3 Traps That Stall Innovation (and How You Can Avoid Them) #IMMOOC

“Change isn’t something that comes with a checklist.” – Dave Burgess, in the publisher’s foreword to The Innovator’s Mindset

I’d really like it if innovation were a cleaner process. One with less uncertainty. One will less failure. One with a clearer roadmap.

But that’s not what we sign up for when we set out to innovate.

Innovation is most certainly an adventure without a checklist. But even when you set out on an adventure that could go a thousand different ways, there are always a few pitfalls that you know you’ll want to avoid.

If you want to lead innovative change in your sphere of influence, then you have to avoid the pitfalls that sideline many attempts to create something new and different in education.

There are certainly others that could be included, but after thinking through three attempts to innovate over the past few years, I know that these three pitfalls can bring innovation to a halt in a hurry.

Trap #1: Innovation Replication
Innovation is tricky to replicate. A successful innovation provides a new and better solution to an existing problem. Certainly we can benefit from considering the solutions that others have identified, but just because we could implement their solution doesn’t mean we have to or need to. If we don’t have the same question they do, we don’t need try to implement the answer they’ve discovered.

What we can really benefit from is looking at the questions that others asked as they began to innovate. What drove the initial process and got their conversations off the ground? What rules did they choose to ignore? What constraints did they have to overcome?

A careful look at the path others traveled en route to innovation is more likely to benefit us than simply adopting their practice.

But we like continue to prefer solutions because we fear the unknown…

Trap #2: Fear of the Unknown
When we’re trying something new, it’s not uncommon to find ourselves in a bit of uncharted (or at least less charted) territory. While I would never advocate haphazardly jumping into the change process without a plan, I will say that most innovative change that I’ve experienced needs a different sort of planning norm. If you are making a new path, you will not walk on a nicely paved road. You will not be able to anticipate everything. You don’t even know all the obstacles in your path yet. Finding a balance between a comprehensive plan and one that you can actually bring working on is key.

While outcomes can be unpredictable, designing the process can allow you the freedom to focus on the real problem you are tackling. On the outset, identify the problem you are wanting to improve upon and honestly assess where you are at in your current reality. Then set a big goal for where you’d like to be and begin to backwards plan until you get to the actions you’d like to tackle this week. Set checkpoints for yourself, and find someone to help you out with the plan.

But don’t allow yourself to stay in planning mode forever. There’s some comfort in the planning process that you’ll need to step away from or you’ll never get started…

Trap #3: Not getting started
The problem—that area you know needs a touch of innovation—is not going to sort itself out. Your inertia will literally keep you where you are at forever unless an outside force disrupts the status quo (seriously… it’s a basic rule scientific rule). The problem you’ve identified needs an outside force to send it off its current trajectory and in a new direction. You can be that force, but you will be most effective if you don’t go it alone. After you’ve looked at the questions that inspired others to innovate and designed a process to enact a particular change, GET AFTER IT (but not on your own).

You Have a Choice to Make
Each of these traps can be avoided.

Instead of replicating answers, learn from their driving questions.

Instead of fearing the unknown journey ahead, set a goal and backwards plan toward it.

Instead of letting inertia maintain the status quo, draft a plan that you will actually start.

Looking at someone else’s innovation can sometimes leave you feeling like others have the magic touch. They don’t. They just get started on the work.

I love this reminder from J.K. Rowling: “We do not need magic to change the world. We carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: We have the power to imagine better.”

You have a choice to make: Innovate and improve the school experience for your students or let the status quo keep its hold.

Make the right choice.


If you like what you’re reading here, you should check out my book, Shattering the Perfect Teacher Myth. The book highlights six truths that will help you THRIVE as an educator, including one–Imagine it Better–that will challenge you to imagine better than the status quo for your students. Find the book on Amazon or read more about the book here.

6 thoughts on “3 Traps That Stall Innovation (and How You Can Avoid Them) #IMMOOC

  1. Brian Behrman Reply

    These are such great reminders! I think I’m in the not getting started trap right now. I’ve got an idea I love based on someone else’s success. I understand the path they took to get there, now I just need to dive in and get started! Your reminder of these traps helps me to see what’s holding me back. I’m ready to dive in now!

    • Aaron Hogan Post authorReply

      Awesome, Brian! As you put your plan together, keep asking, “How?” until you get a plan drawn all the way back to something to do in the next 48 hours. Then hit the ground running, and get some change created!

  2. Peter Crownfield Reply

    Spot on!
    On all 3 major points:
    Forget ‘replication’; it’s the questions that are important. Planning by working back from the big goal. Overcoming inertial. (for those who don’t teach physics, this is Newton’s first law of motion: ‘An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force’ [which, in this case, has to come from whoever is trying to create change].

    ‘A good question is never answered. It is not a bolt to be tightened into place, but a seed to be planted and to bear more seed toward the hope of greening the landscape of idea.’
    —poet John Ciardi

  3. Abbi Reply

    All of these are so true. Trap #2 is my biggest. As a Kindergarten teacher I have to step back sometimes and see when I am facilitating, teaching, or micromanaging. For so long we hovered over everything, I am trying to break out of my ‘box’ and let go. Even the little people can do so much more when WE allow them to fail and try again. I can’t think of every scenario before it happens.

  4. Peter Crownfield Reply

    Abbi — You nailed 2 problems in your final comments: ‘Even the little people can do so much more when WE allow them to fail and try again. I can’t think of every scenario before it happens.’

    This is true not only in Kindergarten, but in older grades—and in school administration, as well as in business & government. We have too little trust in people’s ability to solve problems and learn in the process. And most organizations place too much trust in plans, ‘programs’, administrators, and experts. while they make invaluable contributions to the process, they need to recognize the need for continuing learning & improvement—and the wisdom and expertise of the people doing the work.

  5. April Riley Reply

    Such words of wisdom, Aaron! I needed these a couple of years ago, but so glad to have read it today.
    And I love that quote from JK Rowling too! We do have the power within ourselves!

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