Sometimes the creative juices flow and innovations are spawned, other times the well runs dry. Leaders are regularly warned to innovate or perish. Made to sound so simple, innovation is hugely challenging, immensely frustrating and wonderfully rewarding.
When I reflect on the innovations with which I’ve been involved, some common factors and different phases emerge. They represent a type of upward spiral, moving from a creative base through to ever-widening influence. Here are my ten stages as described in my first book Leadership in Education: Learning from Experience.
- Imagine. Generate and test ideas; be prepared to challenge the status quo; see what might be as well as what is – these are innovation imperatives. The encouragement of imagination and creativity lie at the heart of innovation.
- Intend. Adopt a disposition to change and to improve what exists, to aspire, and to commit to further action. While innovation may originate incidentally or accidentally, pursuing it further requires firm intention.
- Inquire. Generate questions, clarify issues, develop ideas, collaborate with others and define what needs to be done. Take a lead from the instructional approach of inquiry-based learning,
- Interrogate. In the planning stages use data to establish the need for change. During implementation, use it formatively to inform how best to proceed. Post-innovation, use evidence to assess impact and effectiveness and to inform next practice. The interrogation of data and evidence is crucial at all stages: before, during and after the innovation.
- Improvise. Employ rapid prototyping and quick-fire trials to test what might work. Move away from conceptions of failure and encourage others to experiment and try different approaches, new ways of thinking and doing.
- Invest. Invest time and energy. Ensure that adequate resources are committed in terms of people, time, funding and support for professional learning, Give credit. The greatest omission on the part of leadership is where there is encouragement of innovation without investment; where lip service only is paid.
- Inform. Communicate. A two-way communication process involves the innovators, management, those directly affected by the change, those indirectly affected and the broader community. Use different means and channels for the different audiences but the necessity is to inform.
- Invite. Invite others into the process at all phases of the innovation. It is not only about an open door to participants but also openness of the process. A transparent change process where criticism is welcomed has a greater chance of success.
- Inspire. Inspire others to adopt the innovation, or to adapt it or to have their own imaginings. Innovation not only fires the imagination of those involved, it has the potential to inspire others.
- Influence. Be generous and willingly share practice and experience. Accept your collective responsibility. Allow others to look at the innovation to learn what did and didn’t work. Once an innovation is ‘out there’, it moves beyond the specific context and control of the originators. Beyond providing inspiration to others, the influence it ultimately exercises may be well beyond its original intent or remit.