I am participating the the School Administrators’ Virtual Mentoring Program (#SAVMP) this year.  George Couros (program founder and coordinator) asked the participating principals to describe how they go about creating innovative practices in their schools.  In reflecting on this question, I realized that I need to decide if I want to write the Reader’s Digest or the Director’s Cut on this topic.  I’m still undecided.

Opinion: if you set out to be innovative because doing so is inherently good, you run the risk of achieving that goal.  If, however, your goal is to affect change through innovation, that can be a powerful difference.  Therefore, never lose sight of your vision and your objectives.  Creating them is a separate process; getting side-tracked from them could happen here, though.

Here are three things I think of as requirements for creating a culture of innovation:

1.  Always, always, always ask “why are we doing what we are doing?”  So many sacred cows could be made into lunch and fashionable accessories if we realized that were aren’t supposed to be eating beets.  We insist on doing things the “right” way because we never even consider the possibility that the folks who made up that way would never make the same choices if they had the tools we have at our disposal.  Keep the baby in the tub, though.  If we already know what our objective is, any decision we make in terms of change and innovation will be in service of advancing towards that objective.

2.  Expect people to think for themselves.  At my school I have literally and explicitly told our teachers that I will not fill in the blanks for them.  We discuss big ideas all the time.  I love discussing teachers’ ideas for how to advance the efforts we are making.  I simply don’t believe things would work as well if everyone would wait to act until I passed out the checklist for the week.  I’ve never met Daniel Pink and don’t expect to.  To my knowledge he has never been a school principal.  With apologies to NCLB and decades of tradition in the American educational system, his ideas about the way that leadership and relationships work are exactly correct.  We can not simply mandate our way to excellence or get their by fiat.

3.  Accept failure.  This is the twin of the last point.  As I have opined in a previous post, not only is failure not an option, it is much more likely when folks attempt to be innovative.  Admit your failures, learn from them, and move forward.  Team members who live in fear of failure will never innovate.  Unfortunately, for most human beings, the fear of failure has been systematically established throughout their lives.  Leaders who wish to foster a culture of innovation must just as systematically (and explicitly)  work to free those under them from this most debilitating of fears.

There’s more (recognize the efforts and the achievements of the team; hire great team members; learn from others; etc, etc) but I have to go: I’m working on a way to keep all three children asleep all night …

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