What Designing The New Girl Scouts Innovation Badges Taught Us About Raising Leaders

As the Girl Scouts approach their 100-year anniversary in March, they are introducing a whole new lineup of badges. Way back in 1913, the organization had badges like Flyer and Electrician to represent those trailblazing professions. Today, girls live in vastly different times and have wider opportunities in business leadership. With that in mind, Jump worked with the Girl Scouts to develop a badge program to expose girls to cutting-edge fields such as web design and social innovation. In thinking about what we’ll need from our future leaders, executives have come to realize that the ability to innovate will be one of the foremost qualities--that is, the ability to quickly identify solutions for problems, many of which don’t even exist yet. To paraphrase President Barack Obama: Innovation is our ticket to success in the future. But in the U.S., women are still poorly represented in leadership teams. At last count, there were just 12 women CEOs in Fortune 500 companies. In addition, while technology is fueling a lot of new business growth, it’s an industry still maligned with very low numbers of women. [figure=inline-large][caption][/caption][/figure][caption] [The badges for Cadettes, Juniors, Brownies, and Seniors][/caption] When we started to design the program, we realized that it would need to be much more than about designing cool stuff; it would have to involve developing empathy. It would also have to be age appropriate across four age levels, from second to tenth grade. The program caters to younger girls’ interests and capabilities, yet grows as older girls develop more critical-thinking skills. For this reason, the first level of Innovation, the Inventor badge, is about creating new things, while senior Girl Scouts work on building new businesses for the Social Innovator badge. To better understand the full value Girl Scouts has had on women, and to learn what girls need today, Jump spent time talking with Girl Scouts alumnae (of which there are over 50 million today), current Girl Scouts of all ages and their parents, and executives within the organization. Our findings led to some core principles that guided the definition and development of the Innovation badges. These principles are relevant for anyone developing ideas and businesses, not just children and young adults.

1. Leverage children’s existing creativity

Children are naturally curious and creative. The last thing one would want to do is stifle those tendencies by prescribing one path toward innovation. At the same time, there are best practices that the girls can benefit from learning. The trick in creating the Innovation badge curriculum was to strike a good balance between providing suggestions and letting the girls’ inner interests guide them. Rather than dictating the right way to develop new ideas and businesses, the Innovation badges let the girls choose among three options at each step, encouraging them to work on something they’re passionate about. This way, they can customize their own program to match their unique interests and style.

2. Train hybrid thinkers

Solving the ambiguous problems that plague our society, such as health care or access to clean water, will require working across multiple disciplines. Instilling the value of hybrid thinking--the mashing up of disparate disciplines--will ensure that we have leaders ready to tackle pressing issues. The Innovation badge program incorporates methods from many fields--such as anthropology, engineering, graphic design, and business strategy--to help the girls identify what’s needed, imagine what’s possible, and see how to make ideas a reality.

3. Build empathy before solutions

Making the world a better place for those who inhabit it is not about creating cool, shiny new objects. To have real impact on the world, to make the world a better place--the heart of the Girl Scout ethos--the girls should be able to identify what people really need. Each of the four levels of the Innovation badge has activities to help the girls gain empathy for the people for whom they’re designing solutions. To this end, the girls are trained, for example, to observe, take notes, and experience things first hand.

4. Enable great storytellers

One of the oft-overlooked softer skills that can decide whether an idea becomes a reality is good storytelling. Many great ideas never see the light of day because the creators neglected to craft compelling stories--no one ever got the full potential of the idea. The Innovation badge program builds good storytelling skills by instructing the girls on how to pitch an idea through a variety of means, from giving a presentation to using advertisement or even putting on a skit.

5. Get feedback early and often

Creating great products and services requires getting good feedback along the way. The Girl Scouts Innovation program reinforces the importance of asking people for feedback through a variety of means. The program also underscores the value of collaborating with friends and family members to make ideas better. As the world gets increasingly more complex, future leaders will have to be experts at enlisting others to help create solutions. Given how complex and uncertain that future is sure to be, it’s assuring to have organizations like the Girl Scouts focusing on building the skills our future leaders will surely need. With the Innovation badge and the rest of the new badge lineup, the Girl Scouts are well positioned to develop the leaders of tomorrow. Lauren Pollak leads Jump's New York office. She advises business leaders in industrial materials, packaged food, financial services, and retail on achieving their growth objectives. She has taught new productdevelopment as an adjunct professor at the George Washington University School of Business and served on the Innovation Advisory Board for the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. Lauren has published several articles on managing innovation and fostering a culture of exploration and has pioneered Jump's innovation methodology. She has a background in physics and engineering. Prior to Jump, she applied this knowledge to create innovative science education programs for high school students.

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