The 14 Critical Innovation Skills Kids Aren’t Learning in High School

The 14 Critical Innovation Skills Kids Aren’t Learning in High School

The 14 Critical Innovation Skills Kids Aren’t Learning in High School 1280 384 Lloyd Nimetz

With the rise of the Internet and the Information Age, the competencies people need to succeed in today’s world have changed faster than ever before. This has created a major problem for our education systems throughout the world that were designed in the late 19th century for an emerging industrial era. Our schools simply haven’t adjusted fast enough. Governments, companies and even most educational experts all over the world recognize this, but, for the most part, schools continue to over-emphasize the importance of content-based knowledge (also often referred to as explicit knowledge) and under-emphasize the rapidly growing importance of 21st Century Skills like the “Four Cs”: critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity. Kids are still primarily taught and tested on knowledge learned in the ‘five solids’ — core subjects like Math, Science, History, Foreign Language, and English/Literature — and not nearly enough emphasis is being placed on teaching 21st century skills and nurturing the curiosity, self-awareness and motivation that drives self-directed learning. Recognizing the skills gap that our outdated school models are creating, many great teachers and school leaderships go out of their way to teach 21st century skills but are hampered by the system: subject-based education model, rigid testing standards and college entrance examinations.

Yuval Noah Harari discussed these ideas in his acclaimed article, What Kids Need to Learn to Succeed in 2050:

“Besides information, most schools also focus too much on providing students with a set of predetermined skills, such as solving differential equations, writing computer code in C++, identifying chemicals in a test tube, or conversing in French. Yet since we have no idea what the world and the job market will look like in 2050, we don’t really know what particular skills people will need…So, what should we be teaching? Many pedagogical experts argue that schools should switch to teaching “the four Cs” — critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity. More broadly, they believe, schools should downplay technical skills and emphasize general-purpose life skills. Most important of all will be the ability to deal with change, learn new things, and preserve your mental balance in unfamiliar situations. To keep up with the world of 2050, you will need to do more than merely invent new ideas and products, but above all, reinvent yourself again and again.”

At The Spike Lab, a big part of our mission is to help students develop into life-long innovators and entrepreneurs. These have become buzzwords today, but as educators whose job is, in part, to develop innovation and entrepreneurship abilities in our students, we needed to define these skills and measure our students’ progress over time. So we went through an arduous process of research and self-reflection, from our own entrepreneurial experiences, to develop a first draft of these abilities. Then we interviewed dozens of innovators and entrepreneurs to refine our list and definitions.

Below is our list of innovation and entrepreneurship abilities. We use them on a daily basis to baseline and track the progress of our students’ development toward being equipped for the innovation economy that they’ll soon be entering. Note that our list doesn’t include all the 21st Century skills like critical thinking, for example, because our mandate is different than that of a school. The Spike Lab exists to complement schools and therefore we focus on the most important skills for innovation and entrepreneurship. Our list puts particular emphasis on the areas where schools fall significantly short. It is designed as a very practical list, outlining only the most important abilities needed to innovate in the world. Right away, our students realize how practical these skills are as they throw themselves into the process of identifying, defining and executing their Spikes, whether it’s a technology spike, a business spike, a creative spike, an academic spike, a civic spike or otherwise.

We’ve found that all the skills listed here are not of equal weight or importance, but all four categories — Initiative, Creativity, Planning and Communication — are critical. To succeed in tomorrow’s economy, people will need to repeatedly invent new things and reinvent themselves throughout their career.

We all have our strengths and weaknesses to be aware of, so use this list to assess yourself. Note that the innovation abilities listed below are not all mutually exclusive. There is overlap in skill areas like Persuasive Speaking and Empathy. Intentionality and Goal-Setting. However, there is not enough overlap to warrant eliminating one.

Mindset and habit of working deliberately towards a goal instead of focusing on activities given to them by others.

Intrinsic Motivation
Possessing the ambition, curiosity and determination that are the motor behind self-directedness and perseverance.

Action Oriented
Ability to act quickly upon an idea.

Managing Ambiguity
Ability to navigate in uncertain or unclear situations. This includes risk-tolerance, problem definition (asking the right questions) and solution brainstorming (mapping out a set of potential solution).

Mindset and habit of taking responsibility for individual and team outcomes. This includes being proactive and results/solution-oriented.


Able to generate many novel and effective ideas. This includes all types of divergent thinking and building on others’ ideas (“Yes and”).

Able to deeply understand the behaviors, emotions, and motivations of another. This includes a habit of good listening/first seeking to understand others and hard design thinking skills like empathy interviewing and assumption testing. It also is closely related to hospitality.

Prototyping & Making
Ability to turn abstract concepts into tangible and testable artifacts. This includes the instinct to and skill of rapid prototyping.


Ability to think ahead to a future point and set ambitious but attainable goals. This is more the skill of setting good goals and not the mindset of goal-setting, which is more intentionality (see above).

Task Management
Ability to break complex projects into smaller, interdependent and sequential tasks (with deadlines), and get those tasks done on schedule (especially when involving others).

Ability to determine the most important / valuable work and focus on it until completion.


Persuasive Speaking
Ability to convey complex ideas clearly and in a compelling way: verbally and non-verbally (i.e. written) and in different contexts including public (in front of many people), in small groups, 1:1, etc.

Ability to find the right people and then build and maintain relationships with them. This includes EQ needed to build rapport.

Ability to give and receive feedback in a way that promotes growth (own and other’s). This includes avoiding conflicts and effectiveness in difficult conversations to resolve conflict.


At The Spike Lab, we are committed to developing students into Purpose-Driven Innovators for Life, and nurturing these innovation abilities is one of the core pillars of our program. Please read this article outlining how these innovation abilities fit into our program’s greater mission.

Lloyd Nimetz

Serial entrepreneur, educator, investor, milonguero, dog-lover and Coach, Founder & CEO of The Spike Lab

Read more by: Lloyd Nimetz