A Day in the Life of a BPhl Innovation Festival Attendee

This was a long week, but I wish it were longer.

And that is due to the B.Phl Innovation festival.

Centered at the Independence Blue Cross (IBX) building (1901 Market), with Ground Zero being the IBX Innovation Center on the 13th and 14th floors.

However, the festival spread out around the city, from the University Science Center, to Temple University, to the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, to Penn’s Innovation (Pennovation) space.  For three days people from around the region and beyond converged on Philadelphia to learn about, discuss, and engage in Innovation and a host of related issues (design, design thinking, civil discourse and communication, and creativity).

Here’s a brief overview of my sessions from Day 1.  Read these and you’ll understand

Leveraging Innovation:  Leadership Skills to Drive Change and Make an Impact.

IMG_1374First point of impact here…all three panelists and the moderator were women.  And their stories were amazing , from managing innovation for PECO, Philadelphia’s largest energy provider, to urban planning at the Philadelphia Naval Yard (worth an entire blogpost on its own!), to Human Resources for Momentum Dynamics who make wireless electrical vehicle chargers, all the panelists had impactful stories about their successes and their challenges.  As a teacher working on managing 54 students in two Innovation courses, I learned a lot about listening, empowering, and how to help students over obstacles.  Thank you PECO.

Changing the Course of Discourse:  A Return to Old School Civility


I spent 27 years of my life, from my late teens to my late fourties, as a speech and debate coach for my school district at both the middle school and high school levels.   Most months between October and April I was gone two weekends out of the month and wouldn’t return home on certain Wednesdays until well past 9PM.  I’m not looking for sympathy.  I did this of my own accord, because the spoken word and keen, attentive, active listening are that central to my own view of what constitutes an educated human being.

This session featured Julie Wolmer, the 10th president of Widener University; Larry Platt, editor of the independent newspaper, The Citizen; Jeffery Rosen, President and Chief Executive Officer of the National Constitution Center; and Brett Parker, Chair of the Committee of 70.  The panel discussed the importance of truly listening in an age when social media and political stratification has created what Jeffrey Rosen called, “The Madisonian Nightmare”–a country where factionalization has divided us to such an extent that the federal nature of a federal government and a citizenry bound by a constitution that demands active (not passive) participation in that government is in peril.

I came to Philadelphia to engage in innovation, to participate in design sprints, listen to entrepreneurs, and generally drive my knowledge of innovation to new levels.  But I left this session reminded of something I’d overlooked:  None of that is possible if we cannot communicate.  Innovation in an ever diverse world requires two key pieces before we even begin.  Those pieces, as the design firm IDEO puts it, are Empathy and Radical Collaboration.  Thus, you cannot even pretend to engage in innovation if you’re not grounded in a culture that honors and empowers every voice, that has structures for and practices active listening, promotes critical feedback, and that recognizes the necessity of spaces that invite all voices to the table.

Mindmap of Changing the Course of Discourse

Thank you Larry Platt and the rest of the panel, and the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce for hosting this sessions, perhaps the most important session of all.


Innovation:  Writing your Story: Nat Measley

This was everything I’d hoped it would be.  In NOVA Lab, we talked a great deal about story, why it’s important to tell compelling stories for entrepreneurs and even for ourselves.  Students spend so much time writing analytic essays, Text Dependent Analyses, Lab Reports, and short responses to questions asked by everyone but themselves.  Is it any wonder that most have a good deal of trouble telling a compelling story about themselves and why they matter?  Nat Measley, a Univ. of Delaware professor, formerly Master of Fun at the Fun Department, (and a genuinely Fun guy), took us through a 40 minutes session in why writing our own story is so important and why publishing it and getting into the hands of people is crucial to our success as entrepreneurs, no matter how big our dreams.  His website, Yourculturestory.com makes  such publishing a breeze, whether it be for individuals or startups or even larger companies.

IMG_1409Follow us here at NOVA Lab, because we will be publishing our story!  Thanks @NatMeasley.

Check out the next blog post to find out about the NOVA Lab Field Trip and our work with @duncanjwardle at the Independence Blue Cross Innovation Center.

Philadelphia’s B.Phl Innovation Festival

A few weeks ago one of the students in NOVA Lab informed me of an innovation festival being hosted in Philadelphia.   After checking it out on the web, I was convinced this would be a place for our students to learn why innovation and design thinking were so important to the economy they’d soon be entering.

But after investigating cost, it was soon clear that we’d never afford the tickets.

Undeterred, I wrote the email below:


I am a teacher at a high school about 25 miles northwest of Philadelphia.  This year I am piloting a problem-finding/solving for social impact class called inNOVAtion Lab.  Your festival has several great events that would really help us build out and understand the work we are doing/want to do.  However, there’s no way we could afford a $250 registration/person, and our students’ e-mail addresses are “.org” addresses as we are a public school.
We were looking at coming down for just one day, as the 15–17 timeframe impacts our school day.  
Is there any chance we might be able to get student registration fees for the students and myself?  Not all the students (there are 54) would be coming, but if I could get a list together, would you consider such a reduction in registration?  
If you are interested in the class and what we’ve been doing (as well as a bit of history of our thinking on this matter) you might start at our current website:  www.pvhsnovalab.com .  You could also read a few testimonials on the benefits of such a class from a former student here.

Within a few hours, I got a reply.  (See below.  However, let me say that what I learned from a former student, who was able to get a local philanthropist to fund her debate competitions on the national circuit simply by telling her story of accomplishments and needs…yeah, what I learned from her…it paid off: “If you never ask, you never know.”)

Hi Garreth,

Thank you for your interest in B.PHL, Philadelphia’s first citywide innovation festival. After looking through your website and learning out what the inNOVAtion Lab is about, we would like to offer you free badges, enough for your students and faculty. The link included below will grant you 70 badges. Each person should register for their own badge so they receive it to their emails. They can also use the code: *********** to get access to the tickets through the BPHL website.

In the ensuing weeks, I’ve booked 35 of our 56 students for a field trip for this coming Thursday.  We’ll be listening to former Head of Innovation and Creativity at Disney,  Duncan Wardle, we’ve also managed to get a free tour of the Independence Blue Cross Innovation Center, and seats at an exclusive “Innovation Excavation” with Duncan Wardle, as well as a few other insightful presentations.

There’s plenty of criticism, some of it legitimate but not nearly unique, about the overuse of the word “innovation” in the world today.  But I just returned from a day on my own at the Innovation Festival, and if what I heard from speaker after speaker is true, there’s little in the business world that’s currently as important as being able to innovate your way to a prosperous future.

In session after session today, my own studies of and writings (here and here) about innovation have been legitimated. From the importance of civil discourse and how design helps students develop key communication skills to the benefits of storytelling and learning from failure, I heard members of the business, higher-education, design and communication fields tout the importance of innovation and entrepreneurial mindsets.

Why are things the way they are...NOVA Lab was designed with two key questions as its foundation:  Why are things the way they are?   How can we make them better?  The class is an embodiment of my belief in the power of education, and in design and innovation to elevate the power of the liberal arts and empower students to make the world a better place.

Thank you, B.Phl Innovation Festival.

Students and I will blog more on Thursday after the sessions.

*featured image from bphlfest.com

Open Ideo: Design Thinking For Social Impact

I’ve grown fond of the way we’ve been discussing people’s ideas, offering pushback and extending their thinking in new and prosperous ways.  Don Wettrick’s “ROTH IRA” Cycle is something we’ll have to struggle through a few times before we get the pacing and rhythms down, but that’s the same with orchestrating any large group (and you are that) performance.

Many of you may not yet know what you’d like to do, or even who you might want to help.  But what if I said there’s a chance you could help a whole swath of humanity by working on a Design Thinking challenge?

Such is the nature of Open.ideo.

Now, it may be that this is not a site where you’ll be able to engage in the full aspects of Deisgn Thinking and engage from beginning to end.  But maybe it will be.  As it uses the “open-source” model, it runs in stages, asking for input from many people and designers along the way.

Check it out and see if your creative mind is sparked to action.

Here’s a great example of the “good work” they are seeking to do.

Featured image from Open.ideo

NOVA Lab Branding


Consider the story:

  • A class about turning the learning over to the learner, but with the support and structure to make sure it’s productive and purposeful
  • A space within the school for you to put your ideas, your passions, your time to use figuring out why things are the way they are, and designing wayS to make it better.
  • A system of learning unbridled from grading in the traditional sense.  Dismantling this system untethers learning from schooling.
  • A culture in which you are to tune into your autonomy, pursue mastery of a specific area of need, and to do both with Purpose and Professionalism.
  • A vision for the class that exceeds our current space and capacity, all with an eye on shifting the very foundations for how we’ve always done schooling to students

How do you tell that story such that, when you are not present, it’s the story people are telling themselves about NOVA Lab?    Remember, design thinking is a great approach to take here.  How do we play off of the needs Students and Teachers have/perceive they have.  Because remember, sometimes people think they have needs when they really don’t…there are alternate causalities.  So how do we convince future users of this class that the story they ought to be telling themselves about learning is one that ought to include NOVA Lab as a cornerstone, or capstone?

That’s the challenge in the branding project.

Of course, there are many ways to tell that story.  (See the post-it notes on branding techniques in the back of the room on the chart paper or also here on this Post-it App Board — You will need the Post-it Note App for that, or this pdf version.)  But I do think holding some empathy interviews with other students and teachers about learning and what their beliefs about it are, especially in school, would be an important and crucial start.

Innovate with IN(diana)

While we’re not Hoosiers, the work some of these young entrepreneurs and innovators from Indiana have done can certainly inspire us in our own endeavors.  Remember…It’s not easy, a view on the human at the center of your problem, and a lot of empathy, you’ll come up with an idea and might end up just like these students.   Even if you don’t you’ll get a lot of ideas by watching these videos.

Also, Scroll to the bottom of the page to check out tips on how to get far with your project from the 2018 winners, Educaid.