Thursday, July 7, 2011

New Year, New Ideas?

As the end of the fiscal year quickly approached last week, I was thinking about what it meant to have a new year, at Yeshiva, I get to celebrate three each year, the Jewish new year, the calendar new year and the fiscal new year- try to keep that straight in your head!! The nice thing about the new fiscal year is that it often allows us to begin to think about or implement new ideas. The trouble with that is that for many of us, innovation in our bureaucratic organizations can be very challenging and sometimes impossible.
In order to help with this effort, I created a presentation called "Dancing on the Edge: Pushing the limits of Innovation in your Program". When I presented this topic at the CASE Donor Relations conference, there was standing room only and a crowd that was receptive and open to my way of thinking about the way we can effect change. If you are the kind of professional that is happy with the status quo, warning, this post isn't for you. This post is about how to become an advocate of innovation, someone who can then deliver that message to leadership with a vested interest.
For many years now I have been seen as a leading innovator in the field of development and donor relations, this didn't happen by accident, I make a conscious effort to have innovation at the forefront of everything I am and everything I do. So below you will find a link to my slides and I will expound on a few key steps to success here.

1. You MUST own being innovative and plan for time to do so. If you don't, no one else will. It is your job to look at a process and be able to ask the question, How can I make this better?. That is the core of the innovative spirit. Set aside time in your busy schedules for innovation, if you don't you will continue doing the same old things over and over.

2. Understand innovation. Innovation is when a good idea meets implementation. You must define what better looks like and how you will strive to achieve it. It is wonderful to have a visionary idea, but if it is not able to be implemented, what is the point?

3. Do a risk vs. benefit analysis. What is this? As my father would put it, "its a pro/cons list silly." You need to balance the equation and make sure that the new innovation is worth any risks involved. There is NOTHING wrong with calculated risks.

4. Embrace failure, in fact, give it a big hug and a smooch! I learn more from my failures than I Ever have from a success!! We have to stop being afraid to fail, and I will put this in its simplest terms, if you fail, no one will die. Thankfully what we do is powerful and meaningful and does a great deal of good in the world. However, thankfully, we don't hold anyone's lives in our hands like say, uhm, a brain surgeon or rocket scientist- did you like those creative examples?- I thought so.

5. Innovation is possible at EVERY organization, I have yet to find a leader, both in my daily work and on my consulting trips, who, if you present them with solid ideas and a plan for implementation, does not want things to be better. If you are reading this and shaking your head saying, "you don't know my VP/boss" this thought is for you: maybe it is not your message but it is the messenger. Tough love, yes. But it applies to everyone, even me. I talk candidly that I am not everyone's cup of tea, however I know my strengths and weaknesses and often have other people present my ideas to leadership because I know that they are the right person to perform the approach. In football it's called an end around, in the military it's called flanking, take your pick!

6. Finally, and most importantly, innovation is not about YOU. Check your ego at the door. If the idea gets credited to a lunar eclipse or to another team member, who cares!? It makes the organization better, if you are working in non profit and don't understand that by now, get a job in the for profit sector, Steve Jobs pays well for innovations. I will happily let anyone take credit for any idea I come up with if it benefits us all in the end. Then, I quietly go back to my office and give myself a high five and add the innovation to my resume and move on to the next!

Click here for the presentation.

I hope these tips help you the next time you come up with the next improvement or innovation for your organization. As always, I am open to criticism and comments, and I look forward to hearing from you!

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