A top General Services Administration (GSA) leader said on Wednesday that unlocking successful, continuous innovation in government requires not only collaboration between key players, but also a diverse team.

“When [innovation] succeeds it’s because we are not thinking of a few chosen people in the organization,” said Anil Chaudhry, director of AI Implementations at GSA’s IT Modernization Centers of Excellence, at SAIC’s OutFront event in Arlington, Va., on Jan. 25.

“We’re more egalitarian about where innovation is bubbling from,” he added.

Chaudhry said he works hard to bring a diverse team of innovators to every meeting – from new, inexperienced employees to the most senior leaders – because different and unique ideas are needed to create the next best thing.

“You have to take a moment to stop [and] listen, and that, to me, is really about innovation,” he said.

Chaudhry continued, “How does it impact the way we think about the problem if we look at it from a different perspective, and, as a result, we take a new approach to the problem that we wouldn’t have if everybody in the room thought about it the same way.”

“Innovation at the core is about diversity and collaboration,” he said.

The AI expert also emphasized that leaders need to praise innovators for all advances, big and small, not just for producing the “shiny new toy.”

SAIC’s Innovation Dojo Lead, Tricia Ratliff, echoed Chaudhry’s sentiment and added on to it, saying that organizations must invest long-term in a culture that allows for successful innovation through diversity and collaboration.

“Historically we thought of innovation as an elite group in a lab or a special group, but we want to get away from that,” Ratliff said. “Inviting different perspectives so that we can experiment … requires psychological safety. If we want to create that environment across an entire organization, it’s a long-term investment.”

“It’s an investment in creating a highly productive workforce by creating the right kind of culture,” she said.

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Cate Burgan
Cate Burgan
Cate Burgan is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.