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I used to hate the word “innovative.” See those quotes right there around the word? Those are actually air quotes that I would use whenever I used the term.

“It’s a buzzword,” I would say.

“It’s overused,” I would point out.

But the truth is, sometimes a word becomes trendy because it’s tapping into something we all agree is important. Is it misused? Sometimes. Is it overused? Often. But so are the words “love,” and “awesome,” and “friend,” but I have no intention of ditching any of those words.

I think I reacted poorly to the word “innovation” because it had a certain overly glossy, high-tech connotation to it. It made me think of the EPCOT Center and of the Astrodome and of the Flowbee (a true innovation in hair-cutting that combined a hair trimmer and a vacuum) or Apple’s decision to switch to wireless headphones.

But that’s not innovation. That’s novelty. That’s disruption. That’s change for the sake of change.

Innovation is different.

Innovation is what Lin Manuel Miranda did with Hamilton and what Gabriel Garcia Marquez accomplished decades ago with magical realism. Innovation is Camden Yards and AT&T Ballpark, boldly changing ballparks by incorporating the vintage rather than trying to build a new Astrodome. Innovation is that cancer treatment that didn’t exist five years ago but now has the chance to save the life of a friend you love.


Innovation isn’t change for the sake of change. It’s driven by a sense of purpose and meaning. It’s what happens when you say, “There’s got to be a better way,” and then you experiment and take creative risks to see what happens. It’s what happens when you ask, “why not?” and challenge the status quo because there is a problem you care deeply about and you’re determined to solve it.

I know the term might be trendy and maybe even overused, but I want to see innovation in our schools. I want to see our students grow into innovators. I want to see them engage in divergent thinking as they find new routes to solve complex problems. I want to see them take creative risks and challenge the status quo. I want to see them be boldly and unabashedly different. I want to see them be innovative — and that’s not a bad thing.


John Spencer

My goal is simple. I want to make something each day. Sometimes I make things. Sometimes I make a difference. On a good day, I get to do both.More about me


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