Recently, thanks to the generosity of The Patterson Foundation (TPF), I had the privilege to join a community of online learners and four fantastic TPF colleagues to learn what it takes to be a public innovator during the Harwood Institute’s Public Innovator Lab. As we prepared ourselves to start the lab and shared our aspirations on the online platform, it was noticeable that all participants wanted to be more intentional with their work and deepen their community impact.

In our first official online encounter, I learned that anyone and everyone can be a public innovator. As Rich Harwood stated at the beginning of the lab, “Public innovators hold no specific title. They tap their imagination to see a path for a brighter future.” This definition not only resonated with me but also provided great relief as I thought to myself, “That’s me. I am a Public Innovator!”

Working towards a brighter future constantly pushes us out of our comfort zone. I never really liked using this term, though. Nobody wants to be uncomfortable. Being an artist, I always understood the necessity of taking risks and pushing myself, so a long time ago, I stopped using the term “stepping out of my comfort zone.” I started using “stepping into my growth zone,” which for me always felt more empowering. The Public Innovator Virtual Lab gave me an excellent opportunity to continue stepping into my growth zone and empowered me to elevate my work as an engagement team member of The Patterson Foundation and become more versed in the dimensions of community change, support, and innovation.

I believe being an innovator, as well as being an artist, in the current state of the world requires creativity and the ability to navigate complexities. As an artist, I have learned to hone my listening skills, think visually, observe, see the bigger picture, pay attention to details, recognize the talent of others, and reflect on my work. Developing these skills requires practice, and practice is necessary for improvement and success. Just like an artist, a public innovator needs to be a good listener, must be able to observe and make meaning of the situation at hand, see the bigger picture while noticing details, recognize and cultivate people’s talents and strengths, reflect on the work, and learn from mistakes.

In our last lab session, we discussed what it takes to show up and really do this work. We were introduced to the Three A’s of Public Life – Authority, Authenticity, and Accountability. This session brought everything together for me and made me realize that this work brings me back to the importance of “walking the talk.” To be an agent of change in our community, we have to know the people and their needs. We need to reflect on their realities and make choices based on their best interest.

In his book, We Make the World by Walking (1990), the American educator Myles Horton has given me great inspiration while describing his own experiences in education. He says that a good education is not about methods and techniques, but is about love. When we love people, no matter who they are or where they are from, we want for them what we want for us. This virtual lab renewed my commitment to finding the brighter path through loving the people and walking the talk.

Leave a comment

You are commenting as guest.