Full Scale vs. Small Scale Innovation: What’s Our Way Forward?

“Innovation isn’t a managerial seminar or analytic exercise.  Innovators act.  They do.  They test.  They respect results.”  -Michael Schrage via The Innovator’s Hypothesis: How Cheap Experiments Are Worth More Than Good Ideas

Running an educational institution such as a school or district is not the same as running a business, and vice versa. But there is a lot that they can learn from each other. Especially in this new age of high-paced change and disruptive thinking and innovation. Whether in business or education, you have to be able to multitask your thinking, in regards to keeping focused in the present while having your sights set on the future. It is necessary, if we are to sustain any type of creative and innovative effectiveness and relevance as we move forward.

It is this kind of thinking that we have seen from such creative and innovative companies such as Google, Intuit, Amazon, Apple, Nike, Toyota, etc. Companies that have built up creative and innovative environments and cultures that have allowed them to engage this advantage in a sustained manner. Companies that have continually delighted us in expected and unexpected offerings and their big ideas year after year.

But, according to Michael Schrage in his book, The Innovator’s Hypothesis it is not just their big ideas that have allowed these companies to continually deliver in creative and innovative ways. He shares that, “Successful innovators don’t just celebrate the innovations they offer; they internally prize the experiments and experimentation that made innovation possible.”

Which is something that educators and our educational institutions may want to heed moving into the future, especially if we to keep pace with the rapidity of innovative changes that are surrounding and enveloping us.

The idea of full scale vs. small scale. The big idea vs. implementation.

When you look at these companies that have remained successful in being creative and innovative for long periods of time, according to Michael Schrage, they don’t just rely on big ideas to fuel their innovation efforts, rather they are continually implementing small scale experiments to determine the worth and value of those big ideas.

Big ideas have to prove themselves, otherwise they aren’t worth implementing.

Which is often at odds with the approach taken in education. Usually a big idea is determined at a leadership level, which leads to strategizing and planning on how to implement this big idea, then the big idea is unveiled and implemented. It is often a full scale approach. There is little if any experiments incorporated to determine the value and worth of implementing the big idea. To determine if it has the weight that leads to full scale adoption across the organization.

It is often an ‘all eggs in one basket’ approach to a big idea.

And while their may have been some research appropriated to support the implementation of the big idea. It is research that usually lacks the frontline data that would be provided from small scale experiments within your current environment and culture. And most often, it is a top-down approach that fails to incorporate voice and understandings from all levels of the organization, which inevitably fails to engage clarity and commitment at scale.

Full scale implementation without small scale experimentation can lead to not only frustration at all levels of an organization, it can be depleting to our resources, time, and efforts. Ultimately, diminishing our creative and innovative ‘ROI’ (Return On Investment).

So as we work to build up the creative and innovative capacity of our organizations, we may well want to heed our approach.

Full scale implementation or small scale experimentation?

“Experimentation is undervalued and unappreciated wherever words speak louder than actions.”  -Michael Schrage The Innovator’s Hypothesis

Quotes and references from…

Schrage, Michael. The Innovator’s Hypothesis: How Cheap Experiments Are Worth More Than Good Ideas. 2014. Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

2 thoughts on “Full Scale vs. Small Scale Innovation: What’s Our Way Forward?

  1. Great thoughts shared here David. We need to encourage small pockets of innovation rather than sweeping reforms that don’t have buy-in. Business and education have many processes that can align and there is much we can learn from each other. I worry about competition and capitalism becoming a part of education, but that’s a different blog post.

  2. Your point is well taken. The goal is that we have to be more aware, especially in these times of declining resources, that what we are providing, either new or innovative, has real value for the user and the organization as a whole. This is what companies like IDEO or the Stanford D. School may refer to as empathy, and that empathy comes from running experiments to determine if the big ideas truly have value for the users, or if they just sound good. And then being their on the front lines to watch and see how people react to it. Then determining how to make it better and infuse more value for the user. it is that kind of design-thinking that will improve our educational organizations in a time of rapid change.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s