July 23, 2010
Give Your Workforce More Time to Innovate!

During the past few years I've noticed a curious paradox heading its ugly rear among business leaders tooting the horn for innovation.

On one hand they want the rank and file to step up to the plate and own the effort to innovate.

On the other hand, they are unwilling to grant the people they are exhorting any more TIME to innovate.

Somehow, magically, they expect aspiring innovators to not only generate game-changing ideas in their spare time, but do all the research, data collection, business case building, piloting, project management, idea development, testing, report generation, and troubleshooting in between their other assignments.

Tooth fairy alert!

This is not the way it happens, folks!

Not only is this approach unreasonable, it's unfair, unbalanced, and unworkable. You cannot shoehorn game-changing innovation projects into the already overcommitted schedules of your overworked workforce.

If you do, it won't be innovation you'll get, only half-finished projects and a whole lot of cranky people complaining to you in between meetings.

Aspiring innovators don't need pep talks. They need TIME. Time to think. And time to dream. Time to collaborate. And time to plan. Time to pilot. And time to test. Time to tinker. And time to tinker again.

(Yes, I know there are always a select few fire-in-the-belly mavericks who will innovate under any circumstance, but I am NOT talking about these people. I'm talking about the other 95% who would greatly benefit from more time to explore, noodle, and immerse.)

That's why Google and 3M give its workforce 20% of their time to work on projects not immediately connected to its core business. That's why W.L. Gore gives its workforce a half day a week to follow their fascinations. That's why Corel instituted it's virtual garage program.

"Dig where the oil is," Edward deBono once said.

Indeed! And where is the oil? Right beneath the feet of each and every employee who is fascinated by the work they do, aligned with their company's mission, and given enough time to make magic happen.

Need proof? 50% of Google's newly launched features were birthed during this so-called "free time" -- midwived by engineers, programmers, and other assorted wizards happily following their muse.

The fear? If you give people "freedom" they'll end up playing video games and taking 3-hour lunches. Alas, when fear takes over, folks, (the same fear Peter Drucker asked us all many years ago to remove from the workplace), vision is supplanted by supervision and all his micromanaging cousins.

Time to innovate is not time wasted. It is time invested. Freedom does not necessarily lead to anarchy. It can lead to breakthrough just as easily.

Remember, organizations do not innovate. People do.

And people need time to innovate. Time = freedom. Freedom to choose. Freedom to explore. Freedom to express. And yes, even freedom to fail.

If you've hired the right people, communicated a compelling vision, and established the kind of culture that brings out the best in a human being, you are 80% there.

Now all you need to do is find a way to give your people the time they need to innovate -- or at least MORE time than they have now.

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Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at July 23, 2010 08:05 PM

Comments

Great post Mitch. I completely agree that innovation needs space, time and also the appropriate cultural supports - i.e. a safe environment for experimentation - not permanent career purgatory for near misses.

I once had the good fortune to work for an organisation that recognised the need for people to have thinking/creating time. We had a library, personal reading and learning budget, allowable thinking time and were encouraged to take daily refreshment breaks with our co-workers (which inevitably led to improved problem solving while we were relaxing and shooting the breeze). We were also encouraged to get out of the office and explore - other companies, other offices, interact with people outside our existing networks for more than just business development. The company benefited from innovation, highly evolved best practices, greater efficiency and ZERO management silos. Believe it or not, this was within a highly conservative, billable hours based business where time is considered money. If it can happen there it truly can happen anywhere.

Posted by: GabyORourke [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 27, 2010 07:56 PM

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