Breakdown of the 5 Paradoxes of an Innovation Culture

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John Kamensky, senior fellow at the IBM Center for the Business of Government, discusses paradoxical qualities that could improve innovation culture at agencies, and why they all need to be present to work.


As agencies look to build innovation cultures, some are having more success than others. While most agency plans stand up an innovation office, using paradoxical methods could work better. John Kamensky, senior fellow at the IBM Center for the Business of Government, says that the private sector paradoxes outlined in a Harvard Business Review article by Gary Pisano could better bolster federal innovation.

 

“I saw a lot of parallels to what my experience had been when I worked in the government. He talked about things that sounded familiar like tolerance for failure, experimentation, and that you need to provide psychologically safe places to work. He said while you do that, you really need to do almost the counter to that. It is almost contradictory. If you’re going to do experiments, it’s not just let a thousand flowers bloom. What you need to do is measure them… I was really intrigued by this because I saw this in agencies that are trying to go build it into the culture as opposed to putting it off into an office.”

 

Other paradoxes that could help build a culture include fostering collaborations while demanding individual accountability, and instituting a flat structure with strong leadership. Kamensky says that agency environments won’t become more innovative unless all five aspects are present.

 

“Being able to start somewhere is important. But what Gary Pisano says, it is all or nothing package, you have to be able to exhibit each of these five characteristics simultaneously. It is a culture that you are trying to organize, not a campaign or an initiative,” said Kamensky.