Innovation for Impact: Active Learning

Based on experiences at SRI, Curt Carlson writes about an organizational system focused on active learning, beyond to an orientation only of operating.

What sets our approach apart from others is that we consider value creation to be an exercise in active learning. Coming up with a novel product or service is not simply a matter of waiting for inspiration to strike but a process of using proven practices from the education sciences to gain insights and improve fast.

“Innovation for Impact”, Curtis R. Carlson, Harvard Business Review, November–December 2020,

There’s a link to:

“A New Vision for Center-Based Engineering Research”, 2017, National Academy of Engineering, at


Active learning depends on engagement. Students become master architects, for example, not just by reading textbooks, listening to lectures, or watching other architects but by constantly working on and revising actual projects. Through that activity, they synthesize the theory they’re taught, the techniques they see others using, and their own ability to manage the design process.

I can’t agree more. While the author is discussing the learning of a craft, I see this as a problem with education more generally. This is exactly the type of problem a learning model I’ve stumbled upon is meant to solve.

Formal education involves writing reading, listening, writing papers, and passing exams. But how do you access that knowledge later, when you need it?

This post I wrote How I use Google to learn New or Difficult subjects illustrates the core of the system I’m using to learn everything I want to know deeply.

Instead of memorizing, endless reading and writing a paper to try and cement the knowledge in my brain, I make it easier to find the information when I need it. Obviously writing and reading are valuable, but they don’t always make it easier to recall in-a-pinch.

I build curated lists in a systemic fashion, which are iterated upon and developed over months\years as my learning matures. My self-education is also productive, because I publish the lists on the web, that also makes it easier for others to learn.

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