Lessons From The Valley III: Yes, We Can Measure Innovation

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Lessons From The Valley III: Yes, We Can Measure Innovation

This is the third post in a series that asks “why is Silicon Valley the Magic Kingdom of innovation, and what lessons can K-12 schools learn about how innovation succeeds in times of rapid change?”  If you have a management team or board that is asking “how do we know we are actually becoming more innovative as an organization?”, here are some great places to start with your assessment strategy.

Langdon Morris, in his book The Innovation Master Plan, cites a dozen measures that companies can use to determine to the extent to which they are actually innovative.  Many of these sound “corporate” to those in educational non-profits, but the roots of success are both applicable and achievable in schools, and all of them can be measured.

  • Outputs of innovation significantly enhance the brand.  Innovation, by definition, is implementation of new ideas that build organizational value, and value is measured through the viewpoint of our customers.  Families have vastly more options for education than they did just a few years ago, so schools of all kinds must build and demonstrate brand/value in order to attract and retain students. Ask: “how do our innovative pilots directly align with a strong and differentiated value proposition”. 
  • Customer opinions improve steadily and significantly. Sustainable value is not based on or anecdotes or a handful of exceptional teachers.  Innovative schools broadly sample their customer viewpoints frequently on important elements of learning and the supportive relationships that lie at the core of what schools do best. Ask your stakeholders: “what does great learning look like to you?” or “Tell us about at time when our school failed to meet your needs.”
  • The innovation system engages a large and growing ecosystem of external partners. The single greatest driver of creativity is connectivity. Schools have been remarkably isolated from the world around them. Creating frequent and numerous opportunities to interact with external partners both inside and outside of education is hugely fertile ground for school innovation. Ask: “How might we become deeply embedded with community resources that will amplify our vision…right here on campus?”
  • The system results in a significant increase in the number of attractive, new, internally-sourced opportunities. Successfully innovative organizations build and maintain a diversified portfolio of new ideas that MAY grow into value-generating programs and processes.  Schools that support one or two isolated brushfires of creative innovation may feel good that they are incubating change, but the chances are that they are not. Ask a diverse group of stakeholders: “Is what we call innovation really pushing ourselves beyond our comfort zone?”
  • Speed of innovation project completion increases year over year. Schools are notorious for taking a long time to move from idea to practice.  This flies straight in the face of what we know about successful innovation. School leaders must become more comfortable with trying something with no guarantee of success, and then iterating, supporting, or moving on to other ideas on a much more frequent cycle. Ask: “Are we leading on anything?”
  • Number of people participating in innovation projects increases year over year. Like frequency, density of innovation is an indicator of success.  If one person or a few small groups are seen as “the innovative types”, or it is “their” job, the school is not building a sustainable capacity to innovate.  Ask: “Is growth-minded innovation a hope or an expectation at our school?” 
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