Innovation's Organizing Principles


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An opportunity to leverage expert resources ...

This web site conveys the hypothesis that it's feasible to establish innovation's "organizing principles" as a public good and that doing so would provide the value of a high-leverage resource for learning about innovation and its methods, potentially for access among all students in years K-16.

This page --

This page features a three-part overview of the knowledge that signals this feasibility and the associated opportunity for new value:

This site --

Each of the above topics is elaborated at a separate page of this web site. These pages, accessible via links just below or at the site's main menu, incorporate associated sources:

Additionally, a Bibliography provides quick reference to the site's overall sources.



Part One -- Feasibility of Principles

To demonstrate feasibility, a prototype of innovation's organizing principles is based on themes from expert resources regarding innovation's essential purpose and forces:

By speaking to innovation's essential purpose and forces, the prototype principles aim to capture what is constant, or unifying, across innovation's unusually varied expression and also explanatory.

Although the prototype may fall well short of these criteria -- in substance and/or articulation -- the approximation aims to demonstrate fundamental feasibility of high-quality principles and the type of value that the principles might offer as a public good.

A summary of the prototype principles follows the launching point detailed below of innovation's essential purpose and characteristics vis-a-vis the same for science and invention.


Launching Point --

Although innovation's direct purpose, or function, is distinct from the respective purposes of science and invention, all three methodologies share the essential creative structure of hypotheses:

Each methodology's direct purpose determines the fundamental nature of its hypotheses and additional fundamental distinctions. [4]

These distinctions are summarized in the table just below, with innovation's characteristics drawn from the themes associated with expert resources:


  Innovation Science Invention
Direct Function/
Advance total value, or yield, produced from same resources. For associated societal benefits of: wealth that advances standard of living; sustainability of finite natural resources; &/or quality of living. Advance knowledge/
Advance technical capability
Medium of Expression "Value" in form of Offerings Argument Technical Function, Demonstration
of Change
Commercial & Social Production Systems Disciplinary fields of knowledge Disciplinary/technical fields of knowledge, including "appropriate technology"
Nature of Hypotheses "What could be as new value to customers"
"How the new value could become an offering accessible to customers and catalyst of change."
"What is" "What could be technically"
Knowledge Pertinent to Hypotheses Integrates knowledge from core strands, such as:
(i) industry/operations
(ii) customer
(iii) human, social & technological dynamics.

Can feature "ordinary" knowledge.

Can incorporate knowledge resource of advances in Science and/or Invention.

Primarily disciplinary

Primarily disciplinary/technical
Agents of Change Widely varying (possessors of pertinent knowledge, purpose & skills) Typically masters of a field of knowledge Typically masters of a technical field
Gatekeepers of Change Customers Experts in Field Varies
Gatekeeper Criteria Value is Forcefully Positive Argument is Valid & Reliable Demonstration is Reliable



Prototype: Innovation's Organizing Principles

Following from the launching point above of innovation's essential purpose and characteristics vis-a-vis the same for science and invention, a summary of this site's prototype set of innovation's organizing principles follows below. The prototype principles are elaborated in two ways at separate pages of this site:

Prototype of Innovation's Organizing Principles:

For the purpose of catalyzing the change of more yield from the same resources (e.g., yield in terms of "profit, planet, and/or people"):

  • Innovation's change catalyst is compelling new "value," beginning with the value of compelling purpose to innovation practitioners
  • Innovation's catalyst of value is forcefully positive
  • Innovation's essential creative structure is hypotheses
  • Innovation's hypotheses amplify a force of integration


Part Two -- Value of Learning Leverage

"The curriculum of a subject should be determined by the most fundamental understanding of the underlying principles that give structure to the subject."[28]

-- Jerome Bruner, The Process of Education


The feasibility of principles matters because of the hypothesized value associated with the potential public good of a developed, high-quality set of innovation's organizing principles.

Based on connecting existing knowledge about innovation with separate knowledge about teaching and learning, psychology, and more, the overall value that is hypothesized -- broad access to a resource for high-leverage learning about innovation and its methods -- can be viewed as three accumulating levels of learning leverage:

Level 1: Leverage from Principles Alone

When education psychologist and cognitive learning theorist, Jerome Bruner, established the conceptualization of "structures of the discipline" he argued that "the curriculum of a subject should be determined by the most fundamental understanding of the underlying principles that give structure to the subject."

Overall, structures would facilitate students' access to, and engagement with, a subject. Using Algebra as an example, Bruner held that understanding Algebra's underlying principles, or structures, allows students to recognize myriad problems as but "variations on a small set of themes."[29] For innovation, a framework of structures (or principles) would allow students to recognize its wide-ranging examples as "variations on a small set of themes." It might also facilitate recognizing new opportunities.

Bruner held too that a framework of structures of a discipline "permits many other things to be related to it meaningfully." [42] In the case of innovation's purpose, forces, and methods -- in effect, a modifier of the 21st century's overall workplace -- there are indeed many things to which innovation relates. For example, a framework of innovation's structures or principles would:

Overall, Bruner held that a framework of structures provides support for taking in "an enormous amount of information," akin to the cognitive science notion of "chunking."[30]

In a similar vein, Peter Drucker argued that it's a framework of "organizing principles" that permits "conversion of a skilled craft to a methodology or discipline" -- by making it "broadly teachable" -- as occurred in the past with engineering, the physician's differential diagnosis, and more (including the scientific method).[31] A framework of structures, or principles, provides not only for any individual learner's efficient access to the unifying concepts of innovation's driving purpose, forces, and methods, it allows too for the beneficial connection of shared understanding across learners.

Drucker made this argument within the context of describing the crucial need to convert innovation and entrepreneurship's skilled craft to methodology: He held into the early 21st century, up to his death, that a "post capitalist" society in which "knowledge is the only meaningful resource" means that: "Every organization … will have to learn how to innovate – and to learn that innovation can and should be organized as a systematic process." "What we need is an entrepreneurial society." [32]

Level 2: Leverage Points Associated with Innovation's Particular Principles

In addition to the fundamental value of a framework, the particular content of innovation's organizing principles, at least according to the prototype principles, presents the additional value of the three complementary and mutually-reinforcing learning leverage points of Intelligibility, Engagement, and Embedded Personalized Guidance:

The complementary and mutually reinforcing nature of these three learning leverage points provides a fundamental resource for learner development. For example: Intelligibility supports personalized guidance, which supports engagement, which supports deepening intelligibility, personalized connection, and engagement.

With time and intentional learning structures, the combination of these learning leverage points can train the eye, develop discerning imagination associated with pertinent knowledge, cultivate innovation consciousness and its day-to-day impetus, cultivate personal purpose and signature strengths, and more.

Overall, a student is learning innovation's version of creativity, which includes understanding the present-day need for its expression:

Level 3: Leverage from an Innovation Learning System

By allowing for broad access to innovation instruction that is grounded and connected across time and place, organizing principles provide for an innovation learning system, similar to the existing system for science. John W. Gardner provided an early voice for such a system. In a book about "the individual and the innovative society," Gardner framed innovation's instructional challenge in a way that remains pertinent over fifty years later:

"The classic question of [societal renewal] has been: How can we cure this or that specifiable ill? Now, another question: How can we design a system that will continuously reform (i.e., renew) itself, beginning with the present specifiable (ills) … (to the) ills (we) cannot foresee?" ... "Like a scientist in a lab, part of enduring tradition/system …"[35]

In the way that the scientific method has established an enduring tradition and broadly-accessible system for over a century of learning and practice, toward the purpose of advancing what is known about our world, innovation's organizing principles could establish such a tradition and system for the 21st century's urgently needed societal effects associated with innovation's function of resource leverage.

Leverage from an innovation learning system extends, or amplifies, Drucker's notion of converting a skilled craft to a discipline or methodology:


“Class of 2017, you are graduating into a world that needs purpose. It’s up to you to create it.”

-- Mark Zuckerberg, at Harvard University



Part Three -- Sample Learning Applications

"No amount of doubling down on math and science courses is going to produce the innovators we need in the 21st century ... The key is engagement." [35-1]

Richard K. Miller
President, Olin College of Engineering


Each of several learning application sketches is to demonstrate how organizing principles could support innovation instruction, including the principles' overall provision for an innovation learning system, whereby learning experiences across time and place are grounded and connected by the framework of principles.

Within such a system, applications like the ones below are intended to help harness the three mutually-reinforcing learning leverage points that are made visible by the prototype principles (intelligibility, engagement, embedded personalized guidance).

Described in brief just below, each application sketch is elaborated at this site's separate Learning Applications page.

For Youth --
The first 2-3 applications sketched are envisioned as fitting together for K-12 learners (e.g., beginning by middle school years), with the idea that high digital support facilitates productive hands-on engagement and supports teachers in establishing roots of an innovation learning system at this schooling level:

For Social Innovation within Higher Education --
Separate sketches feature social innovation and the higher education level:



In sum -- "It is not exhortation they need but instruction ... " [38]

As the 21st century calls for converting innovation's methods from a skilled craft practiced by a sliver of society to a methodology practiced broadly, capably, and collaboratively, the time seems fully ripe for exploring the hypothesis:

This site's overall hypothesis is that there is opportunity for society to leverage the expert resources that imply these principles toward a framework for systemic learning and practice that can in turn leverage individual strengths and motivation -- toward win-win gain:

It's a "what could be" innovation hypothesis, for the prospect of win-win yield that features more flourishing human beings and the leveraging of individual strengths and purpose toward more societal flourishing -- indeed toward "creating a sustainable world." [40]
A "minimum viable" version of the searchable online gallery application described above is presented at a separate url:

This protoype version of the learning application is based on the prototype principles, reflecting the idea that the more expeditious route to high-quality principles may involve experimenting with prototype applications of the principles, with concrete experiments prompting critique.

I welcome feedback on all aspects of this site.

With appreciation,
Karen Gates
Ann Arbor, Michigan



[1] See this web site's Learning Leverage page, under "The Special Value of Purpose."

[2] Peter F. Drucker, Post-Capitalist Society, (Harper Press, 1993), p 46. Drucker held that this conversion is made possible for any skilled craft by way of explicating "organizing principles" and thereby making a practice broadly teachable. Drucker cited the prior examples of engineering and the physician's differential diagnosis. 

[3] Peter F. Drucker, Innovation and Entrepreneurship, (HarperBusiness, 1985), p 27

[3-6] Jerome S. Bruner, Actual Minds, Possible Worlds, (Harvard University Press, 1986), p 13. Bruner differentiates between "paradigmatic imagination" -- "the ability to see possible formal connections (of existing knowledge) before one is able to prove them in any way" -- and "narrative imagination" (e.g., gripping drama). Although "paradigmatic" implies hypotheses of science, with respect to an existing formal system of reality, the new connections of existing knowledge fits also with descriptions of innovation's ideas for new opportunities.

[4] This overall premise and the summary of distinctions stems from a combination of many sources. For example:

[28] Jerome S. Bruner, The Process of Education, (Harvard University Press, 1960), p 31

[29] Bruner, 1960, p 7

[30] Daniel T. Willingham, Why Don't Students Like School?, (Jossey-Bass: San Francisco, 2009), p 17

[31] See Peter F. Drucker, Post-Capitalist Society, (Harper Press, 1993), p 46. In this text, Drucker cited the examples of engineering and the physician's differential diagnosis.

[32] Drucker, 1993, p 46

[33] Regarding the principles as modular interface, see Clayton M. Christensen, Michael B. Horn, & Curtis W. Johnson, Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns, (McGraw-Hill: New York, 2011). On page 32, Christensen, et. al., describe Dell computers "under the lid" as a collection of separately manufactured parts that are configurable to each customer's specifications based on a modular interface among the parts.

Here the suggestion is that If innovation learners, teachers, and practitioners are viewed as "parts" that come together within and across venues of learning and practice, shared reference to the methodology's fundamentals can provide the modular interface that connects participants within otherwise varying venues.

[34] Csikszentmihalyi, 1996, p 338

[35] Gardner, 1963, p 5, p 7

[35-1] T-Summit 2016, Video: National Town Hall,

[36]  See James J. Duderstadt, Glenn F. Knoll, George S. Springer, Principles of Engineering (John Wiley & Sons: New York, Toronto,1982)

For discussion of Khan's philosophy about learning, see Salman Khan, The One World Schoolhouse, (Twelve, Hachette Book Group: New York, 2012)

[37] The expression and concept of "integrating and applying knowledge" (as opposed to the university's traditional focus on generating knowledge, with attendant reward systems) comes from Clayton M. Christensen and Henry J. Eyring, The Innovative University: Changing the DNA of Higher Education from the Inside Out, (Jossey-Bass: San Francisco, 2011). 

[38] John W. Gardner,Self-renewal; the individual and the innovative society (Harper & Rowe, New York, 1963), p 12.
This quote in its original context referred to the necessary role of individuals within societal renewal: “(W)e must help the individual to re-establish a meaningful relationship with a larger context of purpose. … (O)ne of the reasons young people do not commit themselves to the larger social enterprise is that they are genuinely baffled as to the nature of that enterprise. … They do not see where they fit in. If they are to commit themselves to the best in their own society, it is not exhortation they need but instruction. … We must also help the individual to discover how such commitments may be made without surrendering individuality."

In 2017, there may be formidable strengths associated with the broad appeal of innovation among young people and the appeal of social innovation in particular -- strengths that can be built upon toward "deeply embedded capability." Further, value for "leverage" in and of itself may be of the type of "middle-level" value that Gardner associated with near universal resonance.

Gardner's idea from 1963 was reinforced in 2008 by editors Anne Craft, Howard Gardner, and Guy Claxton throughout Creativity, Wisdom, and Trusteeship: Exploring the Role of Education, (Corwin Press: Thousand Oaks, CA, 2008). For example:

[39] Gary Hamel and C. K. Prahalad, Competing for the Future, (Harvard Business School Press, 1997), p vii

[40] Hoffman, 2016

[42] Bruner, 1960