Tips for being innovative

June 22, 2012

Filed under: Strategic Planning,Uncategorized — jonathanpoisner @ 4:20 pm

Lots of groups say they value innovation.

But it’s harder to say that than to do it.

If you want to encourage out-of-the-box thinking in your organization, here are some ideas I’ve gleaned over time.   I’d be curious to learn what other ideas you have.

1. Be explicit about when you’re experimenting and how to evaluate it.  If you’re trying something innovative, have clear goals and think ahead of time about how you’ll know whether the innovation was better than whatever standard practice you’re putting aside.  Of course, true A/B experiments when you can compare the results are possible in some situations (e.g. testing email formats), but not in others (testing an innovative board meeting or conference call format).

2. Set aside some professional development time to attend conferences, particularly those OUTSIDE your core field.  It’s when you get out of your core network that you’ll be most likely to be exposed to something truly new.  Or to have that flash of brilliance that somehow connects something new in one field to an opportunity in your own.

3. Set aside reading time.  This can be anything from books or blogs.   This is best if you can get a few people in your organization to read the same topic and then have a discussion about what it means for your organization.

4. Ask a funders if they’ve heard of any innovative projects from which you could learn.

5.Recognize employees who’ve done something innovative or interesting, even if it fails!  As long as you’ve learned from the failure, this should be counted as a victory.

6. Get together as a staff and watch a dozen TedX videos on subjects that are tangentially related to your organization and see what ideas come up.

7. At least once a year, make sure to set aside a true staff retreat where out-of-box thinking is encouraged, preferably in a non-corporate setting.

Of course, innovation for innovation’s sake doesn’t make sense.  If something’s working, sometimes the answer is to scale it up, not change it.

What other practical ideas do you have for how to encourage innovation withing a nonprofit organization?

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