Innovation and Institutions – startups can learn a lot

As we look forward to the season premiere of “Game of Thrones” (since I’m a Geek, I of course have tickets to a premiere party next week to get a sneak peek at the first episode!), this blog post from John Bracken about a South by Southwest panel he was in struck me as apropos. Included on the panel was Brian Bannon, the Commissioner of the Chicago Public Library, and creator of the Geeks in Residence program. The blog post and the panel, both entitled “Don’t Be Ned Stark,” discuss creating innovation within larger institutions, and doing it successfully. Although discussing larger institutions, which can have more trouble than startups in risk-taking and innovation, the points made are useful for anyone creating or innovating. Just as institutions have to prove program benefits to boards and entrenched staff, startups have to prove the worth of their ideas to funders, users and the general public.

As the blog post recounts, the members of the panel each brought unique experiences and insights to the discussion. Harper Reed, founding CEO of Modest, Inc and former CTO of Obama for American in 2012, points out that you have to do the small things well, so that an institution worried about risk, reward and resources will be more willing to move ahead on larger ideas. One point I found especially insightful was “Innovate at the edge; bridge to the core” from Laura Ramos, VP for Innovation and Design at Gannett. What it means is that the core of the institution must remain stable, but you can do the disruptive stuff around the edges, as long as you make sure to bridge back to that core. The Chicago Public Library has done this well with its new initiatives, proving point number 10 in the blog post, “Civic institutions matter.” Bracken cites CPL’s ability to focus on learning and innovation, and how that has led to the creation of several successful programs such as the Geeks in Residence (and we’re very happy that it has!). We’re excited to be a part of something that combines an institution of such stature and history as the Chicago Public Library with innovative new ideas.


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