Nick Johnston17 December 2019

It’s High Time you Focus on Innovation

“How do I find time for innovation in my organisation?”

This question comes up a lot, working at an innovation consultancy like Inventium. And I wish I could give you a definitive answer. The problem is there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

There are only 40 (or a bit less) hours in a working week. You can’t change that. And innovation takes time. You can’t change that either. What you can change is how employees work and what they work on.

If innovation is a priority for your organisation, it’s high time you let employees focus on it. Here are three simple steps to make changes in your organisation to create time for innovation.

Kill projects that are sucking up time

The simplest way to create time to innovate, is to make better use of the time you already have. That starts with getting rid of those projects that resemble the walking dead.

In Harvard Business Review, Scott Anthony describes zombies as projects that fail to fulfil their promise and yet keep shuffling along, sucking up resources without much chance of having a meaningful impact on the company’s strategy or revenue prospects. We have all seen these types of projects.

A great way to find your organisation’s zombies is to put a call out to your employees. Get them to nominate and vote for the biggest zombies in their department. Then get to work killing off those evil zombies and gifting time (and sanity) back to your employees.

But zombie projects aren’t the only thing that steal employees’ valuable focus. The world is full of distractions and you need to arm your employees with tools and techniques to ensure they can focus on getting meaningful work done.

Allow your employees to work on what matters

From the constant stream of emails, to the meetings scattered throughout the day and phone notifications every few minutes, how are we possibly supposed to get any work done?

It has gotten so bad that the average adult can only go six minutes before doing a ‘just check’ of emails. Six minutes!

Your employees need to restructure their workday. They need to re-learn how to focus and avoid distractions. They need to proactively schedule chunks of time to focus on doing what truly matters in their roles.

If this all sounds impossible, it’s not. At Inventium, we have been helping employees reinvent their workday via a six week program. And the results are impressive. Employees are reporting a 22% increase on productivity and a 24% increase in their energy at work. If you want to know more, or are just interested in a strategy or two, ask me how.

With zombie projects dead and buried and employees’ laser-focused, the final step is to bring innovation to the forefront.


Make innovation ‘front of mind’

It sounds simple, but you need to ensure employees know they should be innovating.

There are many popular examples of companies prioritising innovation in different ways. Google’s (now abandoned) 20% time for innovation, Intuit’s Unstructured Time and Halfbrick’s ‘Brick Time’ are all examples of how organisations keep innovation front of mind.

In truth, it doesn’t matter which method you use (or what fancy name you give it). The key is that it creates an expectation that all employees will innovate. It tells employees that innovation is part of their job. This means anyone who has an idea or problem knows they have permission to work on it.

This isn’t a message which can be delegated either. Senior Leaders need to be out there participating in ‘Unstructured Time’ to lead by example.

I’m not promising that any of these steps will be easy. Some days it can be hard enough to find time to grab a coffee, let alone reimagine how to best serve your customers’ needs. But you can’t expect to get high-quality innovation outcomes without employees putting in time.

If your organisation is serious about innovation, it’s high time you give it the focus it needs.

Cheers Nick

Nick is the Head of Growth at Inventium with his focus set on experimenting with our products to super-charge growth. He has a passion for testing new ideas, improving existing ideas and sharing the lessons learned along the way.