Executive education specialist David Shoemaker talks about innovation skills and the Innovator’s Accelerator.



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Develop skills related to innovation has been a growing demand for companies of all sizes. One of the key success drivers to become an innovator is to have people mobilized and prepared to put into practice the strategic intent.

Besides that, technology has transformed the way that companies has empowered employees. What was once a paradigm (online education) became a reality in training and business development strategies. Studies show that the learning effectiveness of an online training is the same or even bigger than a face to face course, but with all the flexibility and cost benefits that the online trainning offers.

David Shoemaker is a leading expert in corporate education and answered some questions about the Innovator’s Accelerator. He is vice chairman of Apollo Education Group, responsible for innovative educational programs developed for online platforms.

Read the full content below.

  1. Why Apollo developed an online training focused on innovation?

D.S. At an organizational level, Apollo saw professional development as a growth opportunity to complement the degree programs offered through its various subsidiaries, including University of Phoenix and Western International University, among others. Once the decision was made to enter the professional-development space, representatives of Apollo spoke to over 25 Fortune 500 companies, asking them to identify their learning-and-development pain points. Over and over again, the answer was innovation. Apollo had already forged a relationship with Prof. Clayton Christensen through his participation in The Phoenix Lecture Series. When Apollo approached him with the results of its survey and asked if he would be willing to author a course on innovation, he agreed.

  1. The Innovator’s Accelerator has been recognized as innovative product (it won the silver medal at the Edison Award 2014). Can you tell us about the value proposition of the product?

D.S. Innovator’s Accelerator is based on the compelling thesis, resulting from extensive research by Professors Christensen, Dyer, and Gregersen, that only about 1/3 of an individual’s capacity for creativity is genetically endowed. The other 2/3 is the result of specific behaviors, again identified through the professors’ research, that can be learned, practiced, and incorporated into one’s personal and professional life. After studying and observing some of the most creative business leaders in the world (Steve Jobs, Marc Benioff, Jeff Bezos, and others), the professors identified these behaviors as questioning, observing, experimenting, networking, and associating. They termed these “the five discovery skills.” Extending their research beyond a study of creative individuals, they looked at organizations that are able to establish and sustain a culture of innovation and found that such organizations are characterized by a specific combination of people, processes, and philosophies, which the professors called “the 3 Ps.” 

IAc, the shorter version of Innovator’s Accelerator, focuses primarily on teaching and providing opportunities to practice the five discovery skills. IAx, the extended version, adds an examination of the 3 Ps.

  1. How was working with three of the most renowned teachers of innovation in the world (Clayton Christensen, Jeff Dyer e Hal Gregersen)?

D.S. In a word, humbling. They are obviously three very smart people whose work is grounded in rigorous research. Professor Christensen, in particular, has been studying issues related to innovation for over 20 years. Yet despite their brainpower, their standing in the academic community, and their accomplishments, they are all very humble, very gracious, and very approachable. They were all very generous with their time, very engaged in every aspect of the process, and completely committed to creating a world-class online learning experience. It was and is a privilege to be associated with them.

  1. Apollo hired IDEO to develop the learning experience and the online platform. Can you talk about this unique learning experience?

D.S. The wonderful thing about working with IDEO is that they came to the project with a clean slate and open minds, devoid of any preconceptions regarding the content or the user experience and determined not to be influenced by prior experience. They did not base their ideation on any pre-existing products, but instead allowed the content, the intended outcomes, and the definition of the target audience to guide their thinking. It is a rare thing for a company of IDEO’s experience and reputation to be able to put ego aside and approach a new project with completely open minds, but that’s exactly what they did. At the same time, their designs were informed by a thorough awareness and understanding of emerging trends in both pedagogy and technology, and an expert ability to pinpoint their intersection. They remained true to their belief in an Agile development process, insisting on the rapid development of prototypes, which they then tested with representative samples of the target audience, refined, and tested again. The result is a user experience unique to online learning.

  1. Five competencies are the core of the Innovator’s Accelerator program. Can you tell us briefly about them?

D.S. In their research, Professors Christensen, Dyer, and Gregersen uncovered five behaviors characteristic of especially creative people, which they call the five “discovery skills”: questioning, observing, experimenting, networking, and associating.

Questioning refers to the ability to ask provocative questions that challenge the status quo: why? why not? what if? It is the constant refusal to take anything for granted, approaching the world with the wide-eyed, innocent curiosity of a child. 

Observing goes hand in hand with questioning. It’s the ability to see the world around us as if for the first time, each and every day; to notice what others take for granted; to step outside our routines, open ourselves to new experiences, and to approach those experiences mindfully, fully aware, fully conscious.

Networking refers not to the practice of building professional connections, but instead to interact with people outside our usual social, economic, and professional circles in order to network for ideas. It’s about seeking out other contexts, and then applying observing and questioning skills to those contexts in order to gain new perspectives on familiar problems. 

Experimenting is about a constant cycle of rapid prototyping, testing, measuring, iterating, and refining. It grows out of the understanding that no one gets it right the first time, and that what’s important is to give oneself permission to fail, and learning from failure. 

Associating is the ability to combine two or more unrelated ideas or concepts to create something completely new–for example, combining a steam engine with a sailing ship to create a steam ship; combining a portable hard drive with the bezel of a combination lock to create the iPod. Associating is the product of two or more of the preceding four discovery skills. For example, I might observe something, ask provocative questions about it, and out of those questions will emerge a completely new idea. Or I might gain a new perspective on a problem by networking with people outside my normal professional circle, out of which will emerge a series of experiments that will yield a new product or service. Most truly innovative ideas are the result of associative thinking.


About David Shoemaker

David Shoemaker serves as Vice President, Program Management at Apollo Education Group, where he oversees the design and development of cutting edge online learning experiences in both for-credit and non-credit formats. David has been a frequent speaker at education technology conferences and has published extensively in journals including Business Woman and CEO Today. David holds an A.B. from Dartmouth College and an M.A. and Ph.D. in dramatic art from the University of California, Berkeley.

In today’s leaner, meaner organization, innovation is crucial to creating and sustaining your competitive advantage. And we’ve got good news: Innovator’s Accelerator can teach your emerging leaders the skills they need to make an immediate and transformational impact on your future.

Inquires about the Innovator’s Accelerator: innoscience@innoscience.com.br