Collaboration. Innovation. Social impact. These buzzwords have become accepted jargon in the nonprofit, philanthropic, and public sectors, but few organizations using these labels live up to the hype. Two articles in the Summer 2017 Stanford Social Innovation Review provide insight on how successful organizations embrace these buzzwords as core values.
In “Creating Breakout Innovation,” authors Joanna Levitt Cea and Jess Rimington discuss their research on the link between collaboration and innovation. What they found was that most organizations use co-creation to solve simple problems, and limit co-creation when approaching problems that require systemic change. However, they also found 20 breakout innovators whose commitment to co-creation allowed them to fundamentally change the way they work.
What is a breakout innovator? Cea and Rimington identified five co-creation practices that separate the breakout innovators from organizations who wave the “innovator” flag without truly departing from mainstream practice. Topping the list was power sharing. Yes, working with diverse stakeholders to define the scope of the problem, create opportunities for authentic leadership, and decentralize information sharing takes time and commitment. Second, these innovators forged strong relationships in which stakeholders developed and committed to a fair process based on “a common set of values, commitments, and expectations.”
Breakout innovators also valued diversity. They established effective ways to manage diverse perspectives, and adapted processes for multiple learning and participation styles. They also valued a wider range of knowledge, avoiding the common trap of overreliance on “expert bias.” Instead, the innovators encouraged individuals to recognize these biases and created space for informal or experiential knowledge, intuition, or other ways of knowing.
Last, like all famous innovators, these organizations excelled at rapid prototyping to gain feedback on the ideas team members generated throughout the design process. By adopting these collaborative practices, these organizations not only broke free from the status quo, they changed their mind-set and increased the likelihood of future collaboration.
“Is Your Nonprofit Built for Sustained Innovation?” also underscored that innovation requires cultivation. The article, which is based on the findings from interviews with 145 nonprofit leaders, also highlighted the importance of preparing people to work in diverse teams and valuing knowledge exchange across a wide range of sources. The findings also show that innovators empower “catalytic leaders” who provide both a focused vision and the freedom to innovate, foster curiosity and critical thinking, and developing metrics and criteria for generating and testing ideas.
Put simply, creating a culture of innovation requires a deep commitment. And it requires organizations to rethink how they handle the constraints of limited resources, industry competition, and the volatile policy and regulatory environment. The research shows, however, that investing in a culture of innovation increases the likelihood that organizations will create sustainable approaches to fulfilling their mission.
For more information about organizational development and systems change, contact Jessica Ripper, Senior Associate, at firstname.lastname@example.org.