Organizational Brainpower for Innovation

On Saturday, I caught 5 questions worthy of thought, if  innovation is to replace indifference in any higher educational organization. At RIT’s annual Innovation Festival, novelty appeared to spring up at several junctures, and  I captured a few snapshots while moving among young innovators.

Interestingly, I’d just read Seth Godin’s popular post on why higher education organizations face inevitable melt downs. Over a lifetime working with brain based change I’ve grown convinced that innovative higher education can still lead us into the next era. But if Seth’s right, and I fear he is correct, what would it take to move more entrepreneurial minds?

Often we hear people speak of innovative possibilities – yet on  a few  occasions only,  we encounter glimpses of novelty operating within successful organizations.

RIT’s festival brought to mind 5 questions that pinpoint organizational innovation linchpins:

1). How do successful organizations reach across differences to invent together? Organizations that look to land a fast fix or play politics, rarely bridge isolated silos of discipline, culture, gender or beliefs. It takes involvement from an institute’s top leadership, a willingness to invest time, and talent within teams that come from many sectors of society. Wonderfully creative ventures at RIT could have melded ideas from many departments had the networks been available for more mental cross-pollination. People possess multiple intelligences in different mixes that contribute to collaboration.

2). How do organizations move past lethargy to cultivate curiosity? While tenure or seniority tend toward inertia in some workplaces, innovative leaders sometimes stir interest out of organizational apathy. Using this same format, what if an entire RIT campus engaged in an innovation festival, annually. At the   MITA Brain Center – participants create an innovative design from lessons learned, and then engage others in a Knowledge Celebration which somewhat resembles the RIT festival.

3). What kind of roadmap does innovation across an organization require? In settings where I see leaders running on treadmills, and many employees gaining no ground, pieces of the organization’s overarching plan appear to be missing or disjointed. The opposite is also true. Wherever you spot people linking new ideas successfully across departments,  or producing innovative ventures that draw from differences, you also see an overarching network. Interconnected highways and bridges that welcome new people and accommodate diverse ideas.

4). How do innovative organizations reboot creativity rather than default to cynicism? Leaders who risk movement forward, also risk criticism that tends to come to all change agents. Innovative organizations simply prize risk-taking more than reward people for routine rituals. When innovative plans are created collaboratively and presented as an incremental pathway forward, people tend to jump onboard for proven results that create a track record for sustainable innovation. Nothing stops cynicism from stomping out new ideas like innovations that offer a finer way forward.

5). Where does innovation fit into sacrosanct organizational structures? The opposite of renewal is to regress, and regression creeps into daily rituals that stick previous practices into organizational systems, like chaff  clings to wheat. In contrast, people find passion to create when they are part of the innovative process of an organization. Together leaders and reports determine what sacred cows must go, in order to open new segues for an entirely different outcome.

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