Why schools need an innovative strategy

Why schools need an innovative strategy

4 min read

By Stuart Robinson

Innovation strategy refers to an organisation’s plan for developing and implementing new ideas, services, or processes. It is the roadmap for how an organisation will achieve its innovation goals, from generating new ideas to bringing them to market. A well-designed innovation strategy can help a school stay ahead of its competitors, increase profitability, and improve stakeholder satisfaction.

the challenge for educators

Some of the longstanding challenges schools face are fickle consumers (parents and students), rigorous and compounding regulation, teacher shortages, and disruptive technologies. None of these will lessen in the short-to-medium term. In fact, if we’re truly being honest with ourselves, we know that these challenges will continue to increase.

I can almost feel the eyerolls from school leaders at this point. A common criticism of strategy, by educators, is that strategy lives in the for-profit or business domain. Yet, while we like to see other schools achieve and be successful, we never desire that at the peril, or lack of success, of our own. We’ve adopted the mantra that all ships float on rising tides, therefore there is no need to compete.

It’s not until these issues begin to challenge us do we realise that even if we don’t compete against other schools, we certainly need to compete against who we have been to this point. 

There is no doubt schools are being innovative – the issue is that many are not directing these initiatives from a strategic perspective. 

what is an innovative strategy and why does it matter?

Firstly, let’s start with what is strategy.

Michael Porter, a Harvard Business School professor, and world-renowned expert on competitiveness, explains

Competitive strategy is about being different. It means deliberately choosing a different set of activities to deliver a unique mix of value… the essence of strategy is in the activities—choosing to perform activities differently or to perform different activities than rivals.

In essence, strategy defines and sets apart the value your school desires to provide as your competitive advantage.

Taking this a step further, Gary Pisano, a professor at Harvard Business School and an expert in innovation and operations management, further emphasises the importance of innovation strategy. He states

Why is it so hard to build and maintain the capacity to innovate? The reasons go much deeper than the commonly cited cause: a failure to execute. The problem with innovation improvement efforts is rooted in the lack of an innovation strategy.

This means that a school’s innovation efforts must align with its overall goals and objectives, and that innovation should not be treated as a separate, standalone initiative.

how will innovation create value?

As Pisano rightly points out, the question we should be asking when planning our strategy is, “How will innovation create value for potential customers?” Innovation is not just about developing new services, but about creating new sources of value for parents and students, and for the school. In other words, innovation is not just about coming up with a new idea; it’s about finding new and better ways to solve problems and meet stakeholder needs.

In a school setting this may include reviewing the Year 9 program, or the value of full-time co-education, or remote or hybrid learning, or sourcing future high quality teaching staff, or the very topical relationship with ATAR processes. Innovations in any of these areas are bound to provide value to your community if executed well.

how to create your innovation strategy

One key element of a successful innovation strategy is having a clear understanding of the customer. According to Pisano

The process of developing an innovation strategy should start with a clear understanding and articulation of specific objectives related to helping the company achieve a sustainable competitive advantage.

This requires companies to be deeply engaged with their customers and to be constantly listening and learning from them. By doing so, schools can develop new services, or processes that truly meet the needs of their customers.

Another important aspect of innovation strategy is creating a culture of innovation within the organisation. Porter stresses the importance of creating an environment where employees are encouraged to think creatively and to experiment with new ideas. By fostering a culture of innovation, companies can tap into the full potential of their employees and create a pipeline of new ideas.

what is the board's role in innovation?

The Australian Institute of Company Directors, in partnership with the University of Sydney Business School, undertook research into how Boards viewed innovation. They found that most did recognise its importance but struggled to prioritise it. Three years and a pandemic later, Boards have certainly risen to the challenge of focusing on innovation, but this may only be a result of necessity. Time will tell. As the leaders of culture, Boards need to take a greater role in this and elevate its presence in business-as-usual activities resulting from their innovative strategy.

Pisano also highlights the importance of having a clear innovation process in place. Innovation requires a systematic and structured process that helps schools move from idea generation to commercialisation. This process should include stages such as ideation, prototyping, testing, and commercialisation. By having a clear innovation process in place, schools can ensure that their ideas are thoroughly evaluated and that only the best ideas are taken to market.

how does collaboration fit with an innovative strategy?

Another key aspect of a successful innovation strategy is the ability to collaborate and partner with others. Open innovation requires collaboration and the sharing of ideas, knowledge, and resources. This can be done through internal collaboration, such as cross-functional teams, or through external partnerships with suppliers, stakeholders, or even other schools. By working together, schools can leverage the strengths of others and bring new ideas to market more quickly and efficiently.

Finally, it is important to recognize that innovation is a continuous process that requires ongoing effort and investment. This means that schools must be willing to invest in their innovation efforts over the long term, even when there are setbacks or failures along the way.


In conclusion, innovative strategy is an essential aspect of a school’s overall business strategy. By taking a customer-centric approach, and coordinating your innovative research projects to create value, will provide your school with a strengthened competitive advantage.

Stuart Robinson

Stuart Robinson

Stuart Robinson: MBA, 25+ years in school management. Business degree, AICD graduate. Founder and author sharing expertise in educational leadership, strategy, and financial management.

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