Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Heart of Innovation

This morning I've been looking at The Heart of Innovation website and reflecting on different ways to foster a culture of innovation at school. Earlier this month there was an article that came up with 50 suggestions as to how companies could ensure their culture was conducive to innovation. Now schools are not really companies (though in the case of private, international schools I suppose there are compelling reasons for thinking of them as businesses, but most of these have nothing to do with education), however some of these ideas are certainly very relevant to international schools.

One of the suggestions is to increase the visual stimuli of the physical space by replacing grey and white walls with colour. In the case of the WH Computer room, I really feel that we have done this already. There are new brightly coloured bulletin boards both inside and outside the classroom in the corridor - mostly a vibrant shade of red, pink or blue. Student work is displayed, making the place look a whole lot more child-friendly than it did 4 or 5 months ago, where the main colours were white walls and floor, grey desks and chairs and silver iMacs. We now have a bright red chair at the front and a bright red rug for the students to sit on. I'm still working on getting more colour into the room and extending the IT displays all down the main corridor too.

Here are some other suggestions that I would like to work on myself in the coming year:
  • Always question authority, especially the authority of your own longstanding beliefs. (Some people would say I do this already too!)
  • Make new mistakes.
  • Ask questions about everything. After asking questions, ask different questions. After asking different questions, ask them in a different way.
  • Find new ways to capture learnings ... and new ways to share these learnings with everyone.
  • Try to get as much buy-in and support from senior leadership, while realising that true change NEVER starts at the top. How often does the revolution start with the king?
Here are some suggestions I think the administration of the school should be working on in the coming year:
  • As far as the future is concerned don't speculate on what might happen, but imagine what you can make happen.
  • Notice innovation efforts. Nurture them wherever they crop up. Reward them.
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate, communicate, communicate and then communicate again. Deliver each important message at least 6 times.
  • Understand that the best innovations are initiated by individuals acting on their own at the periphery of your organisation/school.
  • Stimulate interaction between segments of the company that traditionally don't connect or collaborate with each other. With a school on 3 campusus this one is difficult, especially as teachers in the primary, middle and secondary probably don't see a lot of natural collaborations in what they are doing. However diversity can spark innovation.
  • Avoid analysis paralysis. Chaotic action is preferable to orderly inaction.
  • A great source of new ideas are people new to the company/school. Get new hires together and tap their brainpower and imagination.
  • Reward collective, not only individual successes, but also maintain clear individual accountabilities and keep innovation heroes visible.
  • Remove whatever organisational obstacles are in the way of people communicating bold, new ideas to top management.
  • Drive authority downwards. Make decisions quickly at the lowest level possible.
My school is striving to be one of the top international schools in the world. Encouraging innovation has got to be the key to changing the culture of the school and enabling this to happen.

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