Scaling Innovation: Out of the Sandbox

In my professional experiences, I spend a lot of time with teams who are sandboxing their ideas through prototyping and iterations. The initial phase of gaining insights about an issue through research, observation and interviews allows innovation teams to brainstorm ideas and decide on ideas to prototype. Throughout the prototyping of a solution, teams gain feedback from users and transfer that knowledge into new questions that should be addressed with future prototypes. The process involves a series of events when teams are using divergent thinking and then converging back around some central ideas. This process of diverging and converging allows the team to develop innovations with scalable solutions. By looking through the lenses of desirability, feasibility, and viability, teams continue to improve on the process. Feedback from a variety of stakeholders in the organization is vital to a team’s success.

I always tell innovation teams that they will work harder than they ever imagined. In fact, the first part of an innovation initiative which includes defining the problem, developing ideas and prototyping is the easy part. In The Other Side of Innovation: Solving the Execution Challenge, the authors Vijay Govindarajan and Chris Trimble describe what happens after you get to a point where an innovation begins to impact the existing organization. They describe the initial phases as similar to an ascent on Mount Rainier. Much time and energy is put into reaching the top and teams are often drained as they begin the descent. This is the difficult part where the terrain is rough and teams need to find a reserve of energy for the final push to complete the journey. The peak is a halfway point. Innovation cannot scale until the team has completed the journey.

The existing system may not be prepared for the speed at which an innovation may grow. There are still many unknowns around the innovation while makes it unlikely that the organization will be able to easily absorb the project into the existing structure. Diverse teams and groups of stakeholders must come together and deal with the ways in which the innovation may impact the organization. The innovation may require a lot of resources to move forward. Shared staff who work with both the innovation and the day to day operations will need to understand the implications of the innovation and  provide support. Support from outside of the organization may also be needed so that innovation teams can learn from the experiences of others.

The other side of innovation is a difficult journey which involves second order change. First order change builds on improving existing systems while second order change involves developing new knowledge and skills. Most organizations are constantly moving to be more efficient at what they do. To become more effective, however, may involve looking at something through a new lens and creating innovations that do not easily fit into the existing system. Change management is the key to seeing an innovation through from ideas to action to full implementation. Leaders and innovators must join hands for the final descent to successfully scale an innovation. Enjoy the amazing view from the top, but be prepared for the journey that lies ahead.

Donna Teuber is the team leader for technology integration in South Carolina’s Richland School District Two, a Project RED Signature District with 1:1 computing in grades 3-12 impacting 21,000 students. Technology leadership has been key to the success of the Richland Two initiative, and Donna has created a Technology Leadership program to provide school administrators with the tools to lead the initiative at their schools, as well as leading the R2 Innovates! innovation incubator which provides teams of teachers with the training and resources that they need to implement innovative practices.

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