What is the genotype of an innovative school's "cultural DNA"?


Two days ago the Harvard Business Review published a study titled "Data From 3.5 Million Employees Shows How Innovation Really Works."

There's a bit of a head fake in the core discovery:

"The key variable that we identified across all the companies in our analysis is the ideation rate, which we define as the number of ideas approved by management divided by the total number of active users in the system."

The authors are drawing our attention to behaviors, which are helpful if we're looking for outward signs of success. But it doesn't tell us the underlying factors.

Genetics offers a useful metaphor: ideation rate is like a phenotype, which refers to an organism's visible characteristics.

But what causes those characteristics to rise to the surface? Those underlying factors would be elements of genotype, which refers to the genetic makeup of the organism.

It's a head fake to point to the number of ideas approved by management, because those ideas came from somewhere. And in fact as the article goes on to reveal, they come from:

  • a diverse community
  • an inclusive community (i.e., those diverse members are "engaged," so that they feel comfortable sharing their innovative thinking)

The Basecamp team believes that diversity and inclusion--which we prefer to call pluralism--involve morals and ethics. We view pluralism as a moral good, and we view the act of designing for pluralism as an ethical good.

Even if you don't agree with those two principles, study after study has shown that truly diverse and inclusive communities are more effective, productive, and ultimately innovative.

So it should come as no surprise that schools with cultures of innovation have genotypes that are high in pluralism--i.e., they have diverse members who are all harmonized through a shared Mission, Vision, and set of values.

And it should also come as no surprise that these same schools constantly seek out new ideas from the outside world. Their "gene pool" is regularly being refreshed.

How pluralistic is your school's cultural DNA?