Leadership Challenge: Create Collective Genius to Innovate Education

Diverse group of professionals collaborating around a table.

The question is not How do I make innovation happen? but, rather, How do I set the stage for it to happen?

– Linda A. Hill, Greg Brandeau, Emily Truelove, and Kent Lineback


Competitiveness depends in great part on the ability to innovate. The perennial challenge, then, is to build an organization capable of innovating again and again.


So the role of a leader of innovation is not to set a vision and motivate others to follow it. It’s to create a community that is willing and able to innovate.


Fostering willingness means creating communities that have both a sense of purpose and shared values and rules of engagement that are designed to encourage collaboration, discovery-driven learning, and integrative decision-making.

Fostering ability requires developing three organizational capabilities: creative abrasion, creative agility, and creative resolution.


Create a sense of community with shared purpose, shared values, and a clear rules of engagement (how we interact with each other and approach problems and challenges).


Creative Abrasion: Ability to generate ideas through discourse and dialogue.

Creative Agility: Ability to test and and experiment through quick pursuit, reflection, and adjustment

Creative Resolution: Ability to make integrative decisions that combine disparate or even opposing ideas.


  1.     affirming the individual and the group (me/we)
  2.     supporting and confronting (creative friction)
  3.     fostering experimentation and learning and performance (performance frameworks) 
  4.     promoting improvisation and structure (tight/loose)
  5.     showing patience and urgency (go slow to go fast)
  6.     encouraging bottom-up initiative and intervening top-down (tight/loose)

REFLECTION: Are You an Innovation Leader?

Ask yourself these questions about your school/district:

  • Do members of my school/district feel part of a community?
  • Does my school/district have a shared purpose — one that binds us together and compels us all to do the hard work of innovation?
  • Does it live by rules of engagement supportive of a set of core values: bold ambition, responsibility to the community, collaboration, and learning?
  • Do we have the ability to generate ideas through candid discourse and debate?
  • Do we have the ability to test ideas through quick pursuit, reflection, and adaptation?
  • Do we have the ability to make integrative decisions, rather than compromising or letting some groups dominate?

Ask yourself these questions about your own leadership mindset & practices:

  • Do I think my primary job as a leader is to create a context in which my team can innovate?
  • Am I comfortable serving as the “stage setter” as opposed to the visionary leading from the front?
  • Do I have the courage and patience required to amplify differences, even when discussion becomes heated and when ambiguity and complexity loom?

Related Articles

Resources We Love (And Hope You Will Too!)

During our May Counterpart meetings, we asked folks to share what they have been engaging with recently. Below is a list of all the resources shared by our incredible community, offering a taste of the diverse and inspiring content they’re currently exploring. This list has something for everyone: from thought-provoking articles to captivating podcasts to must-watch documentaries. So, take a peek, pick your poison, and get ready to dive into something fantastic!

Case Study: Merced Union High School District

Through its work with Inflexion, MUHSD is seeing strong results in student outcomes and in closing the opportunity gap for underserved students. California School Dashboard data show College/Career Indicator scores for African American, Hispanic, English Learners, students with disabilities, students who are homeless, and students who are socioeconomically disadvantaged are 16 to 29 points higher than the state average.

Passion. Pride. Promise. Two Leaders Help Pave the Way for Their Students & Communities

Tucked away in the hills of rural western Oregon, the Vernonia and Gaston school districts defy many of the stereotypes most of us hold when we think of rural schools. Their communities face both common and unique challenges. Vernonia Elementary Principal, Michelle Eagleson, and Gaston Superintendent, Summer Catino, share how their small schools and communities achieve greatness.