”Too-Good to Be True” Innovation Advice

I’ve watched a number of online webinars and conferences here in Sweden over the last year focusing on change and innovation. At a number of them, an academic researcher from one of Sweden’s largest universities has held talks where the main takeaway recommendation to mostly busy, somewhat frustrated public service participants is that while innovation is challenging or even hard, the best way to start innovating is to spend one hour per week focusing on innovation at your workplace.

One hour per week? Think about it: your organization faces major changes and challenges: technology, globalization, changing demographics, climate change, to name a few. Most organizations change very slowly for a lot of different reasons. Shifting the direction of big ships, let alone small ones, is not for the faint hearted. Leaders have to balance the longer-term goals with day-to-day experiences with a lot of ups-and-downs that come with any change process. Imagine if you could do all of that by innovating for only one hour per week! If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Innovation and change take time, discipline, and resilience. It can be tough and messy but also engaging and energizing. In reality, when you’re in the nitty-gritty there are a lot of both technical but mostly human issues you need to work through, with your customers and co-workers. For many, it is the most fun and rewarding work possible.

And based on my long, non-academic experience, it is impossible to do this successfully with any measurable impact or improvement by spending one hour per week doing it. Remember Malcolm Gladwell’s hypothesis that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert? By spending an hour per week on innovation you would become an Gladwellian expert in innovation in about 20–25 years, just in time for retirement.

The one hour per week innovation advice reminds of a ridiculous gym called Slender You that was popular in the U.S. in the 90’s and early 2000s. You didn’t actually exercise; you lay on tables that moved your body. Passive exercise for people who didn’t like to sweat or, you know, exercise. Of course, it didn’t make people healthier or slenderer.

Think about the amount of time one hour per week: you spend more time drinking coffee at work than that. You spend many more times that sitting in meetings of questionable importance. You might spend the same amount of time per week brushing your teeth, which is very, very important and is also something that you have to spend absolutely no mental energy doing.

Imagine I told you that you could get six-pack abs working out only one hour per week. Imagine I told you that you could retire comfortably at 50 by spending one-hour a week planning your financial future. Imagine I told you that you could write a successful novel by only writing one hour per week. If I recommended any of those, I would expect you to laugh loudly in my face.

I doubt that the expert suggesting this spends only an hour per week on things that they think are important, like research, preparing for classes, or writing books and articles. I am sure they spend many times more hours doing these important things.

Innovation and change take discipline, effort, diligence and resilience. If it were really easy, everyone would be doing it all the time, but it’s not and we don’t. And yet, it really is worth the time and energy we put into it: it makes our world better and it makes us better.

2000 years ago, Virgil wrote in the Aeneid “Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes” — Beware of Romans bearing gifts. It was the moral of the Trojan Horse. Today, we should be aware of experts offering innovation miracle cures and short-cuts. They don’t work.

Caveat emptor.

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Rich Nadworny

Rich Nadworny

1.3K Followers

Innovation Lead at Hello Future, focusing on design thinking, innovation and change. Vermonter in exile in Sweden.