One Free Shot

Thinking about innovation this evening – or more to the point, how to do it? Not the innovation one wishes to enact itself, but the act of implementing the innovation.

David Jones over on his blog included this quote:

According to historian Benoit Godin, for more than 2,500 years, the innovator was “a heretic, a revolutionary, a cheater.” Innovators brought little but trouble: They challenged the status quo and undermined the stability of the state. As late as the 1940s, innovation was seen as a form of deviant behavior — like crime or delinquency.

In all honesty I’m starting to believe you have to be the troublemaker – there is just no alternative way. No one in a hierarchy would knowingly sanction delinquency. So if institutions want to encourage innovation here’s an idea –

You get one free shot.

No questions, no punishment, no reprimand – that’s just the price to change the cultural constraints. It might be messy, it might break and fail – but you get to have a go regardless.


9 thoughts on “One Free Shot

  1. The one free shot is sort of connected to the idea of “better to say sorry than ask permission”. You might get away with that once, but after that. But that’s another example of the institution not actively supporting innovation. It would be interesting to see what shape a “get one free shot” approach might look in an institution that actively supports it.

    One example I’m thinking about is an LMS – or part thereof – that provides well defined hooks for client side programming, whatever technical form that might take.

  2. Only one?? 😉

    You make an interesting point in regards to the institutional view of innovation. You and I and most reading would take a somewhat ‘delinquent’ view of what innovation should look like, whereas institutions tend to operate on a rather more sanitised idea of innovation that can be project managed, QAed and quantified (which of course is not innovation at all). Which means that the idea that you would have to sanction delinquency is kind of a moot point, if you don’t actually believe innovation involves delinquency in the first place.

    I do think HE is in dire need of dropping the risk-averse culture. Having a get-out-of-jail-free card that everyone can play once would be a great way to get the ball rolling.

  3. The delinquency is very appealing at the moment 🙂 I think you can ‘manage’ and capture innovation – just not by employing a traditional project methodology. I’ve been using the premise from the lean startup – Build – Measure – Learn – which has been quite effective, but only where it doesn’t have to interface with the organisations management. This process of putting action first rather than last (which I would say is what a traditional project would do) has many benefits. It can be iterative and agile and grow and adapt. I find it kind of ironic that this practice of innovation links to what we would describe as good pedagogy – combining experience, analysis and reflection to achieve deep learning!

    Agree totally that the risk-averse culture is the show-stopper at the moment, which is partly why acknowledged your work – because good things are often achieved in defiance of it. Maybe if an institutions want to support innovation it should be by handing out a stack of get-out-of-jail-free cards every year rather than trying to centrally manage it.

    The LMS example David is a good one – it’s about letting go of control to a certain degree and letting people play. An institutional playground, equipped with all the toys as well as the support and safety features might be another appealing support mechanism worthy of organisational support.

    • In terms of actions yes, the skunkworks would suit, but at the same time it would be nice if the institution supported this – funding equipment, software, resources and time! A supported skunkworks could be an interesting concept for professional development, taking it in a completely direction, shape and form. It could be an opportunity to take it beyond classes, certificates, seminars and conferences – moving PD into the “maker space”.

      • I’m having a cynical day (week? month? existence?) and wondering whether we actually want skunk works to be supported – given that universities do not exactly have a track record of a Midas touch when it comes to getting their hands on things…

      • I share your cynicism Sarah but I am keen to explore this space as I have seen a few glimpses of hope. My experience with innovation is that it needs to be scaled down – operating at an individual rather institutional level. So to me the skunkworks and the support are for the individual, they can form part of something bigger (in my case our mobile project) but they are in essence operating for themselves. In this fashion they leverage their skills as a subject experts and they leverage my technical knowledge and access to devices and resources. I can see hope and potential for this model, as we’ve b been able to realise far more together than on out own.

        Where I’m quite cynical is when, as you say, universities get their hands on things. What they call ‘innovation’ usually isn’t – it’s evolution, change and growth – not innovation in that ‘delinquent’, disruptor sense. Innovation should be a leap a head of current thinking not the next logical step!

      • At Chris’ urging I’m slowly reading Taleb’s Anti-Fragile. Contains a lot of grist for this particular mill and I hope to eventually have some time to reflect upon and write about it. The most recent bit I’ve read is bemoaning the rise of efficiency and the subsequent “sailing close to the wind” that most organisations find themselves in. This resonates very strongly with what I’m observing in one particular institution at the moment where the central L&T/IT folk are increasingly tasked with servicing the “systems map” that outlines what systems are being implemented and when.

        I’m not holding my breath for a university to fund a skunk works. To do it successfully breaks the efficiency agenda they endear to. I can’t see any senior management signing off on that.

        Some related nattering following – can you tell I’m avoiding marking?

        Moodle and similar systems aren’t helping this with the regular releases, because the focus of the central folk becomes successfully rolling out the next release. Which means they have to encourage people to modify what they do to the next release, rather than helping teachers explore what might actually help them, let alone innovation. This leads to situation like Lisa Lane’s recent posts about how to deal with the transition to Moodle 2.3 the infamous (or it should be) technology dip. Sorry going of track.

        Getting back to efficiency. To be efficient the organisation has created roles to efficiently carry out their plans. The people in those roles are employed based on skills to carry out those roles and judged on how successfully they carry out those plans. This prevents the sorts of conditions required for innovation.

      • I listened to a podcast with Taleb and think there are some great concepts that map directly to some of the issues currently going on in higher ed (haven’t attempted the book though).

        There is an importance for the systems map in an institution – but agree it’s role has grown to absorb too many staff and resources.

        I thought computer systems were supposed to make life simpler rather than add more work? Isn’t systems management getting a bit too far removed from L&T?

        I think Taleb eludes to the fact that GDP is an exceedingly poor measurement of an actual economy’s performance because it only cares for numbers relating to growth – not benefit, sustainability or suitability of investment. In the same way efficiency is a poor measure of higher education as we’re not measuring what counts, mainly because its really hard and not necessarily immediately obvious.

        It’s a trap that we are stuck in and the only way out is to change the thinking – to stop measuring that metric, to develop new ones or to find meaning and purpose somewhere else. Perhaps this is the most difficult thing to change, especially when you’re not in the management echelons.

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