Learning by Doing, A Definition of Innovation

We just concluded the first of a series of workshops we have planned, on building professional skills in young people. We had a clutch of parents, a bunch of students and young professionals, even an industry hand from the field of H.R. We talked about the Indian education system, about how it disables real learning from happening, about the skills crisis in India, and what parents and students could do to prepare themselves for a successful and rewarding career.

By and large, everyone seems to agree that our educational system is broken and in a bad way. But how and where can change come in, when there are so many powerful players invested in keeping it broken? We talked a bit about how to build skills through learning by doing, when it struck me that learning by doing is in itself a powerful and unheralded definition of innovation.

It’s hard to convey that sense of a fit between something held in your right hand with something in your left hand. You didn’t think they belonged together, but they do, and they were already always in your two hands. That’s the kind of odd sense I have with this insight: To be aware of what you are doing to the point where you can learn from it and do it slightly better or different each time, this is also a definition of innovation. Not every kind of innovation works this way, perhaps, not radical business model innovation, nor disruptions to conventional ways of working, but certainly many incremental components of internal and process innovation operate this way. To be able to learn something new by doing something you are already doing, is also to be capable of innovation.

I just thought I’d share that.

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