"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.
“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.
“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.
“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?