No Slack = No Innovation

"To accomplish great things we must dream as well as act." -- Anatole France

Innovation is the way to leap frog and create new ways to do things better, faster, and cheaper.

But it takes slack.

The problem is when you squeeze the goose, to get the golden egg, you lose the slack that creates the eggs in the first place.

In the book The Future of Management, Gary Hamel shares how when there is a lack of slack, there is no innovation.

The Most Important Source of Productivity is Creativity

Creativity unleashes productivity.  And it takes time to unleash creativity.  But the big bold bet is that the time you give to creativity and innovation, pays you back with new opportunities and new ways to do things better, faster, or cheaper.

Via The Future of Management:

“In the pursuit of efficiency, companies have wrung a lot of slack out of their operations.  That's a good thing.  No one can argue with the goal of cutting inventory levels, reducing working capital, and slashing over-head.  The problem, though, is that if you wring all the slack out of a company, you'll wring out all of the innovation as well.  Innovation takes time -- time to dream, time to reflect, time to learn, time to invent, and time to experiment.  And it takes uninterrupted time -- time when you can put your feet up and stare off into space.  As Pekka Himanen put it in his affectionate tribute to hackers, '... the information economy's most important source of productivity is creativity, and it is not possible to create interesting things in a constant hurry or in a regulated way from nine to five.'”

There is No “Thinking Time”

Without think time, creativity lives in a cave.

Via The Future of Management:

“While the folks in R&D and new product development are given time to innovate, most employees don't enjoy this luxury.  Every day brings a barrage of e-mails, voice mails, and back-to-back meetings.  In this world, where the need to be 'responsive' fragments human attention into a thousand tiny shards, there is no 'thinking time.'  And therein lies the problem.  However creative your colleagues may be, if they don't have the right to occasionally abandon their posts and work on something that's not mission critical, most of their creativity will remain dormant.”

Are People Encouraged to Quietly Dream Up the Future?

If you want more innovation, make space for it.

Via The Future of Management:

“OK, you already know that -- but how is that knowledge reflected in your company's management processes?  How hard is it for a frontline employee to get permission to spend 20 percent of her time working on a project that has nothing to do with her day job, nor your company's 'core businesses'?  And how often does this happen?  Does your company track the number of hours employees spend working on ideas that are incidental to their core responsibilities? Is 'slack' institutionalized in the same way that cost efficiency is?  Probably not.  There are plenty of incentives in your company for people to stay busy.  ('Maybe if I look like I'm working flat out, they won't send my job offshore.')  But where are the incentives that encourage people to spend time quietly dreaming up the future?”

Are you slacking your way to a better future?

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Comments (5)
  1. Dragan Radovac says:

    Is innovation, creativity and dreams defined by the scope of your projects??? I remember asking you a question a little while ago regarding experience and your response was epic.

    You explained that experience was invalid because you could have spent the last 20 years doing the same thing over and over again 100 times meaning that you had three months experience (these were not your exact words but you get my drift)

    Is it the same for innovation, creativity and dreams    

  2. J.D. Meier says:

    @ Dragan — Whenever I start a project, I think back to a question one of my early mentors would always ask:

    How will the world be different when you're done?

    It's a simple question, but it's a great way to check up front, whether it's worth it.  Nobody wants to go spend a bunch of time, if the difference will be insignificant.

    It's a simple question that inspires big picture thinking, and a focus on impact (where innovation, creativity, and dreams can flourish.)

    But not everybody asks this question explicitly upfront.

    And it's all too easy to get caught in the trap of the mundane and a focus on just how to get things done.

  3. Dragan Radovac says:

    Conceptually, Philosophically…True !

    But when your working for the dollar how does this jell???  

    This is what i'm trying to bring it back too, innovation, creativity and dreams. We are not all entrepreneurs. We don't have the luxury of asking the question of "How will the world be different when you're done?"

    Is it better then to go and look after sheep???  

  4. J.D. Meier says:

    @ Dragan — You have to own it, scope it, and scale it.

    If you work for the dollar, then you need to change your mental model from the inside out.

    In my worst paying jobs, I focused on growing my capabilities, sharpening my skills, making an impact, living my values, and lifting others up around me.

    In my best paying jobs, I focused on growing my capabilities, sharpening my skills, making an impact, living my values, and lifting others up around me.

    Sometimes my best innovations were how I could do my job better, faster, cheaper.  I always tried to work myself out of a job, which helped me grow faster, and become a systems thinker.

    Sometimes my best innovations were how other people could do their job, better, faster, cheaper.

    You don't need to wait for somebody else to ask you how the world will be different.  Nobody asks me this question anymore.  But I ask myself all the time, and it makes all the difference.

    Also, keep in mind that it's a matter of scale.  In some situations, I'm the sapling, and others I'm the Oak.  When I'm the sapling, I start small, but it trends upward.  Whether you are the Oak or the sapling, it's how you show up in your moments that creates 20 years of experience vs. 20 years of one year of experience.

    Earl Nightingale had a simple way to practice this.  He said wake up an hour earlier and spend that hour dreaming up ideas.  You'll start out slow, but eventually you will build the muscle where your ideas will exponentially take off.

  5. Dragan Radovac says:

    That's a great response. Thanks J.D Meier.

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