Work isn’t set up to create innovation, no

You’d probably assume that innovation, as a concept, needs a few steps before it actually happens — and one of those steps is probably “creative thinking.” (Or, at the very least, some kind of thinking.) How do you achieve the idea of “creative thinking” that leads to “innovation?” For a lot of people, it occurs in super-random places (i.e. the shower as a pre-eminent example).

This article from Fast Company runs down some of the research on fostering creative thinking and innovation, and broadly groups “the steps” to create creative thinking into five categories:

  • Let It Go (think about something else)
  • Move Your Body (self-explanatory)
  • Change It Up (adjust your routine)
  • Block It Out (schedule some time to stop and think about it by yourself)
  • Sleep On It

Look at the above list and think about your existence at work.

Chances are, most of the things listed there — definitely let it go, move your body, and block it out — are pretty hard to achieve in a standard office, which is traditionally all about meetings, e-mails, and everyone telling you how busy they are.

There’s been countless studies in the last few years that “sitting is the new smoking,” and most office employees tend to sit for a good deal of time. That kind of kills “Move Your Body,” although there does seem to be some kind of tiny revolution around “Steps” nowadays because most phones/devices can track that.

“Let It Go” sometimes happens naturally at work simply because we’re often forced to switch horses mid-stream, but I wouldn’t say it happens in a way that’s effective or conducive to “Hey, think for a second about this concept…” It moreso happens around “Hey, now you’re gonna go chase this deliverable…”

“Block It Out” is nearly impossible in most offices, because, as noted above, the culture tends to be all about meetings, e-mails, etc. Broadly speaking, we have a “knowledge economy,” but we still design it around “industrial” type practices. We haven’t caught up.

Now, all this said, innovation happens every day in almost every organization somewhere; it could be on a very small scale, and it could (less so) be on a very large one. It does happen. It’s just that when it happens, it’s almost in spite of the context surrounding the work, not actually because of it. (And also, it can come from anywhere. Please remember that.)

Ted Bauer