The Social Network


A few summers ago, I stood at a railing and watched the thundering water of Niagara Falls while other people watched me.

The number 1349 was plastered on all four of my limbs. Temporary tattoos. I had raced a triathlon in Vermont the day before. Although many people stared, nobody dared to satisfy their apparent curiosities.

When I started with the Innovation Team at EPA, my position as the communication lead was newly created. I had to ask a lot of questions. My curiosities about the team, the people, and the programs we catalyze and implement needed resolved as a matter integral to accomplishing my job.

Federal employees comprise about half the team, and the rest are fellows or contractors, like me. The permanent staff have a wealth of experience among them, and we non-feds bring a variety of backgrounds. Overall, our team has no problem asking questions.

We want to hear from interesting people who pioneer innovative programs and find novel solutions to barriers unique to government work.

If a team member meets someone who fits this description, we often invite the person to call into our team meetings for a brief discussion. We’ve learned about activities at other agencies and from private-sector organizations. People like to share what they’re passionate about and share their expertise.

Asking them to do so is usually all it takes.

The most important idea I’ve taken to heart regarding creative thinking and innovation is about this type of interaction – whether it’s learning from peers, team members, or outside parties.

“Innovation is a contact sport” has been appropriated by scores of people, but the truth holds.

EPA also has an Emerging Leaders Network to help young EPA employees connect across labs and offices through various social events. And on a more personal note, I try to schedule a lunch with someone new each month or reconnect with someone I haven’t spoken to in a while.

All of these tactics feed into the discipline of innovation – learning about new ideas and creating novel connections between those ideas.

  • What are your strategies for meeting new people inside your organization or externally?
  • Do you attend formal networking events or prefer more informal settings?
  • Do you follow up to learn more from people you meet who are doing great work?

Dustin Renwick works in conjunction with the Innovation Team in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Research and Development. The opinions expressed here are the author’s and do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action. EPA does not verify the accuracy or science contained here.

Dustin Renwick 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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