What makes an innovator?

By The Mandarin

Tuesday September 29, 2015

The federal Industry portfolio got a name change last week to the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science, explicitly highlighting its innovation policy responsibilities. If you’re not already subscribed to the department’s monthly report on innovation policy, it has an excellent round-up of initiatives and developments across jurisdictions.

It was never a quiet policy space, but now it has renewed political support in addition to the recent support from the Secretaries Board. Accordingly, the team behind the Public Sector Innovation Toolkit are seeking views: “What are the behaviours that identify an innovator? What are the behaviours that demonstrate that a leader is supportive/expectant of innovation from others?”

Alex Roberts, an Innovation Advocate in DIIS, writes:

As our deputy secretary David Hazlehurst recently blogged, one of the tasks the Innovation Champions have given themselves is to identify some of the essential behaviours that support innovation. These behaviours will help guide the Champions in their work to support and embed innovation within each of their organisations.

An example of a supportive behaviour is one that I learnt from Google earlier this year — simply ensuring that you respond to someone’s new idea with “yes, and”, rather than saying no and explaining why something won’t work. This is important because we need to build on the ideas of others if we want people to put forward new thinking.

Speaking from experience, one of the behaviours that I have found essential as someone trying to advocate for and implement new initiatives is persistence (or obstinacy as some people unkindly refer to it…). If you want to do something truly new, you have to be prepared to deal with blockers, with reasons why something cannot/should not be done, with processes ill-suited to a new approach, with delays and frustrations. You need to stick with it if you want to see the new idea/approach come to fruition.

Others would suggest that leaders need to be agnostic towards failure. If leaders expect everything to succeed, then the people around them aren’t going to put forward new ideas that might fail.

Pia Waugh has shared that leaders need to “Demonstrate innovation! Show the thing. Leaders need to lead by example and show how innovation can look in their own work program, otherwise they won’t understand innovation in practise and it sounds like empty rhetoric.” And that innovators need to demonstrate “Proactive engagement in identifying opportunities and best practices, personal development, collaboration, sharing, big picture thinking and generally taking an attitude of building on the shoulders of giants.”

This an area where there are many views, which is why we want to narrow down on some core behaviours that make sense in the public service context. We are consulting with others, and there’s a lot written on this, but we wanted to hear from others.

What do you think are the behaviours that identify an innovator?

What do you think are the behaviours that leaders need to demonstrate to show they are open to innovation?

Let us know what you think, either in comments or through email. We will share our compiled findings later.

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