Embracing Innovation

August 14, 2013Dr. Dustin Swanger

Every five years, as part of developing its strategic plan, Fulton-Montgomery Community College reviews its Vision, Mission, and Values statements to determine if they remain relevant; and if not, to make changes to them. During the most recent strategic planning process, FM added a new value – Innovation.

Innovation is the development of something new. It could be a new product, process, service, etc., that is a break-through when compared to existing products and services; it’s a leap forward. Innovation is often a new product, or application of technology that advances products, that benefits the end user. Such innovations in our lifetime include: the iPhone, flat-panel televisions, Wi-Fi, the Internet, Social Media, TiVo, GPS, and others. These innovations have changed society and the way we work or interact.

 There are several reasons why Innovation was added as an FM value. First, the United States is developing an innovation economy. That is, an economy where ideas and development may be more valued, and responsible for growth in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), than labor. Second, innovation is ground-breaking ideas that may have big returns. These ground-breaking ideas can leap an organization forward. Third, organizations comprised of educated personnel (like colleges) should embrace innovation as a means of operating to keep its people creative and energized.

If an organization, like FM, values innovation, then it must be willing to take some risks. When an organization values innovation, and embraces it as a part of its culture, then it must also appreciate failure. Appreciating failure is not an excuse for incompetence; it is the recognition that if you are innovating, not everything will work as you had planned. There are caveats to appreciating failure. First, try to fail early so that corrections can be made. Second, the organization must learn from it and document it so that the failure is not repeated. Third, the failure must have occurred while everyone involved put their best effort forward; not because they didn’t try. With these caveats understood, practicing innovation can bring great change to an organization or products.

One of the most successful innovation companies is IDEO. They create diverse product design teams that include engineers, psychologists, designers, marketers, anthropologists, and others in order to gain a multitude of perspectives about people, products, or services. Most importantly, everyone on the team is interested in the consumer.

Key to innovation is observation. How do people interact with the product or service? What is their experience? What do they struggle with? What are they saying when they don’t think anyone from the organization is listening? It helps to have people from different backgrounds observe the consumer and interpret the interaction.

Creative brainstorming, without the parameters cost or practicality to implement, is also key to innovation. If you start with limitations, the creativity is crushed. Parameters will come later in the process.

Any company, organization, and government agency can, if they choose, develop a culture of innovation. Who knows, that wild idea might be the next iPad. If every organization in our region embraced innovation and worked together, we would be a true force for the future. 

Dr. Dustin Swanger is President of FM.

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