Browsing through these paragraphs will take you approximately two minutes. If you read them more carefully, four perhaps. Not a lot of time or investment. In this blog Susanna Bill reminds us why time is key for innovation and organizational change.

Innovation efforts take a lot of time until there is evidence of profound change. In 2007 when I was Innovation Manager at Sony Ericsson, I met with my counterpart at Ericsson Magnus Karlsson to discuss and compare notes about what kind of idea systems to chose in order to enable joint efforts. At the time we represented parts of the same industry group: I was mobile phones, he the network, and we liked the idea of collaboration.

We never managed to work it out, but last week I heard Magnus again, giving a talk about the innovation work at Ericsson. Five years of continuously working with and managing the structural and cultural investments of innovation is beginning to show clear signs of change and commitment. Apart from structures and processes, Ericsson offers innovation training to all employees, leadership support and enacting innovation is part of top management communication. I am sure that if I were to ask Bengt Järrehult of SCA personal care, my co-blogger here, he would testify to how perseverance, patience and long term commitment from top management have been of significant importance to SCA, now a very active player in all major fields of innovation. Yet time is such a scarce resource nowadays.

In one of my earlier blogs I discussed the need for time in order to frame a problem to be solved. When talking about creativity and the act of being creative, John Cleese addresses time, not as one but as two of the five most important factors of creativity:

“… you have to create your space for a specific period of time.”

“Giving your mind as long as possible to come up with something original, and learning to tolerate the discomfort of pondering time and indecision.”

…the best ones come when there is a surplus of time.

Another way to put it is that you cannot force solutions – the best ones come when there is a surplus of time. But when everyday work is such that there never is enough time for anything else but barely making it through the everyday tasks, the chance of just once taking the time to framing a problem from another perspective and hence accessing something new is very slim, if it exists at all.

Profound changes hold promises of major innovations. Profound changes do not happen over night. You may perceive them to – we certainly did at Sony Ericsson when iPhone wiped away a large chunk of our market –but anyone who have read Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point knows that there might be a pretty long time until something kicks off. Its just that if you are not prepared to change and initiate the change process after the tipping point you will be hopelessly left behind, working your guts to catch up to competition instead of proactively changing the industry.

I argue that if you do not keep changing you will never access anything but incremental improvements of already existing solutions. We have to keep the ability to change alive and well inside our organizations, so we must practice change ourselves. It took me three months to change how I brush my teeth – a very basic and simple every day act but it has taught me a lot about the challenges of change. Including the importance of time factor. Three months, the entire spring. No wonder it takes time to change a 5000 employee organization.

The usual length of the blogs here is 800-900 words. This one only consists of 644. So use this chunk of spare time to dwell on an everyday problem in another way. Who knows, you may come up with something new!

By Susanna Bill

About the author

Susanna is the former Head of Innovation at Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications. In 2009 she founded Sustenance AB and since then shares her time between advising corporate leaders in how to make innovation happen by strengthening the innovation capabilities of their organizations, and pursuing a PhD at the department of Design Sciences at Lund University, focusing on the social processes that are beneficial for the innovation capabilities of self organizing teams. Susanna is a sought after speaker and panelist and the moderator of Innovation in Mind conference.