Co.Design

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

As part of the organization's rebranding, the Girl Scouts has introduced an innovation component. In designing the program, Jump Associates developed some tips for training girls to become future 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.

[The badges for Cadettes, Juniors, Brownies, and Seniors]

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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17 Comments

  • Chuko

    Let's all take a moment to understand the difference between the rebrand that OCD did and the redesign of the content of the Innovation (and all the 138!) other badges. They're mutually exclusive, and OCDs great rebranding effort had nothing to do with the design of the Badges or their content. They were done by two distinctly different groups.

    The rebrand was great at refocusing the Girl Scouts externally and to it's Councils, but the Badges are a part of the Program Curriculum. Trying to remove old Badge content and giving girls a relevant and exciting set of Skill Building activities is so granular and core to the Girl Scout mission, that a rebranding effort should only be mentioned as a coincidental event.

    But have to say- good Girl Scout design all around!

  • J. Smith

    Andy - Thanks for the additional information and your insightful comments. For those of in fields other than design, this adds a new dimension of understanding. Also, just a tiny FYI - the proper name is "Girl Scouts of the USA."  (Boy Scouts of America is a completely separate organization, including the format of it name.)

  • Elizabeth Amorose

    I'm very thankful for my experience in Girl Scouts (1980-1988), which significantly shaped who I am as an adult--successful business owner, wife, mother, friend, and artisan. It's been great to watch the organization reinvent and rebrand itself over the past few years, and I'm thrilled to know they've overhauled their badge system in such a smart, innovative and well designed way.

    Merit badges as a concept seem to be coming full circle. Friend and artist Mary Yaeger has been focused on them for years, creating hand embroidered badges commemorating female rites of passage (http://www.maryyaeger.com/sinc.... Recently, I've been seeing mass produced badges (though not yet getting it completely right) popping up in gift stores and artist co-ops. Personally, I'd love to receive a badge whenever I landed a client or went to the gym consistently. And I'd love to be able to give them to friends who kept their businesses alive during the recession or to my daughter for sleeping through the night.

  • Beccal

    Leigh - it's never to late!  Join Girl Scouts now as a Leader or Assistant Leader.  I've been a leader for 5 yrs and truly appreciate every little bit of help I get from the other registered adults.  It's only $12 per year to join.  My mother was my Girl Scout Leader and now I've had both my girls in Brownies.  It has been such a blessing to me to watch the go from being quiet to speaking at a ceremony with pride, or saying "This is neat, I've never done this before!".  I say all the time, I have 10 girls, because I do, I love them and love to watch them grow.  Girl Scouts need women to guide their girls!

  • Leigh Morlock

    I might have stuck with the Girl Scouts if this was the philosophy back when I was eligible. 

  • Sharla Smith

    Wow, Lauren Pollak,  you are one to inspire and one to be emulated.

    As a former Girl Scout (if you can ever be a former Girl Scout) I know that Who I am today and what sets me apart from others is my Scouting experiences.  I have confidence and empathy, just as was described in the above article.  I am constantly looking for solutions to problems that others haven't even realized exist.  

    In fact the reason I happened upon this article is because I was researching an innovative idea.  

    Kudo's to you!  

    Sharla Smith

  • Andy Pratt

    Glad Cameronewing.com gave a little props to Original Champions of Design for the actual rebrand. It is interesting to see a little of Jump's thinking when it comes to the innovation badges, but it is important to understand the foundation that was recently developed by OCD to make Girl Scouts of America more relevant in the first place.

  • Gene38

    Wow!  This is great!  Everyone should read this.  Lessons even for Non-Girlscouts.  Are the Boy Scounts next? 

  • Lsalmonson

    As a Girl Scout board member, many thanks for posting the story. The organization is truly reinventing itself as you note. Girls of all ages are going on journeys to discover, connect and take action to make the world a better place. The entire movement has a new energy and enthusiasm. I think the badges bring that out. Here's to the next 100 years!!

  • Sftrigirl99

    As a Girl Scouts "lifer" - I
    started out in first grade as a Brownie, all the way to my Sr. Year of
    high school as a Senior Scout - I am thoroughly impressed with the
    modernization of their program. I was fortunate to have a
    forward-thinking leader in high school at the time, but the base curriculum was
    already stale back in the 80's. I think this just might give me the
    impetus to support the organization once again!

  • Florac

    Thank you for sharing! I am not only a Creative Director at my Agency, but a mom and have been a troop leader over the past few years. This will be a great program that is really going to resonate with today's girls. I know the organization as a whole has been trying to refocus and be relevant in today's culture and the world these girl's are in. This is a great step for doing so. The badges are beautiful. A lot of what this new generation of girls will need to do in the future marketplace is be fluid and flexible-which is what you explained above. These badges have a nice organic, fluid feel to them. Nicely done! (Florac@jacobsagency.com)