Illustration: Oscar Ramos Orozco

What True Love Has To Do With Great Innovation

If there’s one thing we know about great innovations, it’s that they always break from the status quo. The best creative thinking occurs outside of the usual systems at work. The problem is, most of us live and work inside the system.

So you have to purposely jam the controls. Create blips in the patterns. Get out of your comfort zone. Put yourself in harm’s way. Is any of this starting to sound like familiar dating advice?
Well, that’s because everything you need to know about innovation you already learned from your first boyfriend or girlfriend:

1. The best romances are summer romances.

The long days of summer offer two crucial things: time and freedom. Time and freedom happen to be contradictory to profits (at least in the short term), so you have to manufacture them. Taking a cue from 3M’s 15% model, many companies now carve out a certain number of hours or days per month for their employees to follow their intuition and try new things.

2. To go dutch, or not to go dutch? That is the question.

Who’s paying for this date? The easiest way to create an “outside the system” scenario for innovation is to isolate it financially. Create a separate budget that’s not tied to operating costs or department budgets, and a way to access those funds that’s potentially available to anyone with a good idea and a champion or two.You have to purposely jam the controls. Create blips in the patterns. Get out of your comfort zone.

3. Under the boardwalk. Behind the bleachers.

You need to go make out. Get intimate. Which means, get people out of their usual spaces. Similar to isolating a budget for creative pursuits, isolate in other ways. Allow time to work on creative stuff in an alternative space, another building, a dedicated office or even a second desk, away from the usual systems of work. (Space is just one way to do this, by the way. You can also isolate in other ways: change up workgroups, temporarily shift hierarchies, alter reporting structures, etc.)

4. It’s true love.

When it comes down to it, when you’re in love, you feel like the best version of yourself. Your capacity for giving is at its max. You feel limitless. An organization’s job is to do that, to replicate the feeling of possibility and elicit the best in its employees. A scenario that strives to allow each person to contribute great work is the foundation for accessing creativity and ultimately the basis for innovation.
It’s all about putting a stick in the spokes. By being aware of “foolish consistency” as Emerson called it, then finding ways to mix it up, we can meet innovation halfway.

What Do You Think?
How do you carve out time for innnovation?

Scott McDowell takes the risk out of hiring your management team. He’s also a DJ at WFMU. Follow Scott @mcd_owell.

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Scott McDowell

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Scott McDowell is a strategy consultant and a coach to new managers & first-time leaders. He wrote New Manager Handbook to help leaders in transition panic less. He also hosts a radio show called The Long Rally on WFMU.
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