Draper Spark!Lab opened July 1, 2015 as part of the unveiling of the 1West Innovation Wing at the National Museum of American History. Since then, members of Spark!Lab Floor Staff have been working diligently to model the invention process as they assist visitors in interpreting museum content. To introduce you to members of this exceptional team, this series will publish interviews revealing details about these extraordinary people — in their own words!
In this “Spotlight” series, our first featured member of Spark!Lab Staff is Laurel Miller. She was kind enough to answer the following interview questions.
Name: Laurel Miller
Title: Interpretive Exhibits Manager
Part of Lemelson Center since: January 2015
Alma mater(s): B.A. in Art History from The George Washington University; M.Sc. in Leadership in Museum Education from Bank Street College
Favorite invention in the world: Cast-iron skillet. “I love to cook, and it is by far the item I use most in the kitchen because it is efficient and versatile, and you can pass them down for generations!”
Favorite thing in National Museum of American History: Julia Child’s kitchen
What are your responsibilities as part of the Lemelson Center?
I am the Interpretive Exhibits Manager, and basically my duties are split into two categories: managing Spark!Lab and developing public programs for the Lemelson Center. While that may seem divided, I’ve really found that what I love the most about my job is that it all comes back to the visitor and our audiences outside the museum. From training volunteers and staff in Spark!Lab to working on a panel discussion about innovation in surfing, my job is really to find creative ways to share our mission and ideas about invention and innovation. Or, at least, that is how I see it!
Do you consider yourself inventive or innovative?
I have certainly thought of myself as more innovative and inventive since coming to work at the Lemelson Center and Spark!Lab because my definition or understanding of what those terms mean has expanded to be much broader. To me personally, being innovative is a mindset. It means you look at a problem, big or small, and realize that you don’t have to accept that is just “how it is,” but instead you are open to identifying creative solutions. On the other hand, to be inventive suggests that you’ve actually created something to solve a problem. There is a lot of overlap, to be sure, and we often use the words interchangeably, but there are distinctions.
It seems to me people don’t think of themselves as inventive or innovative because when they hear those words they think of Steve Jobs, advanced technology, and rocket ships. I want people to realize they can think innovatively in their daily lives, from their office to cooking dinner, and that time you used found materials to build a new way to hook your cell phone to your backpack was being inventive.
What’s your favorite thing about Spark!Lab?
Spark!Lab is like an experimental laboratory where we are always testing new ideas, trying something out, discussing what’s working and what isn’t, and then responding and changing quickly. This applies not only to the physical space itself, which is really flexible, but also how we operate and interact with visitors through the activities and exploring the invention process. We are constantly bouncing ideas and suggestions off each other, trying to make the visitor experience better and the activities more engaging, living out our mission to encourage inventive thinking. No two days are ever the same in Spark!Lab, and that is the way we like it!
What’s your least favorite thing about Spark!Lab?
I get bummed when I see people give up really quickly on their ideas. We want Spark!Lab to be a space that recognizes and even celebrates failure as part of the invention process. Every inventor has failed. Every inventor has had something not work the way they wanted, but the important part is how they learned from it and applied those lessons to the next step. Inventors have to be some of the most resilient people on the planet — for all they have to go through for even a mini-victory — and I think we can all learn a lot from that attitude.
If you had to explain Spark!Lab in four words, which would you select?
Four words: “Ask. Make. Tweak. Share.” A four word phrase: “A Place of Invention.”
Draper Spark!Lab is located on the first floor, west wing, of the National Museum of American History in Washington, DC. It is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day except for Tuesdays and Dec. 25. For more information, visit http://invention.si.edu/about-sparklab.