A few weeks back, Dennis wrote about a recent Malcolm Gladwell article in the New Yorker about innovation, but I was just shown another article from the same issue, by Adam Gropnik, which may be even more interesting. Gopnik points to evidence challenging the idea that “necessity is the mother of invention,” by noting that more innovation seems to occur in times of abundance, rather than times of hardship. The idea is that in times of hardship you’re just focused on getting through the day. You don’t have time to experiment and try to improve things — you make do with what you have. It’s in times of plenty that people finally have time to mess around and experiment, invent and then innovate.
It takes free time to be innovative. If one is under a lot of time pressure, one’s focus is not on experimenting with new ways to do things. The focus is on completing the job. There is no time to waste on experimenting or dealing with the many failures that true innovation presents before success.
That is why the most innovative organizations permit a set amount of time to be spent on anything.
When I worked at Immunex, you could devote a set percentage of your time to a project of your own choosing. You did not even have to tell your boss what it was. You only had to justify it when you had spent a reasonable amount of time working on it. This helped foster a sense that you had spare time, even if you did not use it.
Now, often really innovative things come into being when there are constraints. That is, money or resources are limited so a new approach has to be used. But in these cases, time is not the real limiting step.
If you want to have a innovative organization, then there must be time allowed for innovation development, meaning a lot of things will fail. That means the time pressures must be abated somewhat. One way to help is to use online tools to enhance the workflow, permitting time to be rescued from inefficient processes.
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