Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer, co-authors of The Progress Principle (look under my book reviews, in the category list to the right), recently published a useful blog post on innovation and creativity for the Harvard Business Review blog.
I've been writing a bit about innovation recently--if not directly, then indirectly. Innovation in schools is challenging, there's no doubt about it. Everyone has to be involved, and impediments (i.e. too many parameters and rules) have to be removed, if it is to flourish.
Amabile and Kramer focus on the issue of innovation through the lens of management, which is a structure we usually identify as anathema to innovation--or, at the very least, some sort of impediment to it. As the authors say, however, "You really can manage for innovation, but it starts by knowing what drives creativity in people who generate and develop the new ideas that, when implemented, will become tomorrow's innovations." This phrase should garner the attention of school leaders.
They identify four factors that savvy managers can balance in order to motivate creativity and innovation:
- Goals -- strategic direction toward a worthy purpose, neither too loose nor too constrained. "Intrinsic motivation and creativity wither when people are told exactly what to do and how to do it; they need the autonomy to apply their own specific skills and talents."
- Evaluation -- the crucial balance here involves "a great deal of frequent, work-focused evaluation and feedback that is truly informative and constructive. Ideally, these evaluations involve peers (as well as supervisors) openly discussing the work. To perform at their creative peak, people need to know that every idea will be respected enough to merit thoughtful consideration." In other words, strong evaluation pressure doesn't work, and neither does loose evaluation. "The best managers [...] accepted [...] failures as a necessary part of doing creative work and helped employees search for lessons and opportunities in those failures."
- Reward -- "Creativity flourishes when employees know that rewards and recognition will follow from good, creative efforts--without being told constantly about exactly which rewards will follow from which actions. [...] Some of the most positive rewards are not monetary." One person they interviewed stated that, "part of the reward is having your managers listen to what you have done. Having access to your supervisors increases internal motivation, so managers should be available on an informal basis."
- Pressure -- "Having the positive pressure of an optimally challenging assignment--being given an important problem to solve that no one else has been able to crack--can supercharge intrinsic motivation and creativity." Conversely, being told to do a particular job "in a particular way, with no tolerance of failure, little expectation of recognition for success, and extreme, arbitrary time pressure, can kill anyone's creativity motivation."
Of course, this is all lovely, in theory. In practice, how does it work in the real world, boots-on-the-ground in schools? This approach would work well in a number of schools I'm familiar with, but I also know of schools where the management culture would never be open to this kind of management (and the teachers know it).
Another important question: for the Head of School to manage in this way, how would the relationship between Head and Board Chair (+ entire board) need to look? Is there spill-over into governance, inasmuch as this is an internal management issue? For a Board that is not accustomed to having a Head exercise this kind of management approach inside the school, how might the Head educate the Board on its worth?