How To Find Time to Innovate

Everyone needs slack. No, I’m not talking about the instant messaging service (even though it IS pretty useful).

I’m talking about free time in your workday, something which too few companies provide in these times.

In one of my first horrible jobs in high school, I used to work in a snack bar near the main public square in Toronto. From the morning when we opened up, and I served homeless folks with coffee paid for with wet pennies, nickels, and dimes dredged from the local fountain to the afternoon when I went home after serving a massive onslaught of customers, it was hard work. In the hot summer months, people never seemed to get enough junk food – we sold thousands of hot dogs, bags of potato chips, popcorn, and sodas. The heat and humidity were brutal, and the lines were long. In that job, there was no slack – and I was thankful for that – it made the day go faster. This job didn’t require creativity – it was “churn and burn” – how many people can you possibly serve in one day?

Most jobs are different. They require creativity. If you are always busy all the time like I was when I worked at “The Spot,” then you never have time to think. To come up with creative solutions, which may not only make your job easier but may also drive more profitability and cost savings.

If you don’t have slack while you are working, then you will not have time to improve your work – or your company.

This is why we should all strive not to be entirely busy all the time. Many companies since the recession of 2008 have made it a habit of understaffing, figuring that if they can pile up a ton of work on the employees that they currently have, then they will be able to save costs and get things done more efficiently (Guess they drank the Kool-Aid on the maxim that if you want something done ask a busy person). It does wonders for the bottom line, but it suffocates innovation by eliminating time to innovate.

While this might seem like the right thing to do, it’s counterintuitive. Forcing your people to overwork removes the valuable slack time that they can use to help improve their jobs and your company. While you don’t have to go as far as Google did with their mandated 20% time (which I have since heard is no longer a requirement), giving your employees a good amount of slack time will not only improve morale, it will also give your employees enough time to think about ways in which to do things better.

Everything can always be improved, and if you give your people the slack time to be able to think about how – and the leeway to let them implement those changes – which you should since you have likely hired thinking adults with great brains – then it can only be a win-win. The Church of the Sub-Genius – which feels that slack is what we should all strive for – was right in this case.


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