Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Sustaining Innovation (in Many Different Situations)

I'm in Europe right now, on a mix of vacation and work. The work is focused on "innovation." Last week, I sat on the jury for the first Cultural Innovation International Prize given by the Center for Contemporary Culture in Barcelona, and this week, I'm offering a workshop for museum professionals across Poland participating together in a "Museum Lab" in Warsaw.

Innovation is often represented as a shot in the dark, a one-time project, something prize-worthy. But one of the biggest challenges our Barcelona jury had was the reality that innovation is situational, not universal. What feels innovative in one context feels tired in another. The most innovative institutions find meaningful ways to challenge the prevailing wisdom in their own specific environments. And hopefully, they don't just do it once; they do it again and again.

These thoughts made me go back to one of my favorite books, Sustaining Innovation by Paul Light. Paul Light profiled 26 nonprofit and governmental organizations in Minnesota in the 1990s, each of which innovated over time, changes in leadership, and circumstance.

In 2011, I reviewed Sustaining Innovation, bringing in voices from Museum 2.0 readers like you as well as a colleague from one of the institutions Light profiled (Sarah Schultz, then at the Walker Art Center). If you're interested in innovation in museums and nonprofits, you may enjoy:

  • The first post, which outlines Paul Light's fundamental ideas and the most compelling lessons I learned from the book, including my favorite: "how to say no, and why to say yes."
  • The second post, in which Museum 2.0 readers shared their own experiences of how organizations support or block innovation. Including some very real stories and reflections... please consider contributing your own experiences to the vibrant comment thread.
  • The third post, in which I interviewed Sarah Schultz, who worked at the Walker Art Center for 22 years, on her experiences from "inside" one of the institutions highlighted in the book.
  • The fourth post, which raised a question about two different conditions for innovation--a stable institution with slack to foster innovation, versus a hard-driving institution making change on a shoestring. Which would you prefer?
blog comments powered by Disqus