This is part one of a three part series. In this post I will discuss “Integrated Innovation.” In part two we will look how what it might take to begin such a process in your organization. Finally, part three will talk about where to start.

When we talk about innovation in theological education, the conversation seems to hover around the topic of developing academic programs, different degrees, or content delivery methods. For many years, we talked about new programs that will be “online” with only a few courses on the degree-granting campus of the institution. We talk about entirely new degree programs we want to create or new delivery methods (online, hybrid, etc.).

These are all great and can be very innovative. However, I think we are missing some big opportunities for significant levels of innovation. Innovation can be about much more than “product” innovation; which in our setting usually means academic programs since that is the “product” we offer to students. I know that theological education is much, much more than offering the “product” of a degree, so please don’t hear me say that all we do is offer a product. Rather, please hear me say that our programs of study are the nearest equivalent we have to a product. They are also where we spend our time innovating. Again, while that is helpful, we may be missing the opportunity to innovate in ways that can bring dramatic shifts and improvements to our system of theological education.

*We are not a “Business”

Because I am going to use a number of examples from the “business” community, let me reiterate that I am not trying to say that our work in theological education is “strictly business.” We are much more than a business which is trying to make money, create ROI, or develop initiatives which return their cost of capital. We are about impacting the world by equipping students to serve the mission of God. There is much to learn from the business community, especially when it comes to innovation and ways in which organizations can create new value. I believe theological education is primed for innovation. As schools unleash their creativity we will see truly exciting opportunities for students and the Church. My desire is that we begin to look beyond program innovation. While new programs are extremely important, if we integrate our thinking so that other types of innovation come alongside or spur on program development, we will see amazing things happen.

10 Types of Innovation

In 2011, Doblin, a global innovation consulting firm which became a subgroup of Monitor Group in 2007, updated its Ten Types of Innovation framework. The original framework was developed in 1998. Research and analysis conducted by the firm revealed that companies have the best chance for success if they are able to integrate multiple types of innovation. Geoff Tuff of Monitor Group provides a quick overview of the concept in this video. The general premise is that there are ten different types of innovation:

  • Business/Profit Model
  • Network
  • Structure
  • Process
  • Product Performance
  • Product System
  • Service
  • Channel
  • Brand
  • Customer Engagement

As I mentioned before, we focus most of our time and energy on developing new programs or emphases within programs. Much of that thinking would fall under Product Performance or Product System innovation. Changing delivery methods for courses would fall under Channel innovation. Doblin’s research has shown that, on its own, product innovation has the lowest impact. Companies which integrate multiple types of innovation have a greater opportunity for impact.

Doblin believes that the greatest impact can come from Business/Profit Model innovation. Primarily, this belief comes from the fact that such innovation requires organizations to be integrative in their thinking. Many of The Ten Types of Innovation will be involved when an organization begins thinking about Business/Profit model innovation.

I tend to agree with the concept that “product” innovation alone will not produce the same level of results as innovation which involves multiple parts and functions of the organization. Innovation which integrates support processes, financial models, delivery systems, and programs of study has the potential to have significant impact on an organization. However, I believe such integrative thinking can be difficult within many organizations because it requires us to work across departments, job functions, and traditional lines of responsibility. It also requires us to think broadly about our institutions and how we can improve everything from our programs of study to the ways in which student’s register for courses to the ways in which we provide students services. Such innovation can even cause us to look closely at our mission and vision.

What does it take?

I do not claim to be an expert on innovation. I am simply offering the thought that theological education is primed for innovation. When I look at the Ten Types of Innovation framework and listen to Doblin and others discuss it, I am constantly wondering what it takes to develop integrative approaches to innovation at organizations within theological education

In part two of this topic, I will provide a few thoughts on what I think it may take to begin integrative innovation efforts at our institutions.