Author: Executive Director, Nene Spivy
The Children's Science Center
1. In your opinion, what makes a company innovative?
An innovative company sees that something new can be brought to market before others can fully see the need. They tackle great challenges that motivate their team to be creative and resourceful. Innovative companies create an environment where people can turn ideas into reality and assemble teams to co-mingle ideas for higher-impact results. An innovative company is willing to take risks and has conviction for their “solution.” Finally, the ability to consistently attract resources and investment is fundamental for innovation.
2. What makes your company innovative?
The Children’s Science Center is innovative, and perpetuates innovation, because we engage great people with enormous passion for a bold vision: to create a world class interactive science museum that inspires the next generation of innovators. We empower and enable our team to run with ideas to achieve the mission of instilling a love of STEM learning in all children. The Center defines team broadly and inclusively, engaging a wide range of volunteers with immense talents to share, in addition to hiring dedicated staff, many that started as volunteers, and engaging thought-leading, creative industry experts. Most notably, our innovation has been enabled by donors that embrace and invest in our mission and vision by providing much-needed financial support.
3. What or who are some innovative companies or people that inspire you and your team?
We are inspired by the phenomenal impact the nation’s finest interactive science museums are having in their communities and across the globe, as well as the founders and leaders that make that happen. One example is the Exploratorium museum based in San Francisco, and Frank Oppenheimer, a physicist turned educator, who founded the museum. Frank believed in creating an inventive and playful museum where the audience could fully engage with and interact with exhibits. Over four decades this museum has grown to be a shining example of innovation, creativity, and community engagement. Another is the Museum of Science located in Boston. The museum has seemingly endless galleries of exhibits and fun, engaging and sophisticated learning experiences. The current CEO, Dr. Ioannis (Yannis) Miaoulis, an engineer and educator, has led the museum through a period of great growth in facilities and programs, including developing “Engineering is Elementary” and other curricula used by over 93,600 teachers and 8.3 million students in 50 states and the District of Columbia.
Both institutions extended their impact from their region to the globe, sharing their expertise to grow the industry by inspiring many (like us) to start similar museums. When you witness what these institutions offer, you can’t help but want this for our region’s half-million children. The Children’s Science Center wouldn’t exist without the amazing museums that have come before us and have given our board members, staff, volunteers, and supporters the inspiration to create the first of a kind in our region.
In addition to the world’s best interactive science museums, we are inspired by some of the great consumer brand companies of our time: Microsoft, Apple, Lego and Disney, to name a few. They repeatedly succeed in providing what the modern, sophisticated consumer wants with world-class design and delivery of products, experiences and facilities.
4. What are some publications, print or digital, you read daily or have read that help you stay on top of your game?
Knowing the region: Washington Post, Washington Exec, Washington Business Journal
Knowing non-profits: Board Source publications, studying other non-profits web sites
Knowing the industry: Association of Science and Technology Centers and Association of Children’s Museums publications, industry blogs like, Know Your Own Bone; published research on STEM informal education, recent favorite is the STEM Ecosystems Report by Noyce Foundation; STEM Connector blog; studying other museum web sites
Books: some recent favorites on innovation: Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation by Steven Johnson; Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World by Tony Wagner.
5. What advice would you give to up-and-coming leaders striving to be innovative in today’s business environment?
Find or create a place that allows you to innovate and remember as a leader that innovation is still about management fundamentals: engagement, empowerment, judgment, measured risk-taking and implementation, to name a few. If your team is engaged to meet a mission they truly believe in and empowered to perform at their peak potential, then great things are possible. Innovation is not only about coming up with brand-new ideas of your own, but knowing a good idea when you see it, and then really going for it by working hard and smart to make it happen.