Why Is Innovation So Hard?


How many times have you attended a staff meeting with the goal of coming up with new ideas for your park? About 30 minutes into the meeting you start to realize this isn’t going to be as easy as you thought it was. It’s not entirely your fault. Innovative thinking is difficult and not everyone can readily think that way. We seem to be hardwired to play it safe and not think out of the box.

In Why Is Innovation So Hard, Professor Edward D. Hess delves into why being innovative is so difficult. Professor Hess maintains innovation rarely comes from “aha” moments. Hess states innovation tends to come from co-creating with customers or by combining things or ideas in ways they haven’t been before.

We’re starting to see some of that in our National Parks already. Dialogue based interpretive programs and exhibits are starting to catch on. As a result, park visitors are starting to see new or added value to the parks. We need to internalize this on an employee level as well, with more employees being involved in decisions, and the contextual knowledge behind the day to day operations of our parks.

From the Article

“The modern day Caesar is the boss who gives thumbs up or thumbs down on all decisions. Decisions made by politics, persuasion, and PowerPoint. It’s time to bury Caesar.” – Brad Smith, CEO Intuit

Most people have a fear of failure. In order to build an innovative NPS workforce, employees must begin to see failure as a “learning opportunity.” Once this happen, worker will feel free to start thinking out of the box.

This is to say every idea a co-worker come up with will be gold. Innovative collaboration should be based on an “idea meritocracy” where the best evidence-based idea wins.

Creating an innovative workforce will require NPS managers to change their current mode of operation. In order to lead and foster the growth of innovative teams, NPS manager will have to set aside rank hierarchy and embrace the contributions of their team.

Yes, thinking out of the box can be scary and it takes practice. But aren’t our parks worth it?

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  1. I enjoyed reading this article. it was interesting to learn about some of the factors that are possibly inhibiting our ability to embrace change and innovation. Now that some of these roadblocks are identified, it might be easier to overcome them.

    Overall it is a very short article, and doesn’t go into a lot of specifics, but has some good cursory information and theories, especially the concept that “failure” can lead to better empathy- a cornerstone to innovation.


  2. I really liked this article. Particularly “to innovate, you must simultaneously tolerate mistakes and insist on operational excellence” and “characterizing failure as good because it helps people develop the humility that is necessary for empathy—a critical skill in usercentric
    innovation.” I think our organization has a long way to go in creating this type of environment and it will take people in the trenches working to create this shift one work group and one park at t time. I would love to dig deeper into this…


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