Why Innovate?

Innovation means doing something different to get a better result, to produce more value for a customer. Innovation solves problems that have eluded solutions. It can unleash commitment and change organizational cultures. So if innovation is all that, why not innovate?

Let’s be clear: Government innovates every day. Legislation starts with a problem and ends with a solution. Then agencies create programs, incentives, grants, regulations and other means to implement those solutions. That is innovation, by definition. IRS’ “My Refund”; SSA’s “My Social Security”; healthcare apps for veterans and caregivers; apps to help law enforcement positively identify suspects; local land use and restoration processes and projects; using social media to engage citizens in local government budget formulation. All these are innovative.

Government might not get credit for what it innovates and it might need to innovate more, but innovation isn’t new to government.

So then maybe the question is, “Do I need to innovate around something, now?” Perhaps. Innovation isn’t the answer to everything. So what should you look for to decide?

  1. Is it time? Is more of the same no longer acceptable? If you’re faced with a situation, problem, or challenge whose number has come up, innovation can help.
  2. Can it work? If you try something different, can you get a better result? If yes, innovation can help. If you’re not sure, ask yourself if your organization can learn something by trying something different. Might it figure out something to do, not do, do a different way, add to or subtract from? If you target learning as the outcome, innovation can help.
  3. What’s the value add? Ask this question in two ways. First, for the primary customer – the veteran, mortgagee, air traveler, farmer – the citizen your organization’s mission exists to serve. Second, for supporting customers. They’re in your management chain, lateral organizational units, state or local government agencies, advocacy groups, and on the Hill. If you can improve value for a primary or supporting customer, innovation has value.

With some planning, you can engineer an innovation effort – large or small – that yields benefits in performance, learning, commitment, and enthusiasm that nothing else can equal.

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