Time represents the persistent, substantive constraint to being effective within an organization. Can you have a moment of a sponsor’s time to share the benefits of collaborative innovation? Does the sponsor and challenge team perceive you as respecting their time once you persuade them to pursue the practice with you?

This article speaks to time. What does it mean for someone pursuing the practice of collaborative innovation to be effective in using their and other’s time?

Against the Wind

Bob Seger’s music provides the summer soundtrack in the U.S. My favorite song? “Against the Wind.” It’s a beautifully well-crafted, wistful tune. Seger contrasts burdened adulthood with carefree youth.

My favorite line?

                    Deadlines and commitments. What to leave in, what to leave out.

In a few words Bob frames the hard choices that face adults who aspire to lead productive lives beyond the sylvan ideal of Walden Pond. How do we spend our time wisely?

“Against the Wind” comes to mind as I work with clients on their practice of collaborative innovation. I find that, again and again, practitioners who succeed enjoy an innate sense of time and of timing: what to leave in, what to leave out.

They know when to engage. They know how to be in tune with others. Time spent with them seems in retrospect to have been time well spent.

In this piece I make three observations on time, timelines, and timeliness. How might you, practitioner, perfect your craft by placing time on your side?

A Time and Place for Everything

Organizational life ebbs and flows like the tides. In the fall and early winter firms whose fiscal year follows the calendar year plan for the new year. What shall we do? What goals shall we set?

Late winter and spring is spent implementing these plans. Teams are formed. Careers are made and careers are broken.

Work slows in the summer. Half the staff is at the beach or I the mountains on any given day, as are the suppliers and the clients. Meetings get cancelled.

The pace quickens in the fall. How did we do? What do we do next?

Rinse, repeat, and, after thirty cycles, retire.

The savvy practitioner respects the ebb and flow of organizational life as the fisherman respects the tides that wash their shoreline. They use the cycle to their advantage.

In the fall, they pose a series of critical envisioning questions around strategy. How might we realize our charter in a more compelling, remunerative fashion? How might we move from point A to point B, confident of our success?

In the spring, they disseminate their approach to the project teams chartered with pursuing discrete elements of the approved strategy. Collaborative innovation becomes a means to an end to program management success.

In the summer, they participate in the harvest gained from pursuing the strategy. How might the organization increase the yield of benefits, whether they be economic (e.g., revenue) or qualitative (e.g., client engagement)?

Question: Are you swimming with your organization’s tide or drowning?

Figure : organizations follow long-wave planning cycles—use them to your advantage

click to enlarge

A Minute of Your Time, Please

I smile when I hear someone say, “get to the point, please.” Their message: I trust you. I assume you know how you will proceed. Let us assume the sausage will be made properly. Now, tell me what benefits you anticipate from this investment of time and money. Tell me what you want me to do.

This exchange comes up often when the subject turns to collaborative innovation. Social innovation and the affiliated applications of crowdsourcing remain relatively new forms of the practice in many organizations. Industry analysts assess this space as moving from early adopter to early majority phase: early days.

As a result, the pioneers within their respective organizations often fall into the trap of explaining the mechanics of crowdsourcing, which they must understand, to business sponsors, who do not need to understand the inner workings.

My guidance? Call your shot carefully. At a minimum, the business sponsor and their staff need to consider only two factors in conceiving of their collaborative innovation challenge:

  • At challenge formation: What critical question, were we to pose it to our community, might move the needle for us in terms of opening the door for success?
  • At challenge resolution: Which ideas do we pursue to concept and by what means do we pursue them?

Experienced practitioners know they have a few questions to ask at certain times in order to help the sponsor achieve a positive outcome.

Question: Are you wasting the time of the challenge sponsor by overloading them with details about the practice, as opposed to seeking their insight on the benefits the practice may bring?

Figure : focus on making your interventions compelling and to the point

click to enlarge

Know When to Say No

Success breeds success. As people in your organization see you helping their peers realize their potential for leadership through the practice of collaborative innovation, they will approach you about helping them, too.

Empathetic, your initial response is to make best efforts to help them.

First, though, ask yourself: Are you wasting your time and theirs by pursuing collaborative innovation with them?

Specifically, ask yourself the following:

  • Do they express the courage to pose the critical, go-for-the-jugular to their community? If so, then there is promise. If not, then you may be dealing with someone entertaining an intellectual fascination with the practice.
  • Are they effective? Do they have a track record of getting things done? Do they have the designation of authority to get things done, relative to the critical question they are considering posing to the community? Are they open to committing to the anticipated economic benefits of the practice, above and beyond their baseline financial plan for the year? If so, then there is promise. If not, then limit your time on the enquiry.

The practice of collaborative innovation places a premium on leadership: inclusive, Digital Age leadership. You maximize your efficiency when you decide to spend your time with the leaders in your organization, wherever they reside within the organizational structure.

Question: Have you considered when to say “no”?

Parting Thoughts: Advancing Your Practice

Seger’s “Against the Wind,” wistful, leans to the fatalistic. Later in the song he laments…

                             Well, I’m older now and still running against the wind.

He fails to find an easier, less taxing way forward. Even the most idealistic amongst us can use a break on occasion—some shelter—as time passes.

By contrast, people who dedicate themselves to the practice of collaborative innovation and focus on their timing begin to gain mastery. With mastery comes an effortlessness—a notable economy of motion—without loss of effect.

The people who take the latter path enjoy increasing success as their counterparts on the former path tire, ultimately. Think about the long-wave planning cycle that your organization follows. Think about asking the right question at the right time. Think about when to say, “no.” Run with the wind.

By Doug Collins

About the author

Doug Collins serves as an innovation architect. He helps organizations such as The Estee Lauder Companies, Jarden Corporation, Johnson & Johnson, The Procter & Gamble Company, and Ryder System navigate the fuzzy front end of innovation. Doug develops approaches, creates forums, and structures engagements whereby people can convene to explore the critical questions facing the enterprise. He helps people assign economic value to the ideas and to the collaboration that result. As an author, Doug explores ways in which people can apply the practice of collaborative innovation in his series Innovation Architecture: A New Blueprint for Engaging People through Collaborative Innovation. His bi-weekly column appears in the publication Innovation Management. Doug serves on the board of advisors for Frost & Sullivan’s Global community of Growth, Innovation and Leadership (GIL). Today, Doug works as senior practice leader at social innovation company Mindjet, where he consults with a range of clients. He focuses on helping them realize their potential for leadership by applying the practice of collaborative innovation.

Photo: calmed sea in an empty beach from