The room was hushed. The presenter had completed a very thorough presentation of using their tool to develop a robust innovation program, with all the fixings: the goals were clearly set out, the right people were involved at every level of the organization (yep, they had not one but two executive sponsors), the plan to… Read More »
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In the same day, I read one article about a company here in Silicon Valley giving their employees a year’s worth of paid vacation, another unlimited PTO, and another article about how companies are issuing wearables to their employees in order to track their every movement. Why is there such a huge disparity in the […]
There is a well know principle in software development known as DRY, or Don’t Repeat Yourself. Here is the Wikipedia definition:
In software engineering, don’t repeat yourself (DRY) is a principle of software development, aimed at reducing repetition of information of all kinds, especially useful in multi-tier architectures.
I love being DRY when I code – unfortunately when I’m really going fast, sometimes I cheat and don’t follow the DRY principle. But it’s a very good principle to follow.
It’s basically a programming version of “don’t reinvent the wheel”. We coders are really good at leveraging: when we build stuff, in a lot of cases it’s really a bunch of stuff others have developed before us, all thrown together in a new way, with a bunch of new code thrown in to fill out the gaps. (Come to think about it, it’s a bit like patent and product development) Some coders out there don’t follow this model, but of the ones I know, myself included, if we find out that there already is some library out there which does what we want, we are overjoyed.
Might just mean that we are lazy, but lazy in a good way. Why rewrite something that works great? If it doesn’t, then likely we will rewrite it anyway, then hand it back to the community. We humans love to help.
For example, let’s say that you have an idea for an app, could be anything. Let’s say it’s a dating app. So if we break down the requirements for a dating app, you will see:
- We need to track users of the app
- We need to track profiles of the users
- We need to match them up in some way
So you need users as the core dataset of the app. How do you create these users? Well, you could create a user database and make people sign up and log in. You’ll need to decide if you want to use a handle or an email address for login, have them confirm their email address in order to stop bots from creating fake users, have a “forgot password” mechanism. It’s a lot of work.
Or you could be DRY and say “Hmm. Where would most of my users already be?” Do most of them already have Twitter or Facebook accounts? Facebook? Perfect. Then be DRY and just leverage Facebook login. Use Facebook to log into your application. Done. They all you have to worry about is the rest of the app, like figuring out how to connect soulmates. Now that’s the tough part.
But the DRY principle can extend beyond software development. Think about where in your life you can leverage something you already have, or a combination of things, in order to create something new? Like applying Agile to all aspects of your life (try, iterate, and try again) how can you take things that you already have, and leverage them in new ways in order to reach your goals:
- Are there people in your network who would benefit being connected to each other?
- Are there things that you have in your possession that you can use to start a business?
- Is there knowledge already in your head that you can use in order to make money?
We all have many things already. How do you take something you already have and create something new? As using DRY is the quickest way to build new software, using DRY in life is the quickest way to reach your goals.
— image Thomas Hawk
The Popsicle was invented by enterprising an 11-year-old called Frank Epperson in 1905, who left a glass of soda on his San Francisco front porch with a stirring stick still it. The next day, after a cold night, the drink had frozen. Frank pulled the stick and, to his surprise, the drink came with it. Nine years later, he patented them as “Popsicles”.
If you haven’t heard the word serendipity, its time to not only put it into your lexicon, but to live it and breathe it. If you want to be innovative, your culture needs to not only support serendipity, but encourage it.
Serendipity: the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way. “a fortunate stroke of serendipity” Sometimes known as a “happy accident”
Where does innovation comes from? Typically, it starts with a problem: someone is having trouble doing something, and there are no solutions, so they put together a solution for that problem, which may or may not be a new, original, innovation.
On the other hand, if you look at a number of truly breakthrough innovations, they didn’t come from someone trying to solve a specific problem. They came out of a mistake, an error, or even more commonly, a juxtaposition of something not commonly juxtaposed. Where things not commonly mixed together are mixed together to come up with something new and different. This is the basis of a lot of innovative new products and services.
How do you foster a culture of innovation via serendipity? Well, first of all you don’t force your employees to come to work, work in the same location, day-in, day-out. You don’t keep their noses to the grindstone at their jobs the entire time they are at work. You don’t have them sit in endless, repeated meetings over and over again.
You encourage them to have a flexible work schedule. You encourage them to have a flexible location. You encourage them to be open to new ideas which can come from any place at any time. You purposely set up an environment and culture where your people can experience new things and new people all the time.
You can’t just sit your people in a room and say “Innovate!” Your people need new experiences, new locations, new connections, in order to truly build an innovative workforce.
If you asked me today “Chris, I need to start a company with innovation at its core. How would you do it?” this is what I’d say:
- Don’t have an office. I often wonder why anyone has an office at all. If you ask me, a no telecommuting policy, forcing people into an office M-F ends up reducing innovation, instead of increasing it
- Don’t encourage work from home, encourage work from everywhere. Let your people, no ENCOURAGE your people to work everywhere but in a home office, a coffee shop, the park, a co-working space. But unlike work or school, move from place to place. Move to new physical locations all the time, even during the day – new places mean new connections and new ideas.
- Have the fewest possible meetings and conference calls – yes you might need a few of these to keep people on track – but after that, leave them alone – are they adults that you can trust, or not?
- Make your whole company agile, not just your programming methodology. go back and read my post on Agile Eating The World
- Use technology to let people know whats going on – Slack etc. Collaboration doesn’t require face-to-face physical connection.
- Set up a safe place for your employees to report innovative ideas from Day One.
Encourage your people to experience new experiences. Pay for them to go to Burning Man, or Electric Daisy, or SXSW or CES. Let them experience new things, then let them generate new connections and new ideas.
Encourage those happy accidents by strategically placing them in the world, and let them roam free. You’d be surprised at what comes back to you.
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