A key to creating a culture of innovation if to give your employees time or flexibility to pursue creative ideas that are not their core responsibility.

The biggest complaint we hear as we work with organizations aspiring to be more innovative is “not enough time.” We see this as the most difficult challenge for organizations to solve. Things like the much-ballyhooed “15% of time to work on projects of your own choosing” is incredibly difficult to operationalize, even as we’ve described at 3M in other articles in this LinkedIn series for Chief Innovation Officers. But the impulse is correct. So what is one to do when everyone is running at 100%+ and you want people to have time to explore and create informally? It seems obvious that the solutions are going to bucket out into three areas:

  • Find time by working smarter
  • Hire more human resources
  • Get less done by narrowing the focus

Real World Example

A large Media Company in Germany runs a regular innovation camp in which members from different departments come together for ten days to work on strategic challenges of the company. The camp is guided by an experienced innovation coach and facilitator and provides time and structure to engage in a deep exploration of potential avenues. Out of the innovation camp held in March of 2013, four specific concepts for new business have been created of which three have been released for implementation by the board of directors. This is an example of a time-efficient way of creating an environment that fosters collaboration and exploration.

Here are some things that have worked to free up more time. However, they are only useful if you then allow for some personal-choice discretionary-effort exploration:

  • Decrease the inefficiency of meetings: in those requiring creativity, use the Creative Problem Solving process. Consciously separate the time for divergent thinking from the time for convergent thinking. Use trained facilitators that are from outside the realm of those who are accountable for the solutions.
  • Align work with passion.
  • Streamline as much of the time wasting day-to-day minutia of work as possible.
  • Question strategies regularly. Ask the following: What should we stop doing, keep doing, and start doing?
  • Bit the bullet and hire more people while at the same time creating policies that support exploration.
  • Mix people up more, have more poster sessions, send people outside for training and make sure the training and development budget gets spent in varied way. Ensure that every manager is hitting a good metric with respect to hours spent in training per employee.
  • Decide that you are going to create a learning organization and put performance accountabilities in place to make it so.
  • Make sure HR is not devolved solely into litigation-prevention organization and hold them accountable to find ways for the human resource to learn, explore, collaborate and invent. Expect them to decrease time wasted due to unproductive conflict by increasing emotional intelligence and productive debate.

Bottom Line: All innovation has its origin in creative thinking. Creative thinking is the connection of previously unconnected thoughts. Limit the time to learn and explore, and you’ll seriously impede innovation. Potentiate exploration and the DNA-driven desire to create new value will thrive. It is a human need. Unleash it.

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