I often spend time fielding questions from colleagues about the contradiction between being asked to innovate, yet not rock the boat. Most of us work in the not-for-profit higher education field, an industry that has its challenges, but this could apply to many mature organizations. Questions for such contradictions included:

Do we encourage or discourage innovation and risk taking?
Do we reward innovators who challenge the norm?
Do we punish those who challenge established norms and practices?
Do innovators fit in or do they get pushed out?
Is innovation the norm or do we vigorously protect the status quo?
Do we truly value excellence or is the mentality simply “it is good enough”?

As you have probably inferred, these types of questions can be a window into the prevalent culture of an organization and some of its underlying values and norms. The actual cultural norms might not even match the internal narrative.

I interpret the fundamental question here as what will be the culture and environment over the next 25 years and what will be the demands placed on affected organizations. Mature organizations need to realize that the need to change is not about “if” anymore, but more about the pace of change through innovation. Also, that mature organizations with close systems that make most decisions based on internal needs will continue to struggle or go extinct.

Moving forward, mature organizations must develop a framework for assessing the organization’s readiness towards innovation, especially when it is to remain relevant, secure long-term financial sustainability, and provide a differentiated product/service.

In short, strategies must shift as the environment evolves. Chaos theory suggests that mature organizations may be at the greatest risk due to inability to recognize changing conditions, the need to change, and as a result, stifle innovation as the “status quo is so coveted” Higher education is going through such a transition, with each segment having its own challenges; so what do you think are obstacles to allowing innovation to flourish in an organization?