Constraint, when properly harnessed, can be one of the most powerful forces behind ingenuity, and no constraint is more powerful than time.
There are a lot of ways to deploy time successfully. Whether you are deciding to speed up or slow down processes, impose deadlines, or set aside time for reflection, the key is to be conscious of how much time you have and realistic about how you plan to allot that time.
Schonthal, a clinical associate professor of innovation and entrepreneurship at the Kellogg School and a portfolio director at IDEO, offers four key suggestions for how innovators can use time to their advantage.
1 | Change Up Your Brainstorming Sessions
The first step of any creative process, generating ideas, can be the most painful. The best way to kick-start the idea-generation process may be to mix things up. When brainstorming more creative solutions, one approach–backed up by Kellogg research–is to push yourself to brainstorm beyond your normal limits. Once you hit the wall, the thinking goes, you may still have a lot of very good ideas that have not made it out yet.
Schonthal swears by a process that is a bit more counterintuitive: hit it and quit it. Give your team a very short period of time–no more than 10-15 minutes–to get as many ideas as possible related to a specific prompt out on the table. Then work from there.
2 | Launch to Learn
Once your team has identified a concept to pursue, it is tempting to devote a lot of time to refining it before showing it to others. But that may not be the most effective course of action. “Something that’s been developed within a week–why not toss it out into the world and see what happens to it?” he asks. “Take the minimum viable version and get real reactions from real people.” “You can let them know, ‘Look, this is a work in progress. I just want to see your reaction to it,'” Schonthal points out.
“Consumers have become much more comfortable with looking at stuff long before it’s ready. Look at Google. They slap the word ‘beta’ right there on the masthead, so you know that you’re taking a risk in trying something that’s maybe a little bit ahead of its time.”
3| Iterate Often and Quickly
If you are launching in beta, you are accepting the fact that you will need to iterate–prototyping, testing, analyzing, and refining your product. “People often don’t build time in for the iterative process,” he says. “They just assume that things will go well. They look at iteration as a very linear progression: you start at this stage, and you go to this stage. But the reality is, it’s totally messy.” To allow for that messiness, Schonthal advises, factor in time for lots and lots of iteration cycles–but move through those cycles as quickly as possible.
“Innovation is faster today than it’s ever been,” says Schonthal. “What can be accomplished in a unit of time is completely different now than what it was when I started ten years ago. Innovation is going to be faster next year than it is today. It’s probably going to continue to go down, down, down, down.”
4 | Take Time to Reflect
But structuring time for invention does not always mean speeding up processes. One of the most important steps in the design process–synthesis–entails deliberately pausing to reflect on what has been observed. And it is a step that is often overlooked. “I can’t think of very many organizations that create a very clear project objective for reflection,” Schonthal says. “Usually it’s ‘Go, go, go, go, go! What’s the next step? What’s the next step?’ Well, sometimes the best next step is taking a look back at what’s happened already.”
“Trying to rush synthesis is the kiss of death,” he says. “Unexpected insights necessitate reflection. They’re never on the surface. If they’re on the surface, they’re obvious to everybody, and they’re probably not all that innovative.”
Adapted from The 4-Step Guide to Refining Your Innovation Process