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