Internalizing the Spirit of Innovation: A Personal Recipe for Career Success


During my detail to the Innovation Lab (Lab) at the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), I learned a tremendous amount about how human-centered design can inspire innovation in the design of government products, services and policies.  At the same time, I also learned an important lesson about being open to innovation, in whatever form it comes, from the Lab’s staff.  Sure, they all use human-centered design to drive innovation, but how they use it and what it produces can vary from project to project and person to person.  That is the nature of the methodology, so innovation can constantly mean something different.  Interestingly, a conversation with my colleague, Ashley Wood, revealed a whole other aspect of the importance of being open to innovation.

Ashley is one of the Lab’s management and program analysts, handling everything from communication and registration of Lab trainings to the Lab’s budget.  Basically, if you want to know something about the Lab, its team or its programming, Ashley’s your woman.  You might not be surprised to hear, then, that Ashley shares a history with the Lab since its beginning, joining OPM as a sophomore in college through one of OPM’s student job programs.  She has seen the Lab grow and change, and with it, so too has her role with the Lab.

Ashley’s experiences with OPM and the Lab made me realize that those who are open to innovation internalize its spirit, leaving them open to change in all aspects of their life.  This, in turn, resulted in a revelation:  internalizing the spirit of innovation can be a recipe for career success.  It certainly has been for Ashley.  Here’s why:

  • You embrace uncertainty.

Innovation and uncertainty go hand-in-hand. So, if you are open to innovation, you are more likely to embrace the uncertainty that comes along with it.  Since arriving at OPM in 2010, Ashley experienced a large-scale restructuring within the agency.  Because her group was dismantled, Ashley had to find a new position within a completely new working environment.  Ashley accepted the situation and applied for positions in different offices, not knowing where she would end up.  Ultimately, this experience resulted in her position at the Lab, where she has been ever since.  Working through a period of uncertainty landed Ashley in a role that she loves.  Knowing how to handle ambiguity is a valuable talent that is increasingly needed to manage complex problems.

  • You expect change and can prepare for it.

If you are open to innovation (or change or transformation), then you expect that the status quo will change.  Knowing that, you can make change less disruptive by preparing for it. For example, the Lab’s staffing structure is rather unique, consisting of a group of core federal staff, a few individuals on details from other agencies and a small number of Human Innovation Fellows, who join the Lab for a limited period of time.  Of this mix, Ashley represents one of the core federal staff.  Having worked in this rare environment since its inception, Ashley can anticipate the staffing changes and what that means for her role. In fact, Ashley revealed that her favorite part of her job is planning!  In a rapidly changing world, resiliency and preparedness will be keys to future career success.

  • You believe that good things can happen as a result of change.

If you believe in innovation, then you probably believe that good can come of change.  For example, Ashley has worked for five different managers in her career at OPM.  Instead of lamenting these changes, she described how these managers, and the change in staff as a result of them, initiated professional growth opportunities.  In fact, Ashley related, “The position I have grown into with the Lab has helped me understand what I want to do and where I want to be.  If you had seen me about seven years ago, I wouldn’t be doing anything with numbers…it just wasn’t my thing. So, it’s funny how things fall in place, and you just kind of discover your niche.”  Employees who can adapt and develop the necessary skills in the face of constant change are critically important because the future is uncertain.

The world we live in is increasingly complex.  While innovation can help us create solutions to manage complexity, embodying its spirit can also help us remain competitive and unafraid of whatever the future may bring.

Blair Corcoran de Castillo 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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