One of the key points that I’ve picked up from The Innovator’s DNA — a book that I’ve been talking about for months (see here, here and here) — is that the most innovative thinkers are those who can think across domains.

When we work systematically to explore thinking that occurs OUTSIDE of our field, we can often find ways to transform the work that we are doing INSIDE of our own organizations.

So how exactly does one come into contact with thinking beyond their own worlds? 

For many cutting edge business professionals, regular interactions with innovators outside of their own fields happen at conferences like TED, which was intentionally established as a forum where thought leaders in technology, entertainment and design could have sustained intellectual collisions with talented peers in adjacent professions.

Dyer, Gregersen and Christensen explain the power of Ted like this:

TED’s underlying beauty springs from the intentional diversity of participants and presentations.  This diversity forms the foundation for innovators to potentially connect the unconnected.  Innovators in our research not only frequented places like TED, but literally constructed a TED in their heads through an intentional depth and diversity of life experience, creating a personal Medici effect. (p. 47)

“Constructing a TED in their heads” is a cool phrase, isn’t it?

It is an approachable reminder that when we are building our own learning networks using social tools like blogs, Twitter and Facebook, we need to intentionally reach beyond the thinking of leading educators.

The question that people constantly ask, however, is:

“So who should/could/would we follow if we wanted to introduce meaningful intellectual diversity into our own learning networks, Bill?

It’s not that we’re opposed to the idea of adding new thinkers to our information streams.  We just don’t know where to find them!”

While that’s a tough question to answer — the kinds of thinkers who will challenge individual educators is largely dependent on the specific fields that teachers are interested in and/or responsible for — here are three non-educators that I learn a ton from.

The 99 Percent

(blog, Twitterstream)

When I first stumbled across this stream, I almost skipped it because I thought it had something to do with the Occupy Wall Street protests that are all over the news.  It’s not, though — and I’m glad that I took the time to figure that  out!

The 99 Percent is the blog and Twitterstream of Scott Belsky, founder and CEO of Behance and author of Making Ideas Happen.  His central arguments are simple ones: (1). good ideas are useless if you can’t implement them and (2). productive, creative teams are the best at moving good ideas forward.

The 99 Percent blog and Twitterstream are literally FULL of examples of innovation in action.  I learn tons about collaboration, experimentation and progress from the stories shared here — and anytime I can learn more about collaboration, experimentation and progress, my ability to drive change on my learning teams and in my school is enhanced.

Amber Mac

(blog, Twitterstream)

Whether conservative educators like it or not, social media spaces like Twitter and Facebook are changing almost everything about life in today’s world.

We interact with friends and family differently than we did 20 years ago.  We interact with businesses and organizations differently than we did 20 years ago. And perhaps most importantly for schools, we LEARN differently than we did 20 years ago.

That means if we are ever going to successfully transform schools, we are going to need to figure out how those same social media spaces can play a role in our work with students.  Choosing to just ignore Twitter and Facebook is a careless and arrogant choice that only serves to make us more irrelevant than we’ve already become.

Understanding social media spaces can be intimidating, though — especially for people who grew up thinking that the park or church or Cub Scout meetings were the only social spaces that mattered.

That’s where Amber Mac comes in.

The author of Power Friending, Mac helps businesses to understand how to leverage social media spaces for growth.  Her writing is direct and approachable — and the examples that she shares can translate nicely to the work that we do in classrooms and in schools.

Fast Company

(blog, Twitterstream)

Every Saturday morning, I sit down for about 2 hours worth of reading.  As I poke through the collection of blogs that I’m following in my Google Reader, I find myself constantly drawn to the content on the Fast Company website.

With a focus on technology, innovation, leadership and design in the business world, Fast Company shares content that crosses a ton of domains that are important to educators.

Knowing that schools need to sell themselves in today’s tight economy, I find myself especially drawn to the branding articles on Fast Company’s site.  The tips and tricks that I pick up there can be applied to the work that schools do when reaching out to their communities.

I’m also drawn to the leadership content on Fast Company’s site simply because I know just how essential effective leadership is to driving real change in schools.

Any of this make sense to you?

Essentially, what I’ve done is sought out sources that regularly introduce me to the role that concepts I care about — driving tangible change, using social media spaces to communicate and connect, building a brand that can be embraced by stakeholders and leading in complex organizations — play in fields BEYOND education.

The 99 Percent, Amber Mac and Fast Company’s content help me to find ways to connect the unconnected and to bring new, fresh and innovative thinking into my information stream. They are a crucial part of my very own “Ted in the Head.”

So what non-educators are you following? 

More importantly, how have they changed your learning?

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