Innovation in the workplace has been a hot topic during my entire career. It accelerated when the digital age arrived, but it was present long before that. Some of us are old enough to remember a time when our businesses operated with manual, handwritten spreadsheets, telephones and postal service mail. Facsimile machines arrived and suddenly communication got faster. Computers arrived and with it a piece of software called VisiCalc, the first electronic spreadsheet. That made every act of accounting – including inventory control and payroll – faster!
Technical innovation has built up speed all along the way. Today, it’s coming at such a rate of speed we likely need super-computers to measure it. The resulting avalanche of data has drastically increased the stress in the workplace. Every executive I know complains of being overwhelmed more often than not. Keeping up wasn’t always the biggest concern of leaders, but it is today.
Simultaneously, many leaders complain about a lack of innovation in their workplace. The pace, they claim, prevents it. “We’re moving so fast and furious there’s no time to consider improvement or innovation,” said one executive. “Besides, we’re afraid if we slow down enough to consider there might be a better way that we’ll just fall further behind.”
Not all that long ago I released an episode of my Leaning Toward Wisdom podcast where I talked about the damage of “the hack.” We’re focused on short-cuts and recipes. So much so, that I fear we rob ourselves of giving our work a chance to be great. But great is often the result of taking the time to innovate.
At home many people tell me they’re working hard to figure out a better way.
Doesn’t that seem odd? Busy moms and dads are often driven to figure out some things – to innovate – at home because of the blistering pace. Yet, that same pace at work stymies innovation.
Dig deeper and there may be some obvious reasons. Two of them actually: bosses and results.
At work we’ve got bosses. Even the bosses have bosses. And everything is measured, especially in high performance organizations. Employees, even executives (especially executives), are driven to knock out that to-do-list, produce results, finish projects, start new projects and keep pushing in a “mush-mush” world. No rest for the weary. No time to consider if what we’re doing might be done in a more efficient or improved way. It’s the pressure of the workplace.
The pressures at home are different. It’s less about performance and more about efficiency. Get the shopping done. Pick up the dry cleaning. Clean the house. Wash the clothes. Take the kids to school. Life is a never-ending series of to-do-lists. It’s about accomplishment, not performance. So the innovation is geared mostly toward getting things done faster, or with greater efficiency. “If I swing by the dry cleaners on my way to the pharmacy, I can avoid that road construction on my way back home.” At home innovation often takes the form of mapping out geographical and time navigation!
The paradox is that busyness is driving both behaviors. At work, it’s clogging up the innovation. At home, it’s forcing it to happen.
The result is we’re getting more done. We have to. But are we doing great work? Are we building better businesses? More importantly, are we building better homes (better marriages, better environments for our children to thrive)?
Innovation isn’t about change. It’s about improvement. It’s about taking the time to ask – and answer – the question, “What if —?”
What if we spent more time having meaningful conversations with our spouse?
What if we turned off the TV and all the electronic devices, and asked our spouse what we could do to be a better husband/wife?
What if we established non-negotiable standards in our homes? Those things that matter the most to us!
What if we took the time to consider our short-term future, and actually tried to map out a strategy to get us there? What if we decided to do more than hope our future would be better than our past?
What if we took more time to ask more “What if?” questions, and what if we took the time to come up with good answers to those questions?
At the heart of all innovation is the two word question: What if…?
Innovation is really nothing more than improvement. For all of us – personally – it’s about giving ourselves the very best opportunity to be the people we know we should be. The power to be our best.