How do innovators learn to innovate?

Above: Kyle speaks at the 2015 Starfish Canada Top 25 Environmentalists Under 25 celebration. Photo by RADIUS Fellow Ash Tanasiychuk.
RADIUS Fellow Kyle Empringham is a Public Engagement Specialist at the David Suzuki Foundation and the Co-Founder of The Starfish Canada. Follow him at @kbempringham.  Here he explores the need for personal and professional development for social innovators. 
Innovation requires thinking outside the box to come up with solutions to some of our society’s most troubling questions and concerns. To think creatively and to dream big, it requires vulnerability and honesty – something that many traditional businesses have suppressed, assuming that hard work in a structured environment where employees are developed professionally, and not personally, will achieve the best results.
I’ve seen that philosophy of hard-fast rule and regulation fail to produce results first-hand. I worked in a place where you were expected to work to a certain rhythm, and adhere to the pre-existing office culture. You were only allowed access to professional development funds if you were first to ask and it was directly within your scope of work.
More importantly, personal development and mentorship was non-existent – there were no options for you to learn and grow where you worked collaboratively with someone to achieve your highest potential. For me, it was a downward spiral. I didn’t have the tools to succeed.
Personal and professional development practices shouldn’t be siloed. They can’t be. If you expect yourself and the people you work with to form a team that values equity, honesty and transparency, then the approach you take to develop your team should be integrated. You can invest resources into being a great specialist in a certain field, but it’s equally important to feel empowered and supported while applying the practices you’ve learned.
As I reflect on my time in RADIUS’ first Fellowship cohort, I realize how important this integrated development approach is when I’m seeking opportunities to amplify my career. My current role as an engagement specialist requires me to be creative, work collaboratively, and to understand the diversity of resources I could tap into when I hit roadblocks.
I feel myself becoming increasingly effective at my job while feeling more motivated and inspired to work in my field. I credit our organization’s culture of understanding for my successes, which certainly transcend the traditional notion of professional development and focus on how to make people succeed (and feel great while doing so).
Social innovation is social for a reason – it’s about people. It’s about how we can work together to dream big, work together, find solutions, and have a great time doing so. My experience with the RADIUS Fellowship program has been transformative in the way I think about my work and how I can grow to be the best version of myself.