Wednesday, June 14, 2020

Time for Innovation

Haste, pressure, anxiety, tension and overwork are powerful enemies of any type of creativity or innovation. Paradoxically, the more hard-pressed people are, the less able they become to find new and creative ways to solve their problems. Instead, they fall back on old, well-understood ways of coping, even if they know these answers are no longer good enough.

All the hard work and excessive hours in the world won’t produce a single creative idea. For that you need time and leisure to think and play around with part-formed notions. Time to “waste” on approaches that don’t work out, but are later revealed to be essential steps on the way to the right answer. You can crack the whip and drive people to spend more time on the telephone or make more visits to clients and prospects. You can cut the head-count and force those who remain to take on extra responsibilities. But no amount of pressure or threats can force anyone to have a single creative idea. Like people who panic in examinations, minds go blank and nothing appears save the most banal and conventional thoughts.

There’s an optimum level of stimulus for inducing creativity. No pressure at all can leave people lethargic and uninterested. Too much renders them exhausted and unable to think. What’s needed is just the right amount of urgency and interest to stir the creative juices and get brains moving on new paths, but still leave sufficient “slack” time for imagination to flower. Perhaps that’s why so many organizations in the developed world are facing a crisis of falling competitiveness. The flow of creative ideas that made America and European business into world-beating enterprises seems to have shifted elsewhere. Some are even outsourcing their research and development departments to countries that are seen to be more creative as well as cheaper.

Finding the best point of balance between under and over-stimulation needs care and attention to reach and to maintain. It means setting the pace just right to keep people on their toes, without overloading them when they need time to think. But that’s what Slow Leadership is about: setting the right tempo and rejecting today’s thoughtless obsession with going faster and working harder for the sake of tired assumptions about how organizations work.

To spark innovation,slow down, find the point of balance between need for results and space to think, and hold things there long enough to allow minds to work freely. Above all, reduce the pressure and level of distractions. No one can follow a creative idea and deal with constant phone calls, e-mails, demands for information and threats for not “meeting the numbers” at the same time. It’s a plain choice: more innovation or longer hours and greater short-term output. You cannot have both.

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Life Soar said...

Great Information!

10:58 AM  
Jonathan said...

I think you have to be careful with generalisations here. I have worked with people who have a huge tolerance for pressure and indeed seem to become MORE creative when under pressure. I have worked with others who go to pieces just as you indicate.

Surely the point is that if you bring the right people together in the right environment (i.e. right for THEM), creativity and innovation will flow.

Secondly creativity seems to me to be most often a collabaration between an ideas person and an action person capable of making ideas real. Of course there are a few brilliant stars who can do both in the same body. Most of us mere mortals though seem better at one or the other. Each needs an environment that stimulates them to create ideas or make them happen.

Finally, I would argue that the reason that so many companies are facing a crisis in competiveness is not a shortage of ideas but an inability to recognize and execute on the ideas. It's not creativity that's missing it's entrepreneurship!

5:05 AM  
Carmine Coyote said...

Thre is never a single reason for success or failure and I'm sure you are right, Jonathan, in some instances. In a blog posting, it's necessary for clarity's sake to deal with one issue at a time.

If you stand back and take time, you can bring the right people together in the right environment—and give them the time and space they need to make things happen. My point is not that all pressure is destructve of creativity in all circumstances. It's that the most typical situation today over-emphasizes action at the expense of time to think and create. The balance you describe is destroyed by too much pressure on everyone, all of the time.

Individual instances are as misleading as generalizations. I have worked with people who seemed to thrive under pressure, and those who went to pieces. Neither is one is typical of the majority. My chart suggests it's degree of pressure that causes more and more to approach burnout. Too much of a good thing may be wonderful, as Mae West said, but too much of a bad thing tends to be a killer.

6:39 AM  

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