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Let’s Simplify Innovation


  • What’s your biggest challenge?
  • Remember the Rule of 3 to 5
  • Start small

Innovation. Big, complicated subject. Let’s try to make it just a little simpler together, with a few easy steps…

1. Know Your Biggest Innovation Challenge
It’s not some break-the-rules start-up, or a 14 year-old who invented the latest app. Nor is it an established powerhouse, poised to eat your lunch.

Nor is it your teammates’ reluctance to come up with ideas or to think “outside the box.” They’ll blow you away with amazing creativity if they are able to catch their breath long enough to do so!

It’s time and attention. Your people’s.

A snapshot of your employees’ typical day:

  • 80% of their time is spent working collaboratively, often virtually.
  • 3 of their top 5 timewasters relate to that collaboration and communication. (See the problem?!)
  • Each individual loses 2-4 hours per day due to those timewasters. (There goes all the time to innovate!)

If you want to simplify innovation — as well as help everyone work smarter, not harder — don’t focus on innovation! (Initially.)

Instead, focus on two major barriers to innovation — overload and time poverty:

  • Meetings: Your people not only need more help in knowing how to conduct them, but they also a need culture where they feel it’s OK to opt out of them more often.
  • Email: A recent MIT study found that helping just 20 managers get better at deleting emails as well as writing them can save an organization up to 1,500 hours per week! (By all the time they save others downstream from those emails.)

2. The Rule of 3 to 5
No one reads emails anymore. No one. Everybody skims. 3 to 5 seconds. That’s how long most people (including you!) spend on emails before deciding to ignore, delete or respond.

3 to 5 minutes: That’s how long people will pay attention in face-to-face meetings before they start daydreaming, multitasking or searching for funny cat videos.

What that means for communication: We all need to get better at capturing and competing for our people’s attention. Shorter, snapier emails that still deliver high-value content. Less text, more bullets. Understanding that an hour-long meeting is actually twelve 5-minute segments. Training more managers to be clear and get to the point, a lot faster…and more.

What that means for innovation: The great news is that your employees are getting better at creating and collaborating in short bursts! You don’t have to free up days and days to get

their creative juices flowing. If you’ve got skilled facilitators, you can achieve a lot, super fast!

3. Start Small: Create Time, This Week
Three years ago, HBR detailed the crucial dimensions of a collaborative culture which drive innvotion: Shared purpose; a culture that values contribution; a culture that rewards and recognizes creativity and contribution; and putting in place enabling processes and tools.

All crucial. And all those take a while to build and sustain.

Let’s think epic and big, but start a lot smaller. Let’s innovate the structure of just one week.

This week or next: Cancel, condense or combine a couple meetings. Help your teammates do the same. With the newly-available time, get together and ask: What could we create that would make our business better? Our customers happier? Our workflows easier? Something we could start work on within the week?

And watch all that pent-up creativity explode!

Innovation and creativity are already sparking all around you! All they need to catch fire is the oxygen of a cancelled meeting or two, and a moment to dream and play.

Those are the first steps of simplifying innovation.

Sources: Gartner Research (80%), Extreme Individualization. MIT (1500 hrs), Sloan Management Review. All other: Jensen Group’s Search for a Simpler Way ongoing study.

Bill Jensen has been simplifying business’s toughest challenges for three decades. He makes it easier for everyone to do great work.

His latest and seventh book, Disrupt! Think Epic. Be Epic, is all about simpler, faster, easier innovation. Bill is an internationally-known thought leader and speaker on changing the way we work.

There’s more he could list here, including many kudos and credentials about how he’s saving the world one simple day at a time — but that wouldn’t be simple, would it? Check out his site, www.simplerwork.com