I did a workshop last week with a group working on improving innovation within the Australian school system. I played my normal role of grenade-thrower, errr, thought-provoker on the topic of innovation, while working with eight other people that all have backgrounds in education. As the day went on, I noticed something interesting.
In sessions like this, people always pick up on different points that I make. This is one of the reasons that I try to make a wide variety of points – I never know for sure which ones will stick! On this day, one of the points that I made is that any time you have a gap between where you currently are and where you want to be, you have to innovate. You can’t bridge these gaps by simply doing more of what you’re currently doing.
This is a really important point when thinking about public sector innovation. In this context, all the justifications for innovating based on improving profit, market share, survival odds, and so on don’t really apply. And yet, innovation is still critical. Why? To bridge those gaps.
It was fascinating on this day to see how the teachers seized on this idea. The group included people that were passionate about trying to improve teaching, and it was clear that they have been looking for a way to support the case for innovation within their schools. For the rest of the day, as I eavesdropped on the breakout groups, everyone was talking about the gap – how do we identify the gap? What strategies can we use to bridge the gap?
The experience illustrates some important points:
- Organizations always have a gap to bridge, even if they’re not financially driven: I’ve found the idea of the gap to consistently work when I talk about innovation people from the public sector or non-profits. It seems to be a good way to motivate the case for innovation in these settings.
- We need different ways to talk about innovation: when we started the day, everyone in the room seemed to be wary of innovation. It wasn’t until we framed it in this way that they really started to respond – but once they did, they took off! There are many settings in which “innovation” might seem like a threatening concept. When we’re working in these settings, we need other ways to discuss the concept.
- Innovative teachers face many of the same problems that other innovators do: how can I get support for innovation? How can we make time in our organization to innovate? How can I get other people to buy into new ideas? How can we make innovation a sustainable process? These are some of the questions that I was asked in the course of the day. They don’t sound that different from what we hear on other organizations, right? Innovators face many of the same problems, regardless of their context.
It was an intense but fun day. It’s always interesting to see which concepts resonate with people. In this case, the idea was a simple one:
Mind the gap!
Tim Kastelle is a Lecturer in Innovation Management in the University of Queensland Business School. He blogs about innovation at the Innovation Leadership Network.