Barriers to Innovation

Over the break I read an interesting book about the very different way one company functions.

A Year Without Pants: WordPress.com and the future of work” is the story of the author’s time at Automattic, which runs WordPress.com, and does so with almost all their employees living and working in different parts of the world.

It’s an innovative way to run a business* and this thought about innovation by the author got stuck in my head.

The fundamental mistake companies that talk about innovation make is keeping barriers to entry high. They make it hard to even try out ideas, blind to how much experimentation you need to sort the good ideas from the bad.

We in education also talk a lot about innovation – both students learning to be innovative and teachers using innovative techniques to improve student achievement. We just never seem to get past the talking stage.

As part of the same theme, the author also observes that for this company “the big cultural bet wasn’t on process but on people”.

Educational organizations, like our overly-large school district, make a fundamental mistake in emphasizing the processes (rules and regulations that must be followed) over trusting people, something that discourages the kind of experimentation that leads to innovation.

No great insights. Just a couple of things to think about for the new year.


* The idea of having teams work remotely is one that seems to be spreading, even in many established companies. I’m in the middle of a book on this topic called Remote: Office Not Required, written by the founder of 37 Signals which also has most of it’s employees working from wherever they want.

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