August 15, 2016
Too often foundations ask their grantees for "innovative ideas" but fail to deliver the same thing themselves — or even bother to define what "innovation" means. The assumption is that it "just happens." That lack of definition has come to imply that innovation must involve a dramatic, game-changing, disruptive new idea or practice: the iPhone of early childhood education, the Post-It note of economic development.
As a result, the expectations for innovation are both so high and so fuzzy that most people feel intimidated, not realizing that they too can create innovations and that innovation is not the exclusive domain of those who are smarter or more creative. After reading a book called The Innovation Formula: How Organizations Turn Change Into Opportunity by business gurus Michel Robert and Alan Weiss, I now realize the opposite is true. Most people, in a supportive environment and with proper supervision, can generate, vet, test, and implement innovative ideas. Here's what I learned from their book, and how I've applied it when working with my clients.
Supportive environments for innovation are created when:
- Leadership – especially the CEO – serves as champions for the process.
- Leadership believes that everyone can be innovative.
- Leadership is willing to regularly identify, test, pilot, and implement potentially innovative ideas.
- Leadership prudently monitors risk (not every innovative idea is a good one!).
Once these conditions are in place, there are four steps a foundation can take to generate innovations on an ongoing basis. They are: