This is the final post of my five-part review of the state of innovation, prompted by a year-end summary by Paul Hobcraft. In “Innovation: the New Competitive Equation”, The Business Performance Network published data from a survey of 200 CEO’s about what they felt are the keys to successful innovation in their organizations and industries. I have excerpted those results and created a slide deck that focuses on the top four results in each category that are immediately relevant to schools.
How might school and district leaders use this wealth of data? How, in the rush of busy school days, are we supposed to find time to get better in all of these ways? The answer, of course, is that you can’t get better at all of them at once. What if we just focused on the top response in each category?
CEO-driven cultural commitment drives innovation across the organization. If leaders are not visibly, frequently, and convincingly committed to change, modeling risk-taking for their employees, innovation is DOA. Create a pathway for the next 1-3 years, starting with “what do I want to know and feel next year” about my school that is different from now.
Engaging and sustaining customers is the area most frequently overlooked as a rich focus of innovation. Administrators and teachers spend too much time talking at our customers, and not enough time listening to them. Remember, every time parents are on campus is an opportunity to empathetically engage with our customers. And our customer-students are with us five days a week! Find ways to frequently, authentically bring your customers into the design of their learning futures.
Focus resources on defining concrete strategies and innovative projects. Nothing kills innovation in schools more than lip service, or writing down a long list of “things we are going to try”, and then having those ideas wither for all to see. Start with expansive thinking, but then focus quickly, pilot the most promising ideas, and very publicly provide the resources those ideas and their champions need to flourish.
Make innovation part of your school’s overall enterprise strategy. If innovation does not get the same attention that school leaders have traditionally afforded to hiring, safety, campus improvements, technology, diversity, and financial sustainability, the forces of change will not overcome the forces of inertia.
Concern/fear over personal failure is the greatest obstacle to innovation. Re-write evaluation procedures to empower and reward risk-taking, not rein it in. Celebrate those who are most willing to change and challenge the rest to rise to the bar. Expect professional growth as a key part of your school’s job description.
Hire and promote people who challenge traditional thinking. Nothing will change the cultural DNA of a school more effectively and quickly, with less trauma, than hiring faculty and staff who enjoy a deeper learning experience, want to grow as professionals, work well in teams, and have DEMONSTRATED evidence of creativity on their resume.
Look outside your school for partners. In every community there are people, other schools, colleges and universities, companies, public institutions, start-ups, and not-for-profits that would love to partner with you if you create authentic opportunities for them to engage with your teachers and students…and much of it will be low cost or free.