If it feels like you or your organization are always having to add something new to your plate, this is for you. It feels like a default tendency of the world we live in to ask more of ourselves, our teams, and our organizations without providing the time, resources, and energy that are needed for those extras. I find that this is particularly true when the word innovation is invoked. We’re simultaneously asked to innovate but also to maintain all the programs, services, and projects that help keep the status quo afloat. A common question I hear at all levels is, "How do we innovate when we're barely staying on top of our regular work as it is?"
Unfortunately, the solution is an uncomfortable one. We need to start having painful conversations about what we will stop doing so that we can invest our energies into what we want to start doing. When we spend all of our time putting out fires, it can be refreshing and revealing to have a conversation about the goals we are working towards and examining whether the things we spend our time on are taking us there or not. The Start, Stop, Continue framework is an elegant way to guide that type of process. It makes explicit that for every thing we add to our plate, there’s likely something that we’re going to have to take off of it as well.
This challenge also speaks to something interesting about the process of innovation. Many of us, particularly those in front-line roles, are not given the time or space to reflect on what we’re doing, make recommendations, or experiment with change – key ingredients in the process of innovation. When we ask our organizations, teams, and staff to be more innovative are we not only giving them permission to innovate, but also the time and space to? Often, I find, the answer is no. We ask for innovation without explicitly taking responsibilities away, and in so doing we create an environment where innovation becomes tokenistic, rather than a core focus. So, what can we do?
- If you are a funder or a leader and you are asking for innovation, be explicit about how you will provide the time and space for reflection and experimentation. Better still, give examples of what organizations, teams, and people can stop doing so that they can engage in the process of innovation. Not only does this help people prioritize better, modelling this behaviour creates a space where this kind of conversation is acceptable. In my experience, managers and leaders often want to know when their teams are overstretched, but those teams may not have the language or feel permission to have that conversation.
- If you are being asked to innovate, this is a great opportunity to explore why you are being asked to innovate. Starting with goals and aspirations will help you have a much more productive conversation when you introduce the need to reduce your responsibilities in other areas, because each activity can be framed clearly around how well it takes you towards the goal.
- Check out the Start, Stop, Continue tool for a helpful way to facilitate this type of conversation
- If you want to explore how to have a clearer conversation about the why and what of innovation, Innovating with Purpose and What do you mean, Innovation? and the resources within provide a few clear questions that can help guide your conversation.