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Truth - Cut Innovation Some Slack

Truth - Cut Innovation Some Slack

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Published by Max Mckeown

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Published by: Max Mckeown on Oct 25, 2008
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06/16/2009

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Cut Innovation Some Slack
Without slack built into the organization, efforts to innovate may fail simplybecause there is no spare time for thinking or resources for experimenting.Many of the world’s greatest ideas arrived in spare moments, unplanned, andunscheduled. People use slack to provide the chaos needed for creation.
A large company is large because it successfully innovated at some point in itshistory. It survives past that point for one of two reasons: Either it has not yetused up the resources acquired through innovation. Or they are still using theirslack resources to provide the raw materials for experimentation and innovation.A small company is small because it has not yet found and exploited a mass-market innovation. Its challenge is to use its limited resources to find theinnovation needle in a haystack and stay in business while it looks. The businessmust choose how to use available slack. Should you bet on innovation? Shouldyou use it in operations? Should you return it to shareholders?Google uses slack by dividing every employee’s time into 70% core tasks, 20%related to core pursuits but determined by the individual, and 10% on far-outideas. The San Francisco initiative for city-wide free WIFI came from far-out time,as did Google Talk, a free system for instant and voice messaging, the sponsorshipof the X-Prize for the first private lunar landing, or any number of Google ideas tobe found on their Google labs page.Genentech also provide their people with 20% slack innovation time. Friday nightsare for company beer drinking. People celebrate achievements with parties,commemorative t-shirts, and celebrity bands. It invests half of all revenue backinto research. All of this is slack. Slack provides the raw material for collaborativebreakthroughs. People have time to think. They have time to solve problems withcolleagues. That’s why the company has successfully launched four of theirthirteen drugs in less than three years, and has thirty more in the pipeline thathave all succeeded in their clinical trials. People have space to consideralternatives and do science right.Slack is also about trusting smart people. The world is too complex to control, sothe only result of attempting control is to slow down innovation. You’ll just get in
 
the way of people’s attempts to improve. Providing unscheduled time aroundformal responsibilities is the best way to show you trust people to contribute. It’sa lot more powerful than simply complaining about a lack of initiative.You need to leave space in the product plan and the roadmap for stuff that noone thought of when you wrote them. Over-scheduling squeezes out spontaneity.It stops people reacting creatively to situations, problems, or customers. Whenopportunities or possibilities come along, people are just too busy to investigate.Evidence shows that this kind of breakthrough creativity does not increase whenstarved of time. Moments of reflection help. Yet most people do not have thetime to reflect on what they have done and how they can improve.A software consultant at the CERN institute in Switzerland used slack time andcomputing resources to invent the World Wide Web. An engineer at TexasInstruments used slack time and laboratory space to invent the integrated circuitthat led directly to the computing revolution. An accountant working for the FleerChewing Gum Company in Philadelphia used slack time and raw materials toinvent Bubble Gum. Not one of these inventions came from scheduled time.Just having slack resources is not enough. If people are sitting around bored, theyare less likely to innovate. If slack allows people to avoid tough decisions then itwill only lead to complacency. Slack is not there to provide a barrier between thecompany and reality. It’s there to allow experimentation. To encourage thinkingthat creates new products, solutions, and industries.Google time gives people 14 days a month on core tasks, 4 days on core pursuitswith tasks determined by the individual, and 2 days a month on far-out ideas.How many days a month do you think far-out ideas deserve? How many days amonth could you give your people? How many hours is innovation worth?
 

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