Can You Systematize Innovation?

When it comes to systematizing innovation, I always remember “Try a lot of stuff and keep what works”, a chapter in Jim Collins book Built to Last. It tells about how 3M and the others systemize their process by having a 15% rule. It encourages their employees to use 15% of their time to proactively cultivate and pursue innovative ideas that excite them.

I tried that a couple of times with Hilsoft, but we always fail. We were always bombarded with operational issues, and it is difficult to spare time to execute innovative ideas.

I came across with a podcast of Tim Ferris the other day, and I got a little excited when the guest was Eric Schmidt, the former CEO & chairman of Google.

The first idea I learned was to run your company at a consistent spin rate with the formula:

70% of your efforts in your core product
20% of your efforts in new products
10% of your efforts in new ideas

Unlike the 15% rule where it is employee driven, this is management driven. To simplify the idea, you can depict the formula above as: 70% of your team shall focus on your core products, 20% dedicated team in new products and 10% dedicated team in new ideas. It resolves the issue of cutting the momentum of the core products team as the new products & new ideas are dedicated.

At Hilsoft, in a way, this is unconsciously executed. Majority of our team focuses on our core which is ERP and HR/Payroll. A smaller percentage of our team is dedicated to new products such as Hotel Management, Real-Estate & CRM and a tiny portion on new ideas such as Snap Accounting & Snap Payroll. With this new learning, I am motivated to mindfully steer our team to more or less hit the percentages above. This move should result in more focus, clear direction, and staff satisfaction. We can always shuffle people now and then, to excite them.

The second idea that I learned, that as a leader, you may also want to systematize your meetings. I first discovered this from Jack Dorsey, founder of Twitter where he runs the company in themed days.

“The way I found that works for me is I theme my days. On Monday, at both companies, I focus on management and running the company…Tuesday is focused on product. Wednesday is focused on marketing and communications and growth. Thursday is focused on developers and partnerships. Friday is focused on the company and the culture and recruiting. Saturday I take off, I hike. Sunday is reflection, feedback, strategy, and getting ready for the week.”

Instead of squeezing your time each day in solving issues on all departments, having themed days is focus-driven hence more productive results.

I just recently implemented Mondays in operations, Tuesdays in sales and Fridays in team coaching and culture. The rest would be client meetings as we don’t have the luxury yet of me being full time in the back office. I still need to support our sales and delivery team in the field.

So to answer the question in the title, yes innovation can be systematized. It’s a matter of building & setting the right parameters (time & resource) to keep your clock ticking.

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