Wagner interviewed many young innovators (along with their families, professors, employers, and military commanders) and wove the common threads into this book. Chapter 1 focuses on the innovators’ childhood experiences, and tries to distill the essence of innovation – MOTIVATION. What drives these people to be innovators in the first place? Wagner frames the rungs of play, purpose, and passion with the posts of motivation in a hierarchy beginning with play.
As children, the center of our life was play. I’ll bet you can even remember some of your favorite games and who you used to play with. There were some games you liked to play, and others that did not interest you. To get to the heart of your play now, you can ask yourself, “What do I like to do for fun?” Make a list of your responses. Don’t think about it for a long time; just jot down whatever comes to mind right away.
The second rung of the motivation ladder is passion. Play has evolved into a passion because of the “Why?” of play. As we grow, we try to give meaning to the things that we do. No longer do we do things “just for fun”, we do them for a more altruistic reason, while still having fun. The fun has moved into a secondary role, behind the greater passion.
Now, look at your list of things you like to do for fun. Why do you do those things? Try to keep your answer down to just a couple of reasons. You shouldn’t have too much trouble. Most people have few passions that drive their recreational time. Some even have careers that encompass their preferred “plays”. These “whys” point to your passion in life – the intangible things that give you the most satisfaction and make life worth living.
For the young innovators Tony Wagner interviewed, passion gives way to purpose – a single driving force that guides decision-making and motivates them to keep moving forward, despite the roadblocks and limitations. These young innovators did not lead privileged lives, and often live modestly, barely paying their bills. But, they believe strongly in their purpose and persevere through challenges. Does this sound familiar? It sounds like something I want to instill in my children, as well as my students. These innovators are not only interested in the final product (that they have a strong passion for), but are also paying attention to every turn on the road to reaching their destination. Every setback is a learning experience and offers lessons for improvement and character development.
I just wish that every book could engage readers on such a personal level, while inspiring the teacher in all of us. The rest of the book is a quick read and the anecdotes are entertaining and inspiring and does an equally powerful job at challenging our preconceived notions of innovation.