The NASA/JPL-inspired video “Barriers to Innovation and Inclusion” provides an excellent contextual opportunity to discuss big issues which plague many organizations and bureaucracies: Are middle and upper level managers stifling creativity and “shooting the messenger” who seeks to be a catalyst for new ideas and innovative approaches, or do these individuals embrace and support the potential for positive changes? I love the “Law and Order” parody approach of this ten minute video! I also love the way captions are used to highlight issues being raised by the characters’ dialog, which could be missed by viewers if they didn’t have the benefit of these textual suggestions.

A few quotations from the video:

You must work with others on your team so you speak with one coherent voice.

It’s very important that we be seen as internally consistent and having the utmost respect for the chain of command.

Sound like groupthink? Definitely. Unfortunately it’s an ailment all too common in our schools and other organizations.

I have certainly been on the receiving end of leadership teams with this “shoot the messenger” approach to new ideas. My article “Wagging the Dog in Educational Technology: Elevating ‘IT’ Into the Classroom” in the 1998-1999 TechEdge magazine published by the Texas Computer Education Association (TCEA) was a case in point when it came to my own school district at the time. Rather than listen to my ideas (coming from the “trenches” of an elementary classroom) I was brought into the school superintendent’s office with my principal and given a stern lecture. Classroom teachers were not supposed to publish articles which questioned school district policies, and my innovative ideas were NOT welcomed. I was later told the superintendent at the time had told others I would never be considered for advancement in the school district, because I was someone who questioned the “party line” and advocated for change. These important themes are illustrated in this NASA/JPL-inspired video.

Hat tip to Nell Greenfieldboyce’s February 9, 2009, report for NPR, “Astronaut’s Video Satirizes NASA Bureaucracy” which I discovered via the outstanding NPR Technology Podcast.

The issues brought out in this video are unfortunately very common in bureaucracies, but I think a key idea to highlight is that GOOD LEADERSHIP MATTERS. Good leaders don’t reflexively “silence and shoot” messengers who bring forward new and innovative ideas. Good leaders recognize the creativity and imaginations of employees and constituents at all levels can help improve the organization and the way it fulfills its mission in a myriad of different ways. It is encouraging to learn NASA officials have actually watched and reviewed this video. Hopefully they and others will take it as an opportunity to explore and, if necessary, change the ways leaders are encouraged to support innovation and creativity at all levels of their organizations.

Have you received negative feedback from your school or other organizational supervisors in the past, when you’ve questioned policies or suggested that “the way we do things” could be improved if things were changed? If you are a campus principal, school superintendent, board member, or other school official, this video could be shown at your next staff meeting and used to catalyze a conversation about how your local leaders are handling or mis-handling opportunities to support creative ideas in your organization.

Don’t shoot the messenger. If you’re a messenger for innovation have been shot, remember it’s a big world out there. Look for other leaders who support creativity and innovation. Join their team, or form your own with others. Don’t be afraid of push-back and different ideas. These situations can provide excellent opportunities to have dialog about existing practices, assumptions and beliefs. Change takes time, and conversation is the key. :-)

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  • http://hurricanemaine.blogspot.com Louise Maine

    As one who has received negative feedback often (and been passed over in plenty of opportunities), I am hoping to find somewhere else that encourages actual thinking and innovation. Funny how the Classrooms for the Future initiative asks me to be a model teacher more than once, but no accolades from my district.

  • http://www.wesfryer.com Wesley Fryer

    Louise: I’m not sure why but the adage “one is never a prophet in his/her own land” often proves to be true. I’m sorry to hear that your innovative efforts have not been locally recognized, and I certainly wish you luck as you seek greener educational pastures tended by more innovative shepherds.

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  • http://www.edtechleadership.com Joe Bires

    Great video, we all have a tale or two to tell about Barriers to Innovation in education and if we as educators can’t outcome these barriers how will the workers of tomorrow (our current students) ever hope to overcome these barriers?

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