On my last day of working for the Federal government in a direct capacity I am going to focus on government for a change and look at innovation in a two-part article.
There is simply too much good information to cover–even without getting terribly technical. This piece is mostly thanks to the folks at Gov Loop, one of those professional social networking sites, inside which I found invaluable and stimulating ideas that I want to share.
Three main questions were asked of the Gov Loop forum all relating to the subject of innovation:
How does your office define “innovation?” If you trained people on innovation, what did you do? And finally, how successful has that training been?
Now I’m not going to have time to cover all three questions, but I do want to focus on an element related to all three and that, besides definition, is acceptance of innovation, and training innovation in any government organization. I hope you’ll get the flavor of all and some good ideas if you stay with us.
The people on Gov Loop come from all over, even outside the U.S. and include contractors and retired folks. There are some 45,000 members. The ones I have dealt with so far seem genuinely interested in improving government practices and seem dedicated to do so. The passion present is admirable.
To give us a definition, let’s look at some quotes given by a very helpful and “innovative” person. Again, I’m sharing from the group.
- Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower – Steve Jobs
- Learning and innovation go hand in hand. The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow – William Pollard
- Without change there is no innovation, creativity, or incentive for improvement. Those who initiate change will have a better opportunity to manage the change that is inevitable – William Pollard
- Innovation is fostered by information gathered from new connections; from insights gained by journeys into other disciplines or places; from active, collegial networks and fluid, open boundaries. Innovation arises from ongoing circles of exchange, where information is not just accumulated or stored, but created. Knowledge is generated anew from connections that weren’t there before – Margaret J. Wheatley
- Innovation is the process of turning ideas into manufacturable and marketable form – Watts Humphrey
Often an organization has a group made up of volunteers (sometimes those same folks looking for visibility and don’t contribute much), but it is an effort to brainstorm new ideas to improve the organization. Who can complain about that? At these meetings subjects and potential are give a cursory look-see, and if deemed worthy, given to a sub-committee to explore further.
We’ve done this in my organization–only to find the process stalls soon after implementation begins and interest dies out, or staff is diverted to a new hot initiative put forth by newly appointed administrator determined to make a mark. Too bad that isn’t the “innovation” we were working on; for all purposes, we’re starting over. It’s political, but not caring where it comes from–it is “innovation.” It’s new anyway. Change can be good. Change can be innovative.
One point that is made over and over again in the discussion is the need for the group looking at innovation to be diverse in its make-up. Another member: “We have a tendency to align ourselves with people ‘like’ us, but innovation is best fostered in centres of diversity (not just cultural diversity as the word is commonly applied). So how do we ‘step out into the traffic’ of really getting interested in those people who don’t agree with us and creating spaces where those diversities can challenge each other (productively) and ultimately work together?”
That means people coming from all levels of the organization and from a variety of positions. I’m all for departments or divisions being left out if they have no interest. Why encourage or invite them? They’ll come because it is politically correct, but may only care about how they as an organization looks. Keep the people who really care about change. If they need to they’ll approach the non-participating organizations. Perhaps, confronted with a good idea, they’ll come out of the box that houses them.
The government seems reluctant to encourage creativity beyond box-checking. The words are said because higher management wants it, but we stick to the work plan and cannot deviate from that. I’m sure it’s not that way elsewhere, but in my case, I was really tied down by my work plan and not much else counted to my supervisor unless I could sneak it in. Ironically, it seems over the years, I was responsible for some innovation in my position. Once in place and it works, it’s hard to dismiss. Initially it’ll face scrutiny like all good first or untried ideas.
One the the Gov Loop members said, “We talk about innovation constantly, but step outside the chain of command and you get your hand slapped with the reminder that ‘You can’t understand the politics involved.’ The key to innovation is really believing that everyone has a worthwhile perspective — not saying it, but meaning it.”
Another member: “We have a tendency to align ourselves with people ‘like’ us, but innovation is best fostered in centres of diversity (not just cultural diversity as the word is commonly applied). So how do we ‘step out into the traffic’ of really getting interested in those people who don’t agree with us and creating spaces where those diversities can challenge each other (productively) and ultimately work together?”
Hopefully, I whetted your appetite for more. Part Two will post in a few days and should contain more interesting ideas as well as possible solutions. As always, these opinions and those I’ve placed here by others are my responsibility. You can find other ideas on my website, and please feel free to make comments, ask questions, make suggestions. Happy training until next time. In the mean time, be INNOVATIVE!
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