School leaders face many challenges, of course, and responding to them with innovative solutions is essential to keeping our schools moving forward. But what if most conventional ideas about innovation are misguided or simply don’t work? That is the contention of Stephen Shapiro, author of the provocative book, Best Practices Are Stupid, and one of America’s foremost authorities on innovation, creativity and collaboration. Shapiro joins us this month to discuss his counterintuitive yet proven strategies and tactics for boosting innovation and making it part of the everyday culture of organizations. His methods have helped numerous organizations including Staples, GE, NASA, and the U.S. Air Force. Most ideas about innovation are neither innovative nor effective but, as many companies can attest, Steve Shapiro’s concepts really are different and they work!
Q: Thanks for taking time to speak with us today, Steve. Let’s start off by talking about the title of your book. Why are best practices stupid, anyway?
Stephen Shapiro: Well, there are two reasons why best practices are stupid. One is just purely from a competitive perspective, which is if you’re replicating what other people are doing, you will never be able to catch up to them. Therefore, they’ll always stay ahead of you. But I think the more important thing, certainly as it relates to schools and school administrators is the fact that what works for one organization, even in your same industry, may not work for you, because over time, organizations, schools, school systems create cultures. And you need to understand that what works for one culture doesn’t necessarily work for another culture. So just replicating what somebody else does may actually have disastrous effects inside your organization.
Q: You believe that the traditional models of innovation are broken, inefficient, and don’t produce results. What’s wrong with the conventional approaches to innovation?
Stephen Shapiro: Well, there are some of them that are correct. And then there’s a lot of them, though, that, again, only apply to certain types of organizations. And some of them have become these great, fun, trite expressions that people don’t even know what they’re really saying. So for example, and we’ll probably talk about this at some point, thinking outside the box. Everyone talks about thinking outside the box, but they don’t really know what they’re saying, why they’re saying it, what they want to achieve. And so what ends up happening is we perpetuate a lot of misconceptions and a lot of bad ideas in the name of innovation, which are, in fact, killing innovation.