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Too busy to innovate?

Our CEO shares his tactics on making time to innovate

As CEO ofphil a small start-up, our game is all about innovation and effectively bringing that innovation to market. We need to be differentiated and better in order to forge our niche in the commercial arena. No news there.

Looking at my desk right now, I have a scattering of vivid green post-it notes that list my immediate Things-to-Do: Board Reports, tax returns, auto-enrolment pension scheme, patent considerations, online company profiles, expenditure authorisations, Chemistry in Composites report, write this blog………all have imminent deadlines and none are concerned with mapping a path for the future, thinking about new directions or even how to develop my team. Vital, but they don’t contribute to the forward progression of the company – the main reason why I’m here. Head space to think about innovation is crowded out by general busyness.

I think that finding truly innovative ideas is a bit like looking at a 3D Magic Eye picture (if you’re old enough to remember those!); you have to defocus and not look directly for the image before something suddenly snaps into clear vision. You have to make space for the ideas, the connections and the lateral leaps; it’s difficult and of course it doesn’t always work. So how do you create the same space for your innovation landscape? Here are my top tips for staying open to innovation:

• Be wary of busyness. Execution is usually far easier than creative thinking and we all love to cross things off that To Do List. Get trusted support to remove some of this distraction – it will pay in the long term.

• Step back periodically from active involvement in team meetings so you can think about opportunities for the future rather than get embroiled in the necessities of now. Just listen.

• Be open to the ideas of the whole team; in fact positively encourage them. You don’t have to be the only innovation-generator; those different points of view are what will keep you competitive and ahead of the game.

• Beware of inertia – just because that’s how you’ve always done it, be open to something new and outside your comfort zone.This brings risks but also rewards and an opportunity to be a step ahead of the competition.

• Keep absorbing new information by reading articles, talking to a variety of people, attending events – network. Finding connections with new information, new thinking, new products and opinions; this is the fuel that drives innovation.

• Don’t reinvent the wheel; someone somewhere has done this all before. Network and find colleagues and mentors who can short-circuit a whole load of time and energy or simply provide you with the confidence you need to push ahead with that vision.

• Find your personal innovation space and use it. We all have times where we have our best ideas or suddenly find clarification in something that previously seemed insurmountable. Mine is my morning shower – when’s yours?

• Use your vacations wisely and ensure that you get a break to recharge and straighten your head. Issues you struggled with before will often seem far simpler with a fresh mind.