Cultivating Innovation: 10 Ways to Change the Rules of the Game


I’m not a proponent of changing for the sake of change, but you have to admit, the beginning of something usually requires the end of something else – and there are definitely some things that must end.  Once we acknowledge that institutional racism exists, we can no longer keep doing what we have always been doing.  Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle.

Of course, just because things change doesn’t mean they are changes for the better. I love the term “results-based accountability” but in reality, if we don’t count it, it doesn’t count.  We have a hard time paying attention to results we can’t count – especially the unintended consequences.  In my last post on equity evaluation, we talked about the gap between good intentions and disparate outcomes, not to mention the stuff we don’t even know we should be counting.

So, how do we get more than results? How do we get a new way of doing business? The real question is: HOW DO WE CULTIVATE INNOVATION?

Innovative people look for what’s possible, and have a keen sense of how to turn challenges into opportunities.  It is easier said than done, and innovators are often are creating demand for a new way of doing something as they simultaneously work out the kinks of that new method, idea or product.  Successful innovators work to create the conditions to support that change.

This requires courage to learn from failures AND vulnerability to delve deeply into unknown areas, where we are not experts but explorers.


Two of my recent projects and/or job titles have included the word “INNOVATION.”  One thing that these innovative roles have in common – besides me – is an emphasis on systems change.

Unlike upgrades or process improvements, innovators insert themselves into the game in order to change the rules of the game, not just play the game better.

Here are ten things we can do to change the rules of the game and cultivate innovation:

  1. Admit the limits of our knowledge.
  2. Challenge the assumptions of what we think we know.
  3. Ask a new set of people.
  4. Ask a new set of questions.
  5. Intentionally bring people together across sectors and silos to listen and learn.
  6. Encourage and complete a whole learning cycle: planning, data collection, analysis, and reporting.
  7. Repeat #6; better yet: repeat steps 1- 6.
  8. Observe and question: Who knows? Who acts? Who decides?
  9. Hold each other accountable to change practices and processes based on results.
  10. Don’t give up.

What do you do to cultivate new ideas and support innovation in your work? Please share below!

Sida Ly-Xiong is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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