The Origins of Innovation

Innovation seems to be the buzzword du jour these days and why not, innovative companies (or those perceived as innovative) are hot these days (Apple, Google, Facebook, et al.) and those that aren't (Microsoft, Yahoo!, RIM, et al.) seem to be dying a slow death.  So, innovation is good (duh)

Why does one organization seem to be innovative while others mire away in the status quo until they obsolesce?    Can the spirit of innovation be infused into a culture that maybe doesn't really have it? Where does innovation come from?

Well most of those questions are way outside the scope of this post but I came across a neat article in today's USA Today where the question of how do you (and can you) promote more innovation came up.  Anyway, it made me think.

After an interesting parable about the invention of the Post-it note came this tasty tidbit:

if you want to innovate in your business, then consider giving your staff the time and ability to do just that

I know what you are thinking... time is the one thing we don't have.  Whether or not this lack of time is real or perceived this is worth talking about.  Some major players make considerable effort to ensure that their employees have time to tinker.  

3M has a policy that allows everyone in the company to pursue what they call "15% time projects." That is, everyone at 3M is allowed to use 15% of their time to follow their muse and innovate. This policy has been in effect since 1948 and has resulted in products ranging from clear bandages to painter's tape that sticks to the edge of a wall to prevent paint bleed.

Maybe not surprisingly, this sort of policy has become a hot topic for innovative businesses. For instance, Google has a similar policy: It allows employees to use up to 20% of their time to innovate and think outside the box*. Amazon has something similar, too.

How amazing is it that these companies are willing to allow their employees to spend time on initiatives that may never result in anything that ever generates revenue (although might generate other positive benefits).  I've often wondered if this type of "innovation time" could work in education.  Can you imagine a regular time to get together with like-minded teachers and solve learning problems, develop new instructional strategies, or gain some new skills?  

Maybe I'll try to incorporate this when I start my own school...

What do you think? About the innovation thing, not about me starting my own school.


* Google does some other interesting things too... 

Google works from the bottom up. If you have a great technical idea, you don’t have your V.P. send out a memo telling everybody to use it. Instead, you take it to your fellow engineers and convince them that it’s good. Good ideas spread fast, and this approach keeps us from making technical mistakes. But it also means that the burden falls upon you to spread your idea. [1]

Maybe our schools need to be more bottom up too.  I'll file that away for later.