What does Elementary School have to do with Innovation?

No comments


I consider myself a Montessori “Mom”. Both of my children went to Montessori programs for many years. In fact, my eldest was in a Montessori program through 8th grade.  The lessons and tools that come from the Montessori classroom are directly applicable to enabling organizations to collaborate, innovate, and succeed.  Some of our most successful leaders and innovators were educated at Montessori programs.  These include Yo-Yo Ma, Larry Page from Google, Jimmy Wales from Wikipedia, and Will Wright (think SimCity).  A colleague sent me a recent article about the tie between organizations and Montessori (see Reference below).  As a Montessori Mom, the connection was immediate.

Let’s do a reality check first. To collaborate, innovate and grow, organizations much achieve strategic agility and be able to pivot at the drop of a hat.  Most of us grew up in the age of the rigid, confined, traditional classroom.  Seats were organized in rows.  We all faced the teacher, who was always front and center.  We memorized facts and learned from our teacher.  The teacher ruled the classroom.  Does this sound like the traditional organization that you may work in? Clear structures and boundaries between teams, management drives the work that is done, and we sit inside our skills ‘box’ without a lot of opportunity to learn.  Yet how agile are today’s organization to pivot at the drop of a hat?

Now let’s enter a Montessori classroom. Here is what it looks like:

  • The classrooms are mixed age
  • Learning is self –directed
  • Kids gravitate towards what is interesting to them
  • Teachers are coaches and facilitators, not dictators
  • Learning and teaching occurs at all levels in the classroom. Not just teacher to student. It’s also student to student, elder student to younger student and vice versa.
  • Emphasis is on personal mastery, not grades
  • Children brim with new ideas and embrace challenges
  • Failure is acceptable and mistakes are learning opportunities

In management circles and academia, the dominant characteristic that has been identified with strong leaders is that they are unconventional thinkers. They ask questions such as “why is that?” They do not accept the norm and are open to new ideas.  They feel at home with vagueness and uncertainty, and they are curious.  They encourage this curiosity throughout their organizations and empower their employees to ask the tough questions and learn.  They employees and leaders are humble, embrace learning, and learn from mistakes and failures.

How do the Montessori principles apply in your organization? For example:

  • How acceptable are mistakes in your organization?
  • Are employees encouraged to seize opportunity and innovate? Or are they sitting on the sidelines waiting for direction from their leaders?
  • Does leadership look for flaws in new ideas rather than see the nuggets of possibility?
  • Are the majority of activities allocated towards standard business activity versus innovation?

How will your organization get ready for breakthrough growth? How about creating a culture where the innovation, learning from mistakes, growing, and building new ideas are rewarded.  In essence, a culture built on the traditions of Montessori.