Innovators or change champions - what’s the difference?

I was recently at a meeting where the topic of innovation and change came up and the discussion highlighted innovation and change champions as being key to this.  However, colleagues were divided as to whether innovators and change champions were the same or different.   Innovators were described as the people with new ideas who do things differently and could perhaps be described as mavericks.  As an aside, I’m not sure when maverick started becoming a negative description with healthcare but it does seem to have these connotations that mavericks are difficult, dangerous and need to be reined in and managed properly.   

By contrast, change champions were seen as those who made the exciting new idea work in practice.  They were the people who worked through the practicalities and bureaucracy to establish the change within structures and processes.    To get a significant change in practice in health and/or social care would require change in practice and guidance. 

These two activities are different and certainly good ideas could not be adopted with support for embedding them in practice.   However, are the people who do these things different?  Can one be both an innovator and change champion?   I have wondered about this and my instant response was to say of course they can because psychologically speaking we are all capable of doing and thinking more than one thing.  As Alice in Wonderland said:  ‘Sometimes I can believe in as many as six impossible things before breakfast’.  However, do the circumstances that we find ourselves in have an impact on how much we lean towards one activity rather than another?

Innovation is creative and creative thinking is influenced by our state of mind.  Studies have shown that tunnel vision constrains creativity and tunnel vision is often associated with perceptions of threat, stress or low mood.  When one is focused on dealing with the day to day and feeling overloaded with demands then it’s hard to think differently.   This is a reality for many of us in our working day but it’s important not to let this stifle us.   There are ways of managing ourselves and supporting each other to be able to help ourselves.  Sometimes, taking a few minutes to focus on something pleasant can give that space.

Is being a change champion any easier then?  My answer would be probably not but in a different way.   Being an advocate of change means being committed and able to work at convincing people that doing things differently will be more useful/effective/better etc in the long run.  This can bring challenges in being able to maintain enthusiasm and commitment and energy to keep working at this.  It also means being able to persuade and motivate others to work with you.  This too can be affected by the day to day demands and finding ways to sustain oneself are equally important.

So what is the difference between an innovator and a change champion?  I think the tasks are different but what’s required is the psychological mindset to be able to engage in thinking differently and both are possible.  One thing we do in our therapy work is to offer that space to our patients/clients/service users and enable them to find their solutions and implement their changes.  It is a skill we work hard at for people and get a great deal of satisfaction from when we see it working for the people we see.   I think the challenge for us is to make that happen for ourselves – individually and collectively as psychological professionals.   Therefore, perhaps our challenge to ourselves is not to think six impossible things before breakfast but perhaps just one and see where it takes us.   

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