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Innovation by Inches


When thinking of words with a grand connotations, "innovation" has a solid place in that cadre. It summons mental landscapes with sweeping impact, unlimited potential, and fantastic outcomes (along with that shadowy aspect, intense risk!). Innovation can sometimes seem like an almost impossibly lofty goal, something out of the reach of those of us "in the trenches", best left up to the policy-makers, the movers-and-shakers in an organization.

Sometimes, however, innovation can come quietly, with tiny shifts in paradigms that subtly alter practices and attitudes, creating a space where the bigger, flashier changes can be developed, tweaked, and realized. While they may not seem as glamorous, these tiny changes can be incredibly effective, and often relatively quick to implement!

A few months ago, some colleagues came to me and expressed frustration with the way our shared files were being stored. Each team had developed its own processes, and as often happens with organic development, those processes had evolved in different (sometimes radically so) ways. This resulted in a lack of continuity between groups, and , while intuitive and comfortable to some of the established team, this was frustrating and inefficient for newer colleagues. What a great opportunity!

Change can be daunting, even in a culture where innovation is embraced as a way of doing business. Managing the expectations of stakeholders can determine how effectively change is implemented, and this was certainly no exception! Fortunately, my initial "idea champions" were willing and able to facilitate the discussions about how change could positively benefit the team. Listening and engaging in robust discussions about the perceived wants and needs, rather than rushing in with my own preconceived biases about "what was best", allowed us to work together to create spaces that were far more intuitive and functional. (Bonus: There was virtually NO interruption of work processes for the team! We got lucky on this one!)

We are still rolling out changes in our "better practices" (I'm not so bold as to declare them "best practices" quite yet!), and in the process I maintain the goal of flexible and functional improvements that suit the work styles of those actually using the tools. These changes are not earth-shattering, but they are, inch by inch, improving the collaborative environment. By opening ourselves to the discomfort of change, we are allowing innovation to creep into the corners in small but powerful ways. I'm excited to see where else this paradigm takes us!

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