Monday, October 13, 2014

Does it have to be Innovation or Sustainability?

Are sustainability and innovation enemies?

Is sustainability the opposite of innovation?

It always seemed logical to me, sustainability is working to keep things going while innovation is all about change. They appear to work against each other.

Recently though I attended an innovation workshop one day and a sustainability workshop the next day. And something clicked, which I had always known, but it brought it back. Innovation is required for sustainability. When things are going well or when you are trying to go beyond success, sustainability is the foundation you build. Sustainability is not about status quo, it is about actively taking measures to ensure stability and growth. Innovation is key to growth.

It struck me as interesting when I heard Thomas Kuczmarski say something like -Innovation isn't always looking for a solution. Often it is just understanding & looking at problems differently. Not about idea generation, identifying the right problem to solve is the key to innovation.

And when I think about sustainability it is being able to see your potential problems and reduce the risk of them happening. So the key to both is knowing the problem.

Thomas Kuczmarski continued to talk about innovation as not the same thing as continuous improvement. Innovation is all about creating unique benefits, differentiation from competition, being valued by the customer, creating economic value = key to innovation. Of course I had to translate those to nonprofit terms like mission impact, serving the constituent and such, but you get the drift.

Nonprofits have a responsibility to their donors and supporters to be responsible with the organizations funds. Too many nonprofits see a need & act on it or come up with an idea (innovation), without first understanding the sustainability, which can waste resources. Every organization should have a conversation about sustainability to gain understanding about where you are having impact balanced against the cost. Not to say efforts which cost a lot need to be cut, the trick is to have a balance of efforts and cost for sustainability.

You should know exactly where your organization's contribution to intended impact & excellence in execution = assessing mission impact. If your org is doing something with low impact & you aren't the leader, maybe look at off-loading that to a partner. (Thanks to Steve Strang, MPA from Spectrum Nonprofit Services for the sustainability thoughts in the training)

In the end innovation is a big key to sustainability. Innovation is just an idea until it is defined, actionable & has measurable outcomes (and oh yeah, sustainable).

(The thoughts in this post are based on presentations from Thomas Kuczmarski and Steve Strang. Big thanks to your thoughts and inspiration, it will have an impact on org and me.)