Recently, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Todd Isaacs, GDIT’s chief innovation officer. We agreed that while “innovation” is a term that’s sometimes overused, there is value in defining it as an organization and letting that definition consistently shape how you approach everything from team structures to technical stacks, to customer challenges and mission delivery.
Below are some of my favorite insights from our discussion:
Innovation comes in many forms.
Cutting edge technologies and inventions often come to mind when we talk about innovation, but it’s far broader. Whether cultural, strategic, technological or beyond, organizations can strengthen themselves by recognizing different sources and types of ideas, and then shepherding them through the vetting, prioritization and implementation life cycle.
People are the key to generating consistent, meaningful innovation.
Our discussion, not surprisingly, often returned to the idea that properly motivated and engaged people are the key to innovation in any organization. Todd talked about the way that GDIT works with intent to build a culture of innovation, starting from the recruitment process and extending all the way to company leadership. He talked about the value in recruiting people who are passionate about innovation and then creating pathways for them to grow and advance. Similarly, he talked about the onus on leadership to create an environment of trust wherein people with ideas can trust their leaders to be good stewards of their ideas.
Harness the inherently chaotic nature of change to create a self-sustaining culture of innovation.
Todd and his team do a lot of work to establish and implement processes and structures that invite ideas from anywhere and allow those ideas to move through the organization. He pointed to “idea registries” that encourage anyone to innovate and to be supported as they share their ideas. Todd also talked about Shark Tank-style competitions that allow technical and program managers to hear from others about potential innovation opportunities and to have them prioritized based on impact and resources and then put into an innovation funnel – beginning with research and leading to prototypes with transparency throughout.
Identify the potential impact of an innovation and then act quickly to implement it.
Todd also reminded me that innovation can involve taking existing tools and combining them in a new way, rather than developing something from scratch. He pointed to an intern-led project that came out of the Covid-19 pandemic. He recalled how a team of interns combined existing collaboration technologies widely in use at GDIT for well over two years. The team created a tool to condense meetings into a more ingestible format for those unable to attend. The tool creates a PDF of a meeting’s slides, pairs it with a transcript noting who was talking when, captures action items and next steps. It was presented internally and well received by GDIT teams. Again, innovation doesn’t have to mean creating something new. It’s about working with the tools you have to do more than you imagined you could.
I always walk away with new thoughts and questions percolating when I get the chance to speak with Todd. I found our discussion both interesting and inspiring, and I hope you’ll appreciate his thoughts as well. Let us know if you have anything to add to the conversation in the comments!
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