In my innovation workshops with managers, one challenge that shows up consistently is that of “no time”. Managers genuinely feel that their plate is full and they find it difficult to get time to do additional activities that might enable innovation in their teams. As a response to this situation, I started facilitating a short exercise a few years back which I call “Five minutes innovation manager”. The idea of this exercise is to suggest that you don’t have to dedicate a lot of time for innovation, just five minutes a week is enough. There are always a few participants in each session for whom this is the key takeaway. What can you do in five minutes to enable innovation? Let’s explore in this article.
Here is what I tell the participants: Suppose you have to budget five minutes of your time every week to foster innovation in your team. What would you do? Mention What, When and Where. Their responses can be put into following categories:
1. Publicize a challenge-book: One of the most effective interventions is to identify your team’s topmost challenge and write it in a prominent place – say the whiteboard in your office, the wall in your corridor, or the intranet page of your team. And do nothing else. A challenge which gets due attention has a life of its own. You can also solicit challenges from your team members which you can collate and publicize.
2. Listen to ideas: You can budget five minutes a week to listen to at least one idea / proposal from one of your team members. If nobody comes to you, you can walk around and poke them. Make sure you don’t look at the watch while the team member is talking about her idea. Listening is hard, especially for managers. One response which helps the idea authors is, “Good idea, show me a demo.”
3. Solicit ideas: In your weekly team meeting, you can dedicate five minutes for brainstorming on a specific challenge. You will be surprised how many ideas get generated in five minutes.
4. Appreciate the effort: It doesn’t take much time to mention in the team meeting that you appreciate a prototype built (or demo shown) by one of the team members or a blog or white paper written by someone. It can send a subtle message that these activities are appreciated.
You might think that activities like these done in five minutes may not make much of a difference. But you won’t know this until you try. Once you realize that it is not so difficult and doesn’t eat too much of your bandwidth, you may extend the time.
This method is inspired by a chapter called “Shrink the change” in the book “Switch” by Chip and Dan Heath. The Heath brothers give several examples to illustrate that a five minute regime can go a long way bringing about a change.