Slow Down to Innovate

Monday, March 24, 2014, Vol. 129, No. 57

Somewhere in the Industrial Revolution a prejudice was created for speed.

Efficiency came to mean effectiveness. From this mindset emerged two paradigmatic biases: more is better (more work, more inventory, more money) and speed wins (time to market, time is money, etc.). This mindset was a boon in its era, but has outlived its usefulness.

As the old wisdom statement contends, progress was great until it went too far. Now, being cunningly smart and effective means outthinking the competition, out-innovating them, not winning a race to flood the market with a glut of products and services that the planet and its people may not need.

As a curative to overpopulation and landfills surfeited with junk from the industrial era and as a curative to our addiction to the poverty consciousness where faster means better and more means prosperity, we see high-growth companies incorporate the latest findings from neurology and innovation methods to change culture, create things people find really valuable, and offering time to immerse and incubate on new concepts and ideas that will radically drive business growth in positive ways.

Fresh thinking usually comes from thinking like an outsider – and a healthy dose of daydreaming. Whether it was a shoeless Steve Jobs dreaming of personal computer use working at Atari, a nap-heavy and non-academic Einstein rethinking our theories of the cosmos as a humble patent clerk, or Anita Roddick speculating of a shop where refillable containers would be good for the earth, it takes someone with an outside perspective to re-envision our concepts of an industry and to give a renewed sense of its relevance.

Smart companies and organizations are building in this outside-in approach to perspective into its innovation and new product development processes and methods.

This process starts with real empathy for the people using a product or service, an immersion. Then, after the problems are reframed and better defined, an incubation period follows an ideation phase. At this stage, a flood of fresh thinking arises. The neurobiology of insight depends on a deep immersion and incubation in the context of the problem.

Thinking like a manager of efficiency (More! And Faster!) leads to a me-too product or a small incremental innovation. If you want to foster truly differentiating, disruptive, and breakthrough innovations, cool the engines as part of the process. Real thinking is a slow, analogue process, aided by technology, but not merely as linear. After all, humans are much more psychological than logical, as we are just beginning to understand. Aesop noted thousands of years ago that the turtle always beats the hare. The archetype of American entrepreneurism, Ben Franklin, noted that “take time for all things; great haste makes great waste.”

Challenge your organization to get off of the treadmill to the landfill, slow down, and create something of lasting value. We are all worth it: you, me, our planet.

Jocelyn Atkinson and Michael Graber run the Southern Growth Studio, a strategic growth firm based in Memphis. Visit www.southerngrowthstudio.com to learn more.