Imagine working in place where you have as much time as you like to do, or think, whatever you like. Imagine a place where targets don’t exist; no annual appraisal, no battles for budgets or bonuses. Imagine your boss saying “there’s no hurry, relax. I will see it when you’re ready.” You might think this impossible but I assure you, there are such places. And they work. In fact they have worked for thousands of years or more and have produced some of the most significant advances our world has seen.

In some religions they are called monasteries but almost every religion and social group has formed similar constructions. Alongside them of course, and much later, came universities to rival their intellectual output. Today, we even have a few ‘think tank’ based charitable foundations that have a similar purpose. Of course not everyone in these institutions can spend their whole day thinking or researching on whatever topic they like, these positions are reserved for a privileged few; the clever and the super clever.

In our commercial world, if we are serious about making significant improvements, the one thing we need to give our creative people is time. I remember one of my clients empowering a super intelligent employee with the task of simplifying their reporting structure. Among the few thousand people they employed, more than three hundred of them worked more or less full time in making reports of one kind or another. And while many worked in accounting and controlling, others were employed in a department called ‘Business Intelligence’. But when he looked at what they actually produced, he found very little intelligence and not much real benefit to the business either. So he set about completely rethinking the situation, starting with ‘Why’? ‘What’s the point of all these peoples effort? What benefit does it bring the company and its leaders? How does it make it better?’

After more than a year of study and reflection he came up with a single piece of paper rolled up like an ancient scroll and when he unrolled it across several desks, it revealed a mass of lines and complex interconnects. And standing out, clear to see, were twelve circles marked in red ink that revealed the touch points where data had a beneficial or negative impact on the daily business. These were the points of data that the business leaders actually needed and, according to him, all the rest could either be eliminated or automated.

A project team was set up. Hundreds of people’s jobs would no longer be required and the business leaders would at long last have a fully automated cockpit of useful and intelligent information. This breakthrough would not only save them a great deal of time and money but also allow them to make faster decisions and run their business better than any of their competitors.

Sadly, in my experience, the one thing that most businesses do not give their people is time. In the world of pure research, time is the essence of great design. And although you can argue that putting people under pressure creates a dynamic from where creativity can flourish, in reality it only allows us to adjust or improve something that is already there, not to fundamentally re-think why it is there at all.

Original thought takes time, often years to form but when it does it can leapfrog us forward in a way no other kind of development can.

Have a good week,