In part one of this topic, I challenged us to think more broadly about innovation within theological education. I think we are missing some big opportunities for significant levels of innovation. Innovation can be about much more than “product” or program innovation. As I mentioned in part one, I strongly believe that theological education is about much more than offering the “product” of a degree. However, that is where we spend most of 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. That opportunity is based on integrated innovation efforts. In this post I want to provide a few thoughts on what I think it may take to begin integrative innovation efforts at our institutions.
I believe the first step is to develop an integrative mindset within our organizations. Often times, because of the nature of our work or simply the amount of work we have to complete, we function within our own field of vision. For example, academic programs may be developed and then brought to other departments to “review” before implementation, or funding models may be developed and then implemented based on the business office’s needs. Could we work faster and achieve higher levels of innovation if we integrated our thinking from the beginning? What if the Dean, CFO, CDO, and CIO co-developed something new? What if the process for creating new ideas included people outside of leadership roles? Would it enhance many functions of the institution?
In order to involve multiple types of innovation, we must begin thinking more broadly. In my opinion, developing the mindset of integration is by far the most important step toward innovation. Each person, each department, each “school” within an organization must begin to think more broadly about the institution. I call this concept being “cross-thinktional” because we are thinking about areas outside of our day-to-day field of vision. We need to think about how everything we do impacts every other part of the institution. In doing so, we will be able to open our minds to opportunities for integrative innovation. We may find ways to adjust processes so that multiple departments function more collaboratively thereby enhancing a program or service. The concept of functioning collaboratively brings me to the next point.
Collaborative Structures and Processes
After we have developed the mindset for integrated thinking, we must think about how the mindset is revealed in our structures and processes. How do we exhibit integrative thinking in our structures and processes? Do we have systems in place which help staff to work collaboratively across departments? Have we realigned departments so that there is overlap and integrated processes? Are “cross-functional” committees truly having an integrated impact or are they serving as report meetings? Our structures and processes will either enhance or hinder an integrative mindset. If we talk about being integrated but still approach new initiatives through individual departments are we truly integrating our thinking?
It can be very easy to find ourselves wrapped up in creative thinking processes built on our current experiences, practices, or history. We look at the work of higher education or theological education as the basis for innovation. What are other schools doing? How are other schools leveraging technology? I would encourage us to look outside the world of theological education, higher education or even the Church. At the very least, we could be engaging people outside our normal sphere of contact.
However, I think it would be much more valuable to go completely outside our traditional areas of interest. How are technology start-ups dealing with distributed staffing structures? How do multi-site companies deal with staff training initiatives? How is technology being leveraged by those in the business community? What companies are disrupting markets? How did those companies develop their ideas?
Disruptive innovation can create amazing possibilities. Think of what it could do for the Church. Basically, disruptive innovation either transforms an expensive and inaccessible product into something affordable and accessible (like this) or it creates something entirely new that no one knew he or she wanted (the original iPod and iTunes).
At the end of the day we need to be willing to make mistakes. Let’s build something and learn from the mistakes. We spend a lot of time trying to get everything right the first time. We could probably be more innovative if we knew we could make some mistakes. Such a willingness to try something, learn from mistakes, and then try again enables us to be very agile.
With those foundational concepts in place, the next post in this series will look at where we might start.