Slowing down to innovate

Carman Pirie points to this articulate and thought-provoking ChangeThis Manifesto by Matthew May: Mind of the Innovator: Taming the Traps of Traditional Thinking.

May makes his argument really well with some very practical demonstrations. Some ideas particularly interested me. I enjoyed his experiment where he gave several teams a practical exercise but added a twist. He secretly gave the right answers to the lowest-status person in each group. And not one group ended up with the right answers because people didn’t really listen to the low-status person. I have a feeling a lot of innovation gets missed because someone who already has the answer hasn’t been noticed.

May also suggests that we (in the west at least) are better at some steps of innovation than others: we like designing and executing, but we’re not so good at a first stage (investigation, where we try to make sure we really understand the issue and are asking the right question) and a final stage, a sobre post-mortem (we’d rather just celebrate our success). Related to that, he talks about the wisdom of reflection, not rushing to the answer but allowing time for ideas to emerge. That makes lots of sense to me – I get very anxious in meetings where people kick off by saying its very important to take action.

May also notes Bill Gates’ practice of retreats:

Think Week is the now-legendary solitary sabbatical taken twice yearly by Microsoft founder and chairman Bill Gates. In his tiny lakeside cottage hideaway, he ponders the past, present and future of his company, of technology and of his industry. He takes long walks along the lake shore in contemplation to quiet his mind.

Funnily enough that’s pretty much what I’m doing here in Cable Bay (though I don’t think Bill need worry about any competitive threat from me). What I notice is that for the first few days of relative solitude I’ve feel a bit fidgety but now I feel like I’m thinking more deeply and clearly.

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