5 Barriers to Innovation (and How We Can Move Past Them) #IMMOOC

This week on the live show, the Twitter chat and in a variety of conversations, barriers to innovation have come up a lot.  I think it is really powerful to shine the light on what is working rather than fixate on the barriers to inspire change but these barriers are also real and sometimes it is also important to acknowledge them to move forward. As George points out in the Innovator’s Mindset, the greatest barrier to innovation is often our own way of thinking.  I wanted to dig into this a bit more and describe particular ways of thinking that get in our way and look at how we can move past them and work to help others too.

1.Perfection– When you are so wrapped up in making sure everything is “perfect” you eliminate opportunities to take risks and step out of your comfort zone.  Also, when we want everything to be perfect, we can miss out on the opportunities to grow and make it better because we are so narrowly focused on a preconceived notion of what perfection looks like.  

Perfection is the enemy of progress- Voltaire.

How we can move past this- Start small, try things out.  The idea of the hack-mindset has helped me turn ideas into action much quicker rather than waiting until they were perfect, which usually ends up being never. Celebrate the learning process, not just the product.

2. Tradition– There are many traditions that are great and bring people together and have great value but not all traditions in school serve learners. If you are still doing things simply because it’s the way it has always been done, you may want to rethink that.

How we can move past this- Challenge the status quo- whether it was through creative scheduling, allocating resources, use of space, or what they were using (or not using) for curriculum. rEmember to look at what you can stop doing, not just what you need to start doing.

3. Isolation– Educators are far too isolated.  The structures we have in place or lack in schools can make it difficult to share and get feedback when it is not a normal part of your day or culture. I am guilty of waiting to share ideas until they are ready or some version of “perfect” or thinking it is just easier to figure something out on my own instead of sharing and getting feedback throughout the process.  

How we can move past this-  One of my colleagues reminds us to “Avoid the Grand Reveal.” which basically means stop trying to create something in isolation to wow everyone.  Share your thinking with others, get feedback early and often, try things out as you are developing ideas instead of waiting until you think you are done. Find a critical friend either virtually or in the classroom next door that will hold you accountable for sharing your learning process- the successes, challenges, and push you to get better.

4. Standardization- You know when you walk into a classroom and look at all the student work samples or art projects and they are all the same. Is this evidence of learning or following directions? Standardization has allowed for efficiency and is efficient for rote processes but when it comes to teaching and learning and growing people, it won’t allow us to innovate in our schools to develop the unique talents and skills in diverse individuals.

How we can move past this Focus on people, not just numbers.  Get to know the learners- who they are, where they are going and what they need.  Celebrate, document and share evidence of authentic learning and growth. 

5. Fear- Fear of failure, not being good enough, being different…(fill in the blank).  These fears are real for many of us and can be huge barriers that prevent us from moving forward (and scare others too)

How we can move past this–  I don’t know that fear goes away but not letting it own you and acknowledging that you won’t be perfect or good enough on your first attempt makes it easier to try something.  Many people are afraid, but those who are successful are usually better at working through it rather than hiding behind it.  Lead by example so others can see how to take risks and challenge themselves to try new things.


If nothing else, writing this has reminded me that all of these barriers come back to our own perception of the problem or challenge. Sometimes reframing the situation and looking at it from another point of view can allow us to move past the barrier rather than fixating on why it’s there or how impossible you perceive it to be.


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