Creating Space for Innovation

By Erik Wahl Communicator November 2015, Volume 39, Issue 3

By Erik Wahl
November 2015, Volume 39, Issue 3

I remember the “aha” moment that changed the course of my life. My corporate career had unexpectedly crumbled and I was aimlessly lost. I’d picked up a paintbrush on the advice of a friend, and the synapses in the creative part of my brain started to wake up. They’d been long-dormant since one of my elementary school teachers had told me art wasn’t my thing. Then one day, in a flurry of ideas on napkins that exploded into notecards and scratch paper spread across the kitchen floor, I discovered that the character traits—the governing philosophies of behavior—that shaped artistic icons like Picasso, Hemingway, and Mozart were the same ones that shaped business titans like Buffett, Jobs, and Branson.

For me, better late than never. But I’m hoping that most kids will NEVER have their creativity switch stuck in the off position. That’s why I’m appealing to you directly, as educators and administrators, to take advantage of the grant we’re offering to encourage innovative thinking in elementary schools. The UNthink My School grant from the Wahl Foundation, run by my wife, Tasha, provides one $20,000 check and ten $2,000 checks to schools that foster out-of-bounds thinking. The application process is simple, and we look forward to seeing your creative ideas come to life.


We’ve deliberately left the field wide open so that schools can submit all kinds of ideas. Possible grant projects could reinforce an anti-bullying campaign, focus on campus safety, overcome learning inequalities, decrease truancy, or address resource challenges. Here are some ways to get started:

1. Unlock your creativity. I welcome you and your team to try our I Am Artist program (it’s free if you use the code “unthink” during checkout). I Am Artist is a way to get your mind moving in new and unfamiliar ways, as a precursor to unlocking your true creative genius. You’ll do some (fun) mental gymnastics to access dormant areas of the brain as a warm-up; tap into some self-expression exercises; and hopefully, realize at the end that yes, you too are an artist, even if you haven’t touched a paintbrush since you were a kid.

2. Identify your school’s needs. Gather together members of your school’s community—teachers, parents, students, other administrators—and assess what issues can be helped by a $2,000 or $20,000 grant.

3. Go wild with solutions. Hold a brainstorming session. Ask everyone in the room, individually or in small teams, to come up with at least five solutions to each issue you identified that could be accomplished with a grant. Each person or team reads their favorite ideas aloud. Then, all together, try to come up with 20 more solutions—by this time you’ll be doing some serious reaching and may hit the point of ridiculousness, but that’s OK. Put that list aside, take a break, eat some carbs, drink some water and stretch. And finally after the break, ask each person to try to eke out five more ideas, individually. Then collect all the ideas and decide which ones are the most creative, doable, elegant and efficient solutions.


4. Fill out the application. We want to hear from you. The application process is open through Feb. 15, 2016, but we’d love to see those ideas coming in so that we can help you refine them or ask for further information, if necessary, and share them with the NAESP community so that others can be inspired.

I look forward to hearing from you, and seeing your ideation in action. Because who knows? Maybe the work you do today will help to spark the genius of tomorrow’s Einsteins.

Erik Wahl is an American graffiti artist, speed-painter, author, motivational speaker and entrepreneur based in San Diego.

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