Anita Sutton, founder and CEO of SEED Learning, delivered a powerful opening keynote at the Advancing Learning conference. She emphasized what she feels are the key ingredients to innovation. She says that through her experience in engaging in a variety of different opportunities she has seen “the good and the bad in innovation.” Her main messages are reflected on below.

Be Curious

Anita introduced herself with a strengths statement and emphasized curiosity a the one word that defines who she is. I was struck by the choice. As an innovator, I identify with this statement and her focus on curiosity. I think that innovators question the world around them. They are never satisfied with a job well done. Instead, they ask: What can I do better? We seek out problems in our classrooms to solve. I never really thought about my strengths statement before, but I am going to add it to my “to reflect on” list. Curiosity will definitely be included in my strengths statement as well.

Have a Process

Anita defines innovation as “a process to create new ways of solving problems.” The key differentiator here that you may not have seen in other definitions of innovation is the focus on a process. She argues that processes are important for moving new ideas towards being usable by others.



For an organization to be effective in innovation they need to encourage new ideas, but more importantly, they need to provide people feedback on their ideas. She described working for a company that was excellent at promoting the generation of new ideas but did not have a filtering process. What ended up happening is that individuals who had ideas would feel disempowered when they did not get feedback on them. Employee engagement decreased since the company did not see congruence between what the company said and what they did. A supportive environment and a process are key for successful innovation in an organization.


Questions to consider about innovation where you work:

  • Do you have a process?
  • What is working? What isn’t?
  • Do you have a supportive environment for innovation?
  • Does the organization value or encourage questioning of the norms?
  • How open-minded people?
  • Is there a non-judgemental atmosphere?

Anita emphasizes that “we all have a stake in innovation. It is up to you to think about what” you can do and model it for others. At Cambrian, we are working hard towards fostering a supportive environment for innovation. In fact, I am proud to say that is my new role in our Hub. We have a pretty awesome definition of innovation. It has several key components that I feel are essential to innovation. My personal favourite is acknowledging that failure is okay as long as you learn from it. (I may be biased because I sat on the committee that developed it in 2016.) Our definition, toolkit and more are waiting to be launched according to our strategic plan. It is exciting to be in this environment and see the opportunities ahead! Inspired by Anita’s session, I have just added exploring if such a process exists as a goal for my new role in promoting innovation at Cambrian. If one does not exist I will advocate for it.

Her Process: Listen. Learn. Pivot.

She says it looks simple because it is. In my mind simplicity is so important for usability. Her process is driven by people because her company (SEED Learning) values people first. It is important to remember the people on the other end of whatever you are producing. For educators that means we need to always remember that our students should be first.

This process evolved over time. Refining a process like this is an ongoing thing, just like learning should be continuous. I admire her openness about the challenges she faced along the way as she developed it.


It doesn’t matter where you are. Turn on the active listening.

Listening is a key part of the innovation process. When you have an idea you need to ask open-ended questions and let the other person talk. That is easier said than done and it takes practice. I have taught students how to actively listen to clients. Yet, in high-pressure situations, I still need to consciously remind myself to listen first and respond second.


While similar to listening, learning is focused on learning objectives. Anita referred to Google Glass as she spoke of her fear that her company would develop a really interesting product that would not get adopted. She says she is confident that a process is important for ensuring that developed ideas have real-world value. Listening to others is key to ensuring that your ideas will help other people.

Focusing on solving a real problem and identifying learning objectives before each meeting (or in my case, other professional development opportunities as well) will enable us to get more from specific encounters. Preparation is key to success. Keeping this advice in mind I have been drafting smart goals for my new position. Where appropriate, I will develop specific questions that align with my learning goals. Sometimes they will need to be broad. As she mentioned, it is also important to know when to derive value from interactions from veering off the preconceived path. In nursing, we caution against preconceived questioning.

Seek diverse opinions

It is also important to consider who we talk to. It is important to co-create with people outside your silo (if we have them). Who are your key stakeholders? Who haven’t you talked to? Strategically seek out people to give you an opinion that you have not talked to move your idea forward. It is important to focus on what the person is saying to ensure you get the most out of the interaction.

This is one of the reasons that I am including networking and active listening in my goals for the new innovation position at Cambrian. I am not going in with pre-conceived ideas about what will work for people. Instead, I hope that faculty bring me their concerns and we can talk about possibilities that fit their circumstances.

Be open

If you are too focused on your own ideas you will be unable to innovate – it is death to innovation. In the listening phase, you won’t be able to ask good questions. In the learning phase you will be unable to make and achieve good learning objectives. In the pivoting phase, you will be unable to make good decisions about when to stop working on an idea. Being closed minded is different than standing your ground. There are times, especially as educatos, where we need to defend the decisions we made with evidence. However, it is critical for innovation to be open to learning from others. It does not mean that you need to agree with them. Seeing things from different perspectives is a skill that I find useful in all areas of my life. It helps me make informed decisions.


Changing directions is okay. It is important to be open to new ideas. For example, when I first heard about not assigning grades to an assignment I thought that would not work … and now I am trying it. Perfectionists may struggle with this as there is a sense of lost time invested in one’s own ideas. I am not quite a perfectionist, but I am pretty close. Over time, I have learned that I can’t be for my own sanity or I would never get anything produced. For this phase to be successful it is important to work on the first two phases. It is also critical that you refer to the problem that you are trying to solve (unless you find a cooler problem to solve). Pivoting takes courage and due diligence.

Keep Going

A continuous process is needed for ongoing innovation. Innovation is a continuing process. Ideas need to be refined over time. Many people have great ideas and when they get stuck they give up. Instead of giving up keep going.

Leverage your network!

If you don’t talk to a lot of people you will have a big problem. Co-creation and networking are foundational to the development of new ideas. Many sessions that I have attended stress the importance of a good network for successful innovation.

What do you do about people who resist change? 

I loved the way Anita answered the question about dealing with people in organizations that resist change. She referred to the ADKAR change management methodology, which I had to look up afterward. She emphasized that people need to understand the rationale behind the change or they will not change. Talking to people and giving them the knowledge they need to change is key. They will not change unless they can see a value in it for them. It is so true, you need to “sell” your ideas to everyone around you in the world of education. As educators we need to sell the idea to students and other faculty on a daily basis.


Build teams 

When building a team look for people you work well with and that have strengths you do not have. Looking for expertise in others helps to build a strong team overall. Together teams can accomplish more when they work together and contribute their strengths.

Quick Tip 

Supporting factors: Building, measuring and implementation. These factors support the innovation process in all three phases. While they were not explained, to me this speaks to the need for ongoing evaluation.



Laura Killam is an experienced nursing educator from Northern Ontario with a keen interest in improving student learning through innovation. For more information please visit


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