States of Change Victoria: Transitions, strategic serendipity and personal innovation

Abby Graham is part of the Latrobe Valley Authority’s (LVA) States of Change team in Victoria. As part of the learning programme, she's working on the Gippsland’s Innovation Generation project - creating and fostering an innovation ecosystem in the Gippsland area.

Abby is Director of Education and Innovation at LVA, which was established by the Victorian Government in November 2016 in response to the closure of Hazelwood power station to support workers, businesses and the community to transition to a sustainable, diversified economy. Here, she reflects on her approach to starting the programme.

It’s a fact of life that things change.

Sometimes we initiate the change and sometimes it is thrust upon us.

I’m reminded of William Bridges’ book Transitions which discusses the human responses to the gap between endings and beginnings. Periods of transition can produce high levels of uncertainty and stress, yet provide incredible opportunity for personal growth. We’ve all been through this in some way or another and to varying degrees.

At the beginning of the year I found myself in the ‘triple helix’ of transitions – my youngest child left home meaning I had more time available but was feeling the lack of presence; I had just started a new job in a completely different sector; and my community was in the midst of significant social and economic change.

Whilst accepting the change to my personal circumstances as natural and just ‘riding the wave’ seemed a good option, it wasn’t really possible for the latter two. The problem was there was no roadmap to understanding the challenges and opportunities the transition created.

My first response was to look for people and organisations who were already doing similar work…. not very original I know, but after all we are a species of hunter gatherers.

Part of my research looked into partnership and collaborative frameworks and how to develop cross sector relationships as a way being able to build our capabilities with this work. This research led me to Nesta’s work on public sector problem solving and experimentation. The innovative and unique nature of this work got my attention - I felt like a miner who had found a golden nugget.

At the same time, parallel research led me to Department of Premier and Cabinet’s Public Sector Innovation branch, who I discovered were by coincidence were about to launch a partnership with Nesta to support innovation in the Victorian public sector. Now, not only had I found the golden nugget but I had found the seam.

This leads me to mention strategic serendipity. Strategic serendipity, introduced to me by a colleague and mentor Jill Flack, is the motivation to look more widely and in unfamiliar and unobvious places that leads to these connections forming. Serendipity is a result of timing factors that are out of your control and being in the right place at the right time. The key to strategic serendipity is you need to be looking.

The result is that we formed a multi-disciplinary team from within the Latrobe Valley Authority to learn about the 'innovation craft', and selected a locally successful industry school partnership program, Broadening Horizons, as our focus project. We have launched into a process that has been as much about sculpting the innovation self as it has been developing innovation culture. That is transition and transformation.