I have been tracking book and blog authors who write about organizational innovation with the goal of helping translate their knowledge into language that resonates with educators. I strongly recommend reading an interview with Rowan Gibson, author of Innovation to the Core, offered in a three part series by Braden Kelley on the Innovation Excellence blog site. The summaries in the interview are some of the clearest articulation I have read of how innovation must take root in ways that are highly relevant to our evolving schools.
Some of Gibson’s key points as they relate to educational organizations:
The biggest challenge is to make innovation a “deeply embedded capability” in the organization. Schools believe they have always been stewpots of innovation, but it has been in highly silo-ed, unsustainable ways that have infrequently percolated throughout the organization. Gibson would argue that there is little true innovation infrastructure built into the school system; when good ideas rise up they are often killed off due to lack of a supporting mechanism.
He suggest that leaders need to develop an organizational imprint of strategic insight, fertile ground I would call it, so that ideas and opportunities that do arise are grounded in an overall direction that will be supported. The organization must know, through clear communication from leadership, that innovation does not just mean coming up with a new idea; it must be an idea that brings new value.
The pressure to innovate in most companies is just not there, or it is not balanced with other pressures to perform, particularly by senior management. Rowan suggests that companies increase the “demand side” of innovation, creating distinctive innovation managers, innovation space and time, assessment metrics, and the like. When schools put this into their organizational and operational structures, employees will embrace the opportunities and the DNA will procreate. Innovation must be rewarded and recognized along with (as part of) teaching excellence by the faculty and along with cost containment and other operating performance criteria by the administration.
Rowan specifically calls out our educational system for not providing the learning fodder to help make this happen, even at the MBA level. I really enjoy and support the list of essential skills he believes are missing from our educational system:
- Systematically discover new strategic insights
- Come up with radical new growth opportunities
- Recognize a really big idea
- Reallocate resources
- Foster cultural conditions inside an organization to motivate innovation
- Bring more balance to student priorities
These are some of the Nth C (21C) skills that we have all been shouting for, and they clearly have a place in our school organizations. Many of these are the same list of skills that I taught in The Falconer to K-12 students, if in somewhat different language. These are the skills that differentiate those who just go along to get along, from those who leap to new advantages and opportunities. It is up to leadership to create a long-term institutional demand for people with these skills, get them on board, and start to build these critical capabilities.