers is vital.
Innovation strategy has to lead and frame public debate about the future of
The starting point for that has to be an account of the kind of learning that will be
needed in 2020. That view needs to be informed from a variety of sources
emerging findings from cognitive science; changing demands of the economy and
labour market; shifting values in society, for example in attitudes towards
authority and democracy; cultural and demographic shifts.
In terms that educationalists would recognise we need to move beyond the debate
between behaviourists (learning is stimulus and response) and varieties of
constructivists (learning is created through interpretation, individual or social.) A
new consensus needs to be forged about the kind of learning we aspire to, a
consensus that parents, children and teachers can buy into as much as leading
This emerging consensus about what learning needs to become has nine main

Learning is an active and engaged process of interpreting knowledge and

adapting it to new contexts and uses. Mastering a subject or skill is not a
matter of memorising content or even embedding routines (though both
may play a part.) Rather it comes from being able to use knowledge
adaptively, applying it in different settings. Learning should be a
generative process in which knowledge and understanding grow and adapt,
both integrating older knowledge and casting it aside.


That kind of learning means that the motivation and engagement of the
learner are critical, alongside more formal analytical skills. Brain science
is providing us with a flow of new insights in the emotional and rational
aspects of learning.


One consequence of that is to see learning has to be a higher personalised

rather than standardised experience. Even if much of the content has
elements of standardisation the experience of learning it and showing what
has been learned needs to be highly personalised. To be engaging and
motivating learning needs to feel as if it is intimate to the person. That in
turn implies that: provision will need to be flexible and sensitive enough to
be differentiated, to meet different needs and capabilities in different ways;
children will be encouraged to become investors in their own learning as
well as being given a real voice in the process; learning will increasingly
encourage self-regulation as it proceeds.


Yet as well as feeling deeply personal learning needs to be highly

collaborative. Personalised does not mean learning should be a solo
activity. Learning is an interactive process of dialogue, as much with peers
as with teachers. Collaboration has cognitive benefits: children learn to
acknowledge others viewpoints and insights. It can also have huge
motivational impact, for good and for ill: learning with other people in the
right way can prove hugely motivating. That means promoting
collaboration between teacher and pupil but as importantly through team
projects and peer to peer learning.


Mastering knowledge and skills is not a question of memorising content

and regurgitating it for threshold tests. When people face complex tasks it
is important they understand underlying principles and how they should be
applied in novel contexts. Rather than reaching for the right answer they
need to adopt the right approach. The more that learning focuses on how to
solve complex questions (rather than delivering the right answer to a
simple question) the less that teaching can be about the delivery of
knowledge. Instead learning needs to be tested by applying knowledge to
unfamiliar fields and questions and the ability to combine different aspects
of knowledge in different ways. Learning is not just an abstract process
that takes place in the head but needs to be applied in context, with others.


This kind of learning thrives on feedback, not just at the end of the course
to test what has been learned but in the process of learning to guide and
develop learning. So called formative assessment provides more constant
feedback but increasingly we will need generative forms of assessment:
ways to set people new challenges as they show they have learned new
skills constantly to stretch them. Assessment should be more like creative
dialogue than just scores out of 100. Education reforms that have focussed
on measurable, explicit targets, tests and exams need to become better able
to assess more tacit, less observable aspects of learning that are social and


Learning is a structured process; it is not a free for all. Learning should be

exciting because it is challenging and stretching. It should be hard work
but rewarding and fun. It should encourage exploration and discovery but
not without a map to help people orient themselves and find out where
they have got to. Learning should become an increasingly self-regulated
activity that people are able to do by themselves and with other people
rather than having knowledge and ideas fed to them. Although much
learning depends on repeated practice and routines those are the vital
building blocks for being able to be more creative and expressive.


Learning should take place in a wide variety of settings not just at school,
in class. One test of a successful strategy would be whether more learning
takes place in informal, self starting environments.


Designing the environment in which this kind of learning can take place is
a demanding and sophisticated task, much more so than traditional
teaching. We will need perhaps fewer but more skilled, creative, master

teachers to lead this kind of learning. But they will have to be adept at
drawing on a mix of other skills and resources: online and distance
learning; peer-to-peer learning and the skills of other adults,
paraprofessionals and subject specialists. Creating the conditions for this
kind of learning is much more demanding and difficult than traditional
These nine points make up the core consensus among innovative educationalists
about the future of learning. They are reflected in the work of leading innovative
practitioners and schools. Yet this consensus and the challenges it presents to
the status quo are not widely understood or shared in the wider public. One task
for innovation strategy is to bridge that gap, to share and spread these ideas in
down to earth language and concrete examples that can command a much wider
assent and following.
This sets out an agenda of the kind of learning we should be seeking to make
available to all children. The question is how do we close that gap between what
we need and what we have? How do we create effective practices and forms of
organisation to make this kind of learning a daily reality for thousands of students
and teachers? What kind of innovation do we need to make that possible?
3. The Changing Face of Innovation
Ideas about what is involved in innovation are still dominated by models derived
from the private sector and in particular high tech, knowledge intensive product
development. This pipeline model in which designers and researchers develop
new products, based on new technologies and then find ways to push a new
product into market, is mainly derived from the manufacturing and
pharmaceutical industries.
This still dominant model of innovation has been revised in important respects in
recent years to acknowledge: a greater role for industrial, on the job knowledge
rather than formal scientific and technical knowledge; a larger role for design
thinking, including attending more closely to the needs of consumers and
integrating their views into the innovation process earlier; new ways to make
innovation work, including more cross functional and inter-disciplinary teams, to
overcome the barriers of passing an idea from one department to another; a
growing role for innovation to come from outside large companies, particularly
from smaller, nimbler, venture backed start ups. This revised approach still has a
kind of pipeline at its core, starting with knowledge and turning it into products
that consumers use. However companies now recognise that the innovation
pipeline can be fed and organised in different ways.
However in the last few years thinking about innovation has gone beyond even
these revisions to the traditional pipeline model. The big implication of this
rethinking is to see innovation are a far more collaborative, interactive process in
which ideas can come from many sources, be developed in many different ways
and applied to create value in many other settings. This reflects the role of the web
in sourcing ideas and enabling collaboration; the growing internationalisation of

knowledge flows; the importance of social and service innovation alongside

technical and product innovation.
This approach is not just a revision of the pipeline model but an alternative to it.
These are its main components:

Innovation involves a variety of risks. The most obvious is that a new

product or technology may not work effectively or do what it says.
However even if a technology works that does not mean consumers will
adopt it, in part because it may be too difficult or costly to use. Even if
consumers do adopt a new technology that does not mean a business or
organisation will necessarily find a new business or organisational model
to make it successfully. Consumer and business organisation innovation
are at least as important to innovation as technical and product innovation.

Innovation can involve software and services as much as physical

products. The Apple iPhone relies for its success on the App Store which it
provides access to.

Demand plays a critical role in innovation, both to pull through successful

products but also because consumers are vital in adapting and modifying
innovations in use to apply them more effectively and generate more value
from them.

That means innovation is often a process of co-evolution, in which

products and services evolve through constant interaction between
suppliers and customers. The web and communications makes this
interaction ever more immediate.

New ideas for products can come from multiple sources, not just formal R
& D. These sources include: the on the job industrial knowledge of
practitioners; customers; competitors; start ups.

Innovation is about creating new value, and sometimes that can come from
repurposing old ideas and technologies, generating additional and
unexpected value from them. Looking back to reuse old and discarded
ideas can be as creative as trying to develop entirely new ideas.

Collaboration is at the heart of successful innovation, to find ways to blend

together different insights, ideas and knowledge, to create new and
unexpected mixes. Innovate organisations have highly collaborative
internal cultures but more organisations are now attempting to extend and
improve the way they collaborate with people and organisations outside
their business.

So we have three different accounts of innovation. The dominant and traditional

pipeline model is that knowledge comes from special sources and skills and is then
pushed out to waiting consumers. The revised version of this model is that the
pipeline can be fed from many sources, organised less hierarchically and consumers
can be involved in the process earlier and more creatively. The alternative version is

that innovation is a collaborative and interactive process, which thrives on ideas being
fed from many sources and applied in many ways. This alternative account focuses
not just on innovation in products and technology but services, platforms, software
and tools. It lends itself to a far more social, open and collaborative account of
An innovation strategy for education to 2020 that reflected the dominant pipeline
model would be inadequate. Instead it would have to be modelled on elements from
the revised and alternative/open approaches to innovation. Education innovation
strategy would not just lead the way in thinking about innovation in learning but also
in thinking about innovation, where it comes from, how it is best orchestrated. Of
course, there is a good deal of overlap here: new models of learning and new models
of innovation share some important common ingredients.
4. What To Innovate and How
What should an innovation strategy focus on and how should it be conducted? Below
are six options. These are not mutually exclusive. Indeed elements of all six may well
be needed.
(a) Practices
Practices have been the focus on quite a lot of work on innovation in education, for
example the UK Innovation Units Next Practices programme. This sifts the emphasis
from sharing best current practices to developing the practices which education
systems will need in the future.
This focus on practices makes sense because teaching is best understood as a practice
rather than as a product or a service. A practice is a way of doing things that has been
developed over a long period in which tacit and explicit knowledge are blended to the
extent that it becomes almost second nature to skilled practitioners. At the end of the
day innovation in education probably has to issue in real, daily practices routines,
activities, procedures people go through to learn in reliable, repeatable ways. One
complaint about visionary accounts of the future of learning in which creativity plays
a prominent role is that they do not seem to connect to the real world of day to day
However instead of looking for next practices it might be better to look for
transformational practices: those are practices that transform outputs and outcomes,
by transforming something about how an organisational model works. This often
involves people having to adopt different goals and roles. Its is disruptive, especially
in quite regulated and hierarchical organisations.
Perhaps the most famous example of a transformational practice is the Japanese
development of quality circles, based on their own reinterpretation of the work of US
quality guru William Demming. Japanese companies were able to turn Demmings
revolutionary ideas into reality but only because (a) they took them seriously and
believed high quality was an important and achieveable goal and (b) they were
prepared to undertake the day to day reforms to working practices to make the pursuit
of high quality a reality. These reforms including giving shopfloor workers a daily
forum in which to discuss issues of quality in which even the smallest ideas for

improvement were taken seriously. That was backed up with training and giving
workers the right to stop the assembly line to correct a fault.
Another example might be the adoption of self-service routines and practices in some
industries. A good example might be the way that Federal Express moved to allow
customers to track the progress of their own parcels. This created a new customer
practice that allowed the entire process to become more efficient and at the same time
improved customer satisfaction.
In education there is a lively debate about effective practices especially around
pedagogy and teaching methods, for example for literacy and numeracy. Cramlington
Community College, one of the most innovative schools in the UK, developed its
innovative cycle of learning, by creating set of new classroom practices in its ICT
lessons. These then become learning to learn lessons. The methods developed there
were then spread to other departments, starting with humanities and spreading into
sciences. The KIPP Charter schools in the US are based on spreading the most
effective teaching practices. The potential of new technologies in schools will only be
unlocked with new teaching and learning practices that mix self motivated and online
learning with intensive teaching support, what some in the US are called blended
learning. A good example of this thinking is John Hatties book Visible Learning
which is a meta analysis of more than 800 studies of what makes learning successful.
Incremental innovation in daily practices can have revolutionary results: that is the
lesson of the quality circles movement in Japanese industry. An innovate education
system would have a steady flow of new learning practices and crucially ways to
spread these, peer to peer and through endorsements from children, principals and
(b) Innovative Organisations
Innovative practices can change entire industries over time. However in education
innovations in practices are often stifled within organisations that follow familiar and
traditional routines. Unless the buildings blocks of traditional schools lessons, years,
timetables, classes, exams are broken down it will be difficult to generate the kind
of combined innovation needed to make a real impact. Innovation invariably takes off
when several innovations come together: the personal computer, the web, low cost
cameras and printers; the water and sewerage system with Levers bar of soap. In
education schools are still a vital focus for the coming together of innovations in
pedagogy, classroom design, timetabling, curriculum, assessment, student voice. In
other words an innovative education system would need not just innovative practices
but innovative organisational models that worked.
The private sector provides a long string of models for innovative organisations, from
Google and 3M to Pixar and Apple. Theres a growing band of innovative schools
around the world from Big Picture in the US and Australia to Escuela Nueva in
Colombia to Kunskapskollen in Sweden and High Tech High and many others. Some
of these are new entrants into public education systems; others are innovating
Cramlington, Thomas Jefferson High - from within education systems.

As yet, however, very little has been done on understanding how these innovative
schools have gone about the business of innovating and to find if they have a common
core or whether they are very different in approach.
Several factors stand out as likely to be very important however:

A clear set of values or purpose to guide the organisation which are more than
merely hitting its targets/exam results. They achieve good results but obliquely
through pursuing a goal which is about animating learning. Much the same is
true of many of the most successful companies, such as Apple and Google:
their commercial success stems from them pursuing something else, making
insanely great products in Apples case and organising the worlds
information in Googles.

Innovative organisations have relatively open, non-hierarchical forms of

communication and encourage collaboration for people to share and blend
ideas. The most striking example in the private sector is probably Pixar, in
which anyone is allowed to talk to anyone. Multidisciplinary team work is

They spread the capacity to innovate and create lots of pockets of resources.
Google allows its engineers a day a week to pursue projects they think are
interesting and could be of interest to the company. At Pixar projects can start
from many sources.

Successful innovative organisations take great care about who they hire and
what kind of culture they create. The average Google employee has 14
interviews before they are appointed.

These organisations set very exacting and high standards for their work. At
Pixar creative standards are upheld by peer to peer reviews of work, while
commercial decision making which projects to go ahead with are decided
far more hierarchically.

Learning is a highly collaborative activity. Much of that collaboration will take place
face-to-face. Education systems will need to create new settings in which children can
learn, at school and away from it, with one another and with other people. A wide
range of organisational innovations will be needed to create a diversity of settings in
which children can learn, different skills in different ways. This might include new
kinds of school, introducing learning into settings where it has not traditionally been
available and creating entirely new settings. However for the foreseeable future the
main places where children will learn, formally, will be schools or very like them.
So an innovative education system will need a way to innovate new forms of schools
that are more effective in pursuing the kind of learning outlined at the outset.
Understanding the conditions for that will be vital, both internal conditions, including
leadership and governance, and external conditions, for example in terms of policy
affecting new entry into the system.

(c) Platforms
Around the world there are inspiring examples of individual schools pioneering new
approaches to learning which spread no further. The biggest challenge facing
innovation in public services is not developing new ideas but diffusing and
disseminating them. (A parallel problem is that public systems also find it hard to
decommission existing services in a way that opens up opportunities for new services
to grow.)
That is why much of the debate about innovation in education has shifted to how
entire systems innovate and change rather than focus on the individual schools within
them. One of the leading advocates of this approach has been the Canadian
educationalist Michael Fullan, for example in his recent book All Systems Go. This
work draws on systems thinking (for example Peter Senge and Jake Chapman) as well
as practical experience.
A slightly different approach, however, would be to look at innovation through the
lens of platforms.
Innovative companies often create not just products but platforms on which many
other companies create additional and complementary products. These complements
then add to the value of the platform as well as demand for the basic product. There
are many examples of this kind of platform strategy in business but two of the best
known are Matsushitas approach to the video tape market (compared with Sonys);
Intels development of the USB port and Apples success with the iPhone and iPad.
Matsushitas JVC subsidiary beat of competition from Sonys Betamax in the
videocassette market with a technical inferior product VHS. Masushita pulled off this
trick by releasing details of the technology to its partners, including content
companies and component suppliers, as it was in development. Matsushita invested in
its partners capabilities to develop complementary products which would drive
demand for its tape. By the time the VHS tape launched Matsushita had assembled a
large coalition of companies behind its standard and created a platform on which they
could continue to develop new add ons to the product. In contrast Sony maintained a
very closed and in house approach to Betamax. So when it launched there was very
little content available in the Betamax format and few suppliers making components
for the tape.
Intel developed the USB port as an alternative to the old fashioned multi-pin
connections that different devices printers, keyboard, peripherals used to make to
a computer. The USB port appealed not only because it was far simpler but also
because the universal interface would allow many more devices to be connected: for
example cameras. This in turn meant computers would be more heavily used and
there would thus be more demand for Intels core microprocessor products. To
develop the USB port Intel organised intensive sessions with hundreds of software
and makers of computer peripherals. Through these highly collaborative sessions they
thrashed out a simple common standard. That has helped to create lots of applications
for computers to run, which has in turn expanded the software and peripherals market.
A very large ecosystem of firms has developed on the basis of the USB platform.

The most current and fashionable version of a platform strategy is Apples iPhone and
iPad. Apple has traditionally been a product focussed company: it mission has always
been to make insanely great products. Its single minded faith in better products
however meant that for most of the 1980s and 1990s it was confined to a small niche
in the computer business as it was overtaken and almost overpowered by the growth
of Microsoft and Windows based PCs. However Microsofts own dominance in PCs
meant it was slow to spot and embrace the emerging opportunities in smart phones
and mobile devices. Apple did so first through the iPod, then the iPhone and most
recently the iPad. This switch of strategy has made Apple one of the most successful
contemporary technology companies. First to complement the iPod Apple created the
iTunes store as a way for people to legally download music. iTunes is now a much
wider retail interface for music, film, television and software. When Apple then
launched the iPhone it turned to iTunes as the interface through which people would
connect to software updates. Initially, however, the iPhone could only run Apple
software and was only available on networks that Apple had approved. Fairly soon
after the launch, however, hackers started to develop alternative software modules and
add ons. After first seeing this as competition Apple was pulled by its consumers to
realise that these complementary add ons software apps would make iTunes and
the iPhone more valuable because consumers would have a richer array of apps to
draw on. The truth is that although the Apple iPhone is well designed it is not an
outstanding smart phone. However the combination of the Apple design and the
hundreds of thousands of Apps available to run on the phone have made it a huge
success. Apple did not set out to become a platform innovator but that is where it has
ended up: it aims to make good products.
These three stories, drawn from Staying Power and Platform Leadership two books by
innovation scholar Michael Cusumano provide a different way for education
departments to think of what innovation involves. They need a vision of how a system
can amount to more than the sum of its parts and how they can generate growth on the
basis of a fairly open platform. If education systems were like the App Store
developers from outside and inside the system would be adding new apps the whole
time to help people learn, simply because the platform had created a simple and
compelling enough way for them to do so. It is not difficult to imagine a future where
most children learn most things using a tablet computer like an iPad, accessing text,
questions, quizzes and content from a remote cloud of applications. The most
strategic form of innovation for an education department would be to aim to create
this future system: a new platform for learning.
What is involved in leading the creation of these platforms which attract contributions
from thousands of outside parties?

Create and communicate a vision of what the platform is for and how it will
Build a consensus among a small group of influential partners and contributors
who will be the core of the platform community.
Distribute tools and enabling technologies to make it as easy as possible for
outsiders to develop applications to run on the platform.
Encourage the co-development of business models that range from free, to
part pay to fully commercial. Highlight these business opportunities.

Facilitate joint governance on the shared platform to make sure it continues to

develop for the increased shared benefit of those using it.

In Victoria Ultranet may yet become the basis for this kind of learning platform
(d) Movements
The more that innovation depends on mobilising many players, inside and outside the
formal education system, to make complementary investments, the more that
innovation needs to be understood as a social movement rather than merely an
organisational competence. The key task is to persuade people to make
complementary investments and to help them coordinate these investments. This
means innovation is centrally about alliance building.
This social network/social movement approach to innovation is supported by quite a
growing body of research, for example Nickolas Christiakiss book Connected, which
looks at how ideas and behaviours are jump and spread through social networks of
peers. Another example is the contrast between the spread of Sun Microsystems Java
programming language and the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s in southern states
of the US. According to one analysis this two developments, one a technological
development and the other a political and social movement, shared many
organisational characteristics: they framed their mission as a contest between an old
order and a new one; they provided local ways for people to connect with the
movement and organise; they built large alliances of peers.
This approach goes beyond seeing education as a platform or as a formal system but
sees it more as a social network of parents, teachers, pupils, policymakers. The aim of
innovation in this context is to build the largest, most powerful social alliances for
change. Equally innovation means breaking down and dissolving old, established and
conservative alliances of professionals, parents, politicians and policy-makers that
prevent change. In this approach the appropriate level at which to imagine innovation
working is not the practice of professionals and pupils, nor organisations they work in
or even the platforms that support them but the field they play the game on and the
rules of the game. This kind of approach to innovation shifts play to a new field,
brings in a wider cast of players and establishes different rules for the game.
(e) Cultures and Ideology
Finally it is worth thinking about how innovation can change cultures or to put it
another way: innovation often involves changes in ideology, as much in business as in
An ideology is a combined set of beliefs about the way the world works; a set of
values that highlight what matters to us (liberty, equality, the environment) and a
guide to what we should do to shape the future. Ideologies of course are the province
of politics. Yet in many ways businesses and in particular innovative businesses are
purveyors of ideologies.
The best companies make profit as a byproduct of creating better outcomes for
consumers. They do not focus on the profit as the goal. They goal is to improve lives,
deliver value, solve problems. The profit is a by product of that. This kind of mission

driven capitalism, which is ideologically informed is practiced by many of the most

entrepreneurial and successful companies. The point of the business is to fulfil a
mission and when it does that it makes a profit as an indirect byproduct. The same
would be true of education systems: the mission is to encourage learning as a
generative activity, the by product would be students with good grades and
employment prospects. A powerful mission has to connect to a real need.
Companies have created highly valuable products through this kind of cultural or
ideological innovation. Ben & Jerrys was not the first company to make high-end,
premium ice cream. That was Hagen Das. But Ben & Jerrys brought to the product a
set of beliefs and values, born out of the counter culture, which made the product
seem additionally valuable to consumers. Moreover Ben Cohen was a master publicist
and controversialist: he found myriad ways to make evident Ben & Jerrys counter
cultural roots. It did so during the era of Ronald Reagan when for some this kind of
counter cultural approach had huge appeal.
Nike was not the first company to make running shoes. That was Tiger and what
became Asics. Nor was Nike successful by making technically better running shoes.
Nike became successful when it began to wrap an ideology around its products, a set
of beliefs and values based on individual willpower, determination and social
mobility. Those values changed how it presented its products and inflected them with
a value that consumers bought into. Nike hit the market just as America was being
persuaded its sedentary lifestyles needed to be attacked.
Jack Daniels was just another overlook Bourbon until it too engaged in ideological
innovation around its product. The JD strategy was to identify the product with a
down to earth, no nonsense, independent, back woods philosophy, embodied in the
way it still makes its products. This underpins its claim to be an authentic product,
made by people who are interested in more than money. JD mythologises its own
company has the basis for people buying into the product.
Apple has pulled off the same strategy in computer and communications products,
encouraging everyone buying a Mac that they are buying into the anti-corporate, antihierarchical, rip, mix burn Apple way. That is summed up in the advertising slogans it
has used but also in the informal conduct of staff in its flagship stores.
In each of these cases the company involved engaged in a kind of cultural or
ideological innovation to persuade consumers to see in the product values that they
admired and which in turn made the product more valuable. This involved much more
than clever marketing and branding. In the case of Jack Daniels and Nike the same set
of values has underpinned its approach for many years.
The significance of this kind of ideological innovation is that it can apply to existing
or quite low tech products and services to make them seem more valuable. This kind
of innovation does not depend on finding a better technology or product. It means
encouraging people to adopt a different point of view and different behaviours to see
products in a different light.
At its worst this kind of innovation can be a form of deception: persuading people that
something is valuable when it isnt. An example of this is the rise of Vitamin Water in

the US, which claims to be a health drink and to be associated with a healthy living
ideology but actually has almost as much sugar as a Diet Coke.
But at its most successful this kind of cultural innovation can tap into deeply felt
needs and persuade people to change their behaviour en mass by buying running
shoes or taking up drinking milky coffee.
This kind of cultural innovation, analysed by Douglas Holt and Douglas Cameron in
their book Cultural Strategy has several components.

Attack an entrenched but vulnerable cultural orthodoxy.

Identify and respond to social disruptions, points of crisis that can challenge or
dislodge this orthodoxy, in part by provoking flashpoints of conflict.
Cull source material for a new ideology often from myths and sub-cultures
at the margins of the mainstream.
Build new values into every aspect of the product, communication and
experience around it.
Create ways for consumers to ritualise their attachment to the product in their
daily lives by, for example, going for a coffee, taking a run or playing some

What this approach has to offer is a reminder that in respects innovation in education
is about confronting and dislodging entrenched ideologies about learning. In their way
these companies would argue that they have confronted entrenched orthodoxy about
how their products were seen, orthodoxies that limited how much value was attached
to their products. None of these high level strategies would have succeeded however
unless there was an effective, good quality and appealing product for people to buy.
5. Conclusion
This paper has attempted to open up the debate about what innovation in education
First, it started by outlining the key components of the emerging consensus about
what learning needs to become to close the gap between the kind of education
systems we have and the kind we need. Those nine ingredients form the basis for the
kind of new ideology of learning we need to promote.
Second, the paper argued that innovation strategy in education needs to be informed
by emerging thinking about innovation, to shift away from the dominant pipeline
model of innovation to one which is more open, generative, collaborative and
Finally, it outlined five different but complementary approaches to innovation based
on what was being innovated and how. These were innovative practices,
organisations, platforms, movements and ideologies.
An effective long-term innovation strategy would need to embrace all five. These five
start from the micro the practices of learning and teaching and move towards more
macro, social and systematic change. Those with aims to change entire systems need

to operate at the more ambitious end of this spectrum. That would require a mix of
skills from design, communications and campaigning as well as specialist knowledge
from within education and learning.
Charlie Leadbeater
January 2011