How can we support innovation?

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Yesterday, I wrote this post.  It expressed my frustration over the challenge of being creative and innovative within a large education corporation.  It is OK to complain, but after that, what do you do?  First, the post:

The Death of Innovation

 I write this post because it has to be written.  It will not be inspiring, but I hope it is a bit of a cautionary tale.
There is a real danger in working for a big institution, especially when that institution is a school board.  Educators should encourage innovation, risk-taking and creative thinking.  What happens when the leadership of a school board loses sight of what an educator is challenged to do?

There is always a risk when a small group of people gather power onto themselves and try then to manage a large school district.  They run the risk of closing out dissenting voices and become used to expecting no opposition to their opinions. Their perspectives become narrow and informed by a very narrow base.  They lose sight of the risks and challenges that are so important to be on the cutting edge in the field.

I remember reading Steve Jobs‘ biography.  For me I was most intrigued by the story of Applewithout Steve Jobs.  The company lost sight of its mission and what made them cutting edge.  They began a long slow decline that only stopped when Jobs returned and made radical changes to the corporation.

I believe that all large organizations need to be wary of this.  Large organizations can become complacent and depend too much on the advice of a small group of people.  Organizations begin to be motivated by self-preservation, locking out any ideas that do not fit within their narrow view of the world.

This is an extremely dangerous situation for an organization.  It leads to the death of innovation within the board.  When ideas like 1:1 implementation or innovative forms of fundraising are discouraged you have to wonder what other good ideas are dying around the board table.

I am not sure how to fix a difficult decline in the ability of an organization to innovate, but I do think an organization has to learn again how to take risks and how to accept and welcome dissenting voices.  It has to learn to take away the fear of stepping up and offering something new that might not fit into their corporate vision.

I am sure this is a common problem, many organizations face this.  When it is an educational organization it is imperative that something be done.  Our primary job is the education of children. We can’t be effective and innovative in a culture that discourages change.

Ok, so what now?  once you get over your own frustration what do you do?
I remember years ago talking to Mexican farmers about their frustrations with NAFTA and their inability to compete with cheap American corn.  One solution that was considered at the time was the development of local economic ‘hubs’ where local producers would supply food in exchange for the local goods they needed.  I don’t know if this model ever succeeded, but fifteen years later I still remember it.  It was an innovative economic solution to a huge problem for local farmers.
Maybe the best we can do is look after our own school, our own students, staff and parents.  Try not to worry about the mammoth organization we all work for and do what is best for our own community.  Maybe it’s impossible to be creative as a large organization.
It would be interesting to hear what people think, maybe a #satchat topic?

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