Why Innovation is Important for Independent Schools

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Whether you like it or not, innovation has become a buzz word over the last few years. Job descriptions across all industries tout how companies champion innovation in the workplace. We look up to companies known as industry disruptors that use innovation to solve problems. We’ve even started seeing speaking sessions and articles from thought leaders about how to “hack” creativity and start thinking outside the box.

With this innovation frenzy, the question remains: is innovation really crucial to the way we all do business in the 21st century? Does it even apply to schools? Or is it just another buzz word that will soon fade into our corporate vocabulary? Let’s take a closer look at what it means to be innovative, why it’s considered important across all industries (including the education industry), and how you can start fostering it in your own day-to-day life.

What It Means to Be Innovative

For all we hear about innovation, do we actually know what it means to be innovative? People often use the word interchangeably with “creativity,” but there are some key differences. Creativity is defined as the process of being creative and transcending traditional rules and patterns to come up with new ideas. Innovation, on the other hand, is defined as the introduction or implementation of something new or different. In other words, innovation is creativity at work. Having new ideas is great, but true innovation occurs when you find a way put those ideas into action. Innovation and usefulness are inherently linked.

While this definition can make the process of innovation seem a little overwhelming, reframing the way you look at it is key. Organizational psychologist Dr. Amantha Imber suggests that we look at innovation as “change that adds value.” If we’re always thinking of innovation as a million-dollar, flashy idea, it can hold us back from the many ways to inspire innovation every day. If you’re trying to problem solve, you’re already on the way to your next innovative idea.

The Importance of Innovation in the Workforce

To put it simply, innovation has become such a focal point for businesses across all industries because when done correctly, it can have great positive effects. These can include:

  • Staying Ahead of the Competition: While it’s important to stay true to what has proven successful for your organization in the past, it’s also crucial to never stop looking to the future. If you don’t innovate and change with the times, you’ll be left behind. Even the education industry has felt the pressure of an increasingly global market; there’s simply more competition out there. If your organization is not actively pursuing innovation, you’ll end up chasing your competitors that do it first.
  • Retaining and Keeping Top Talent: No one wants to stay at a job that feels stagnant – especially in education. Organizations that prize innovation show employees by example that they are willing to change and modernize. This not only gives current employees enough confidence in the future of the organization to stay in their positions, but also makes it easier to grow your team. Innovative companies get their pick of top talent, attracting big thinkers and applicants from the country’s top programs drawn in by the promise of an open-minded work environment.
  • Taking Advantage of New Tech: Even if you’ve got your business model down to a science, chances are there is some form of new tech that could transform your process in a good way. Whether it’s accessing better analytics, upgrading your SIS, or taking advantage of artificial intelligence, encouraging innovative thinking in your workplace allows you to factor in tools that can make life easier for your team members and the families you serve.
  • Increasing Adaptability: We saw during the COVID-19 pandemic that the ability to adapt was the make-or-break element for businesses across the country. While many businesses folded under the strain, others were able to think innovatively and reimagine the services and products they offered for a completely new environment. Some of these innovations have proven to be so successful, they’ve stayed in place long after restrictions were listed. Although it’s impossible to tell what the future holds, creating a work environment where employees feel free to explore new methods and challenge the status quo will help future-proof your organization.

How to Spark Innovation

So now that you know how innovation can help your organization, how do you actually start inspiring innovation in yourself and your coworkers? Here are some simple ways to get started.

  • Don’t Get Too Broad: While innovation is all about thinking outside the box, it’s also true that creativity loves constraints. How many times have you realized that your brain is on empty when given a blank piece of paper and carte blanche to just “come up with something?” As they say, necessity is the mother of invention, so giving your team some guidelines is critical to innovative thinking. Whether you’re constrained by time, money, or resources, having some limits is key for people to start looking at old problems with fresh eyes.
  • Learn From Accidents: There are countless stories throughout scientific history of incredible breakthroughs coming from accidents or “failures.” If a solution your team comes up with for one problem doesn’t work, think of what other problem it could be used to solve instead – maybe in a totally different department or project. Is there a way to combine two solutions that didn’t fully work into something that will? Sometimes an innovative solution is just combining solutions, like the iPhone bringing together the iPod, internet, and phone.
  • Make Use of Your Current Team: Innovation doesn’t require you to hire tons of new team members. In fact, changing the way you look at your existing team may be the solution to sparking innovative thinking. Giving team members projects that are outside of their normal job responsibilities puts fresh eyes on a problem and allows them to bring in a whole new perspective. When people are forced to forget what they know, they must think in a totally different way and often create something totally new. Switching around assignments is a simple way to get a “new team” to tackle a problem that another group has been struggling with for a while.
  • Allow Time for Daydreaming: While it sounds crazy, companies across the country are carving out time for employees to dream, doodle, and imagine. 3M famously adheres to the 15% rule, established by General Manager William McKnight in the early 1900s. McKnight believed that the company should allow employees to spend 15% of their time inventing and experimenting on projects that could create new products. Many companies today now have some sort of policy in place to allow their employees time to reset their brains, think creatively, and pursue hobbies that can spark innovative ideas. While schools function much differently than the average business, it’s still possible to build in “daydreaming” to professional development and internal work days.
  • Get Inspired by Your Customers: Sometimes your most innovative ideas can be sparked by customer feedback! Customers can not only have great ideas but can also help you figure out what to prioritize. Collecting feedback from your families is a great way to get data and note trends that can spark innovation. At FACTS, we’ve recently launched the FACTS Teacher Innovation Awards to recognize the way teachers are making a difference to students every day with their innovative ideas. While celebrating teachers is the focus, it’s also a great way to see how teachers across the country are getting creative – hopefully inspiring us to innovate even more.

No matter how you approach innovation in your organization, remember that it likely won’t happen overnight. If you commit to fostering an open environment, however, you’re sure to start hearing some big ideas soon. Happy innovating!

Courtney Haindel currently works as the Product Marketing and Community Manager for FACTS. Prior to coming to FACTS, she was a career educator, with 17 years of experience in FACTS schools. She served as a high school English teacher, high school Assistant Principal, and finished her career as Director of Marketing and Enrollment. She loves working with FACTS schools around the country on school marketing and enrollment management and is excited about FACTS^SPACE, our latest companywide initiative designed to give schools opportunities to collaborate.