The Montessori Method: An Education For Creating Innovators
The Montessori Method may just be Silicon Valley’s best kept secret. The connections between the innovators who built Silicon Valley and Montessori education run deep.
It turns out that a lot of Silicon Valley’s brightest minds and most successful innovators have a Montessori education in common. Here are just a few of the innovators that went through an early Montessori education:
Larry Page and Sergei Brin, the founders of Google were asked in a 2004 television interview with Barbara Walters if having parents who were college professors was a major factor behind their success. Instead, they credited their early Montessori education. “We both went to Montessori school,” Mr. Page said, “and I think it was part of that training of not following rules and orders, and being self-motivated, questioning what’s going on in the world, doing things a little bit differently.”
What’s most remarkable about their success is that Google didn’t begin as a brilliant vision to make the world’s information accessible for everyone to search, but as a project to improve library searches at Stanford University. As Peter Sims points out referencing Montessori: “most highly creative achievers don’t begin with brilliant ideas, they discover them.” Page and Brin discovered that their initial idea of improved library search had broader application and eventually unlocked a revolutionary business model and an indispensable tool you probably use many times each day.
Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon went through Montessori as child and he has made experimentation and discovery an integral part of Amazon’s workplace culture. Bezos thanks his Montessori education for his enthusiasm for experimentation. Talking about the risks of the experimental innovation process he acknowledged that most of their projects fail, “But every once in a while, you go down an alley and it opens up into this huge, broad avenue.”
Will Wright, the inventor of best-selling video games series “The Sims”, heaps similar praise on his Montessori education: “Montessori taught me the joy of discovery, it’s all about learning on your own terms, rather than a teacher explaining stuff to you. SimCity comes right out of Montessori…”
Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia went to a Montessori-influenced school and like many of today’s tech elite he sends his children to a Montessori school. As you can imagine, Montessori schools and similarly structured Waldorf schools are very popular in Silicon Valley.
Even Thomas Edison, the American inventor and in some ways the Godfather of modern America’s innovation culture (I recommend watching this biography The Wizard of Menlo Park) founded his own Montessori School. He said, “I like the Montessori method. It teaches through play. It makes learning a pleasure. It follows the natural instincts of the human being . . . The present system casts the brain into a mold. It does not encourage original thought or reasoning.”
Other prominent people who went through Montessori education include singers Taylor Swift and Beyonce Knowles, renowned celloist Yo-Yo Ma, legendary management guru Peter Drucker, actor George Clooney, illusionist David Blaine, author Helen Keller, techno-philosopher Jason Silva and English royals Prince William and Prince Harry.
While Montessori education may not be ideal for everyone, it provides a great philosophical blueprint for anyone to follow to become more curious innovators. It teaches a process that is fundamental to innovation: that we must take action and start building things by taking small, achievable steps toward making our ideas happen. When we are following a deep sense of self-directed experimentation and inquisitiveness this leads us to create new things that may have value to society.