Many organisations are focused on innovation. For these organisations, it can mean being considered thought-leaders, lead to new market share, or even new markets altogether. It can also mean disrupting their own, or even other industries. It generally takes a lot of dedication, effort, and budget to become innovators in an industry. But being innovative does not only mean expensive and complicated outlays.
Merriam Webster dictionary defines innovation as “a new idea, method, or device”. In everyday discussion, innovation can mean a wide variety of things.
Innovation doesn’t need to be entirely new; just new in that context. Airbnb did not invent renting a room for a night, they just applied it to private residences. Uber did not invent driving people around for money, they just applied in to privately owned cars. And yet, Airbnb and Uber were considered innovative.
There is a belief that most innovation is an accidental discovery or serendipity. But this is more likely to be the exception rather than the norm. The work of Thomas Edison is a great example of the hard work that it can take to create an innovation. His innovation came at the expense of countless hours, days, months of doing experiments. From this work he was able to gather a lot of knowledge of what would and wouldn’t work for future inventions.
“I have gotten a lot of results! I know several thousand things that won’t work” – Thomas Edison (1).
Thomas Edison was someone we would consider an innovator. Partly because of his vision and his expertise and partly because he had the mindset that is necessary for innovation. His curiosity and his tolerance to failure among others. He did not interpret an unsuccessful experiment as a failure, it was just more knowledge gathering. This is the kind of mindset that workforces need now and into the future to be more effective in their jobs. Especially with the challenges that we all have ahead of us.
The outcome of innovation requires that the competence of innovation is nurtured in the entire workforce. We need to purposefully teach people how to use innovative methods and innovative thinking to apply to their own contexts on a much more ubiquitous scale. Before we can concentrate on facilitating innovations, we need to create more Innovators. We need to give people the skills to view their surroundings differently and see opportunities to apply innovative methods to achieve new outcomes.
The Value of Innovation Hubs
During the past decade many organisations decided to create Innovation Hubs or Innovation Labs. These were able to put a spotlight on the importance of innovation but has it done much for actual innovation?
Often it is left to those who are seen as ”naturally innovative” to create ideas and concepts to take forward. This means that organisations create these special spaces where it is acceptable to suspend operations as usual to experiment. But it may also mean, that only those who are given permission to go there or those who know about the space and what it does, can be innovative in their work.
This exclusivity is detrimental to using innovative methods throughout the organisation. This isn’t to say that everyone should be suspending normal operations, but it does mean that people should be able to learn these methods and see how they can best put them into practice in their own work.
Developing Employees’ Entrepreneurship
Entrepreneurship skills, whether utilised in their own business or their workplace are important for everyone.
When an organisation invests in developing the entrepreneurial mindset in their employees, they are investing in such skills as creativity, resilience, experimentation, teamwork, problem-solving, being pro-active, tolerance to failure, and many more important skills.
These are all necessary for innovation. Having employees that feel empowered enough to solve problems through creativity and to understand how the outcome is important to the organisation will bring work satisfaction and a more innovative way of doing things.
The University Ecosystem
If you think about universities, there are three main groups of people: teachers, students, and administrative staff. This is an accurate description of most levels of education. The smooth running of an institution requires all three to be successful in their roles. But often the main focus remains on academic staff and students with administrative staff often forgotten about or unintentionally left out.
In many institutions there are ample opportunities for academic staff and for students to learn new skills including those skills required in innovation. On the other hand, administrative staff can be left out of these kinds of professional development opportunities with a preference focusing on Excel skills or project management certifications.
So, what would happen if we upskilled administrative staff and developed their innovation competence to become innovators in their work? We don’t really know, because it hasn’t been tried yet.
Administrative staff develop and deliver most of the services that are used in any given institution. Skills in facilitation and in service design seem to be a natural fit for this segment of the university ecosystem. Developing more innovators will help to create lasting value for the whole ecosystem. It will also make the employees themselves happier in their work as they can see the impact their creativity and innovation skills first hand.
The Innovator’s School
In response to this need to develop innovators within the administrative staff, Metropolia University of Applied Sciences is piloting an innovator’s School. It will provide internal training opportunities for staff members, that will begin by focusing on service design and facilitation skills.
Pamela Spokes works as a Service Designer in Metropolia’s RDI team. Originally from Canada, Pamela has years of experience in university admin focusing on international recruitment, marketing, and the international student/staff experience. With a Bachelor’s from Canada, a Master’s degree from Sweden, an MBA in Service Innovation & Design from Laurea, and her AmO from Haaga-Helia, she is interested in purposefully designed experiences that are centred around the user. Don’t be surprised if she knocks on your door to talk about learning co-creation methods through intensive learning experiences.