This week the Institute is pleased to have a guest blogger. In this post Joe Schroeder, Superintendent of the Muskego-Norway School District, explores an approach to innovation that is related to Jim’s post last week on the split screen strategy.

At the WASDA Fall Conference in Madison earlier in the fall, presenter Ray McNulty shared some key thoughts for those who would effectively lead organizations in today’s rapidly changing environment.  Specifically, Mr. McNulty would advise us to reserve a portion of our annual improvement efforts for things that might be better classified as innovation efforts.  In other words, we certainly should and do value clear planning, attention to detail, and effective implementation in order to improve systems.  But at the same time, we also should value innovation, which fundamentally transforms the current model in ways that keep our system current, relevant, and responsive to the changing conditions.

In order to advance such an approach in practical terms, Mr. McNulty recommended that effective systems consider an 80/20 or so mix of “best practices” (i.e., getting better at doing what we have always done) vs. “next practices” (transforming ourselves to work in ways that we have never done before). To keep this concept “top of mind,” he offered the concept of an innovation portfolio.  

Working with this innovation portfolio metaphor, we would likely all acknowledge, for example, how unwise it might be to place all our personal retirement investment portfolio into a single fund, hoping it would somehow ride through the tumultuous current economy and mature one day into great return on investment.  Similarly, it may prove unwise to put all our improvement efforts for the system into the best practices “basket” – especially given how much the environment (in education and elsewhere) is changing.   Rather, an 80/20 mix of “best practice” improvements with “next practice” innovations might be a good rule of thumb.

This is similar to the blog post that Jim wrote last week on a “split screen” of innovation. The importance is not on the specific numbers of the mix, but rather the concept of devoting some resources to innovation while also acknowledging the need to maintain the current system in order to serve our students. I plan to work with my board to develop into our next five-year strategic plan this 80/20 improvement/innovation mix.

What do you think of these approaches to nurturing innovation while at the same time supporting the current system? 

One thought on “Innovation Portfolio

  1. Ryan Krohn says:

    “What would Google Do?”…
    Thinking about 80/20 brings forward the notion of Google’s 20% time. One of Google’s many approaches towards organizational excellence and innovation is the notion of 20% time. Google offers its engineers “20 percent time” to work “on” organizational related ideas. This time offers a simple philosopical mind shift from working ‘for’ the organization to working ‘on’ the organization. Thus creating a platform for passionate employees to bring the next ‘idea’…forward.
    As our educational systems look to move towards innovative next practices it will require everyone to continue to work ‘with’ our current systems, while finding time to work ‘on’ the development of the next one. Jeff Jarvis’ book What Would Google Do? provides more insight into the thoughtful approaches to one of the most innovative organizations in the world. Simple concepts such as the ‘20% time’ are supported by other concepts including:
    Ideas come from everywhere
    Share everything you can
    You are brilliant, we are hiring
    A license to pursue dreams
    Data is apolitical
    Innovation is not instant perfection
    Creativity loves constraints
    Don’t kill projects, morph them
    Each of these concepts, incuding the 20% time, work on the deeper notion of engaging everyone in the improvement of the system. I agree a balanced 80/20 approach, driven by concepts similar to those at Google, will create conditions for passionate, creative, and innovative next practice. WWGD?

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