It's hard to be innovative and it's difficult to be productive, but if you can't be productive it's almost impossible to have the time to be innovative. Here are some of how the most innovative people today are able to consistently stay productive:

#1: Invest in Education at the Enterprise Level.

If you're not properly educated, you're simply not going to be able to be that innovative. With that in mind, when Winston Binch joined Deutsch North America as its new Chief Digital Officer, he spearheaded the launch of D-School, an internal digital education program. It consists of a weeklong program with eight modules that every employee is required to take. This allows Binch's team and internal consitutuents the opportunity to brush up on their digital skills, and exposes them to new opportunities that benefit their clientele. The result? A huge productivity boost.

#2: Focus on Outcomes, Not Deliverables.

"We are looking at our value less in what we deliver, but more in the ultimate outcome," says Harry West, CEO of global design and strategy firm Frog. "It's very easy as an innovator to become totally obsessed with the quality of what you're delivering to your client or what you're putting out there, and to begin to lose sight of the outcome that your client can achieve in the market.." Anything that makes Frog's value proposition even stronger is deemed a priority; anything that doesn't is deemed secondary - which is a huge productivity boost for West and his organization.

#3: Only Spend Time on What the Market Cares About.

"The #1 thing the innovator needs to focus on is to make sure the market wants what they are building," says Qasar Younis, Y Combinator's Chief Operating Officer. Great branding is important, Younis says, insofar as the market cares about it. Great technology is crucial, but only insofar as the market cares about it. And so on. It makes little sense to spend time on what doesn't matter much to your customers and prospects.

In a large organization, listening to sales teams becomes hugely important, says Younis, because they're interacting with the market the most often, and people who are actually building the product are need to consult with this invaluable resource. After all, if you can save 30% of your time when you're not "building in the wrong direction," that's a huge boon to your productivity.

#4: Constantly Reevaluate Innovation Priorities.

Heather Brunner, CEO of premium Wordpress solution WP Engine, maintains a "Run the business/change the business mentality. "We try to take a quarterly perspective," says Brunner. "What are the things we need to do to run the business day to day, and what are the things we need to do to build new muscle, new capability, new product, new thinking, to change the business."

The tendency for WP Engine, as well as for most firms, is to put too much on the "change the business" plate. WP Engine solves this by having its executive team set aside time weekly to talk about how they're doing at changing the business. Do things of their "change the business" innovations need to go into "the holding bin," if they're realistically not going to get done anytime soon? WP Engine's whole plan is built around accountability and making sure they're doing the things they say they were going to do. Says Brunner: "We want to have the highest idea to reality ratio of anyone in our competitive set."

#5: Develop a Priority Stack.

It's almost impossible to be innovative if you don't protect your schedule, and for most busy executives, prioritization is a bit part of accomplishing that.

"I'm careful about what meetings I take and maintain a clear priority stack," says Josh Elman of VC powerhouse Greylock Partners. Prioritizing into a few broad categories helps Elman stay focused: first, investments Greylock is pursuing; then, supporting his team, meeting potential new companies, and refreshing his network. Every time something new comes on his radar, he has to filter it through his priority stack. Elman allocates 90% of his time that way, saving the remaining 10% for unexpected serendipitous opportunities that come along.

#6: Maintain a Support Network.

It's hard enough to be productive normally, but try running a business that goes from nothing to $100 million in less than two years. That's bound to cause burnout and stifle innovation, right? Not in Philip Krim's case.

"I'm very lucky that I have great cofounders," says Krim, CEO of sleep innovator Casper. "We're five co-founders, and without that we couldn't move nearly as quickly as we do." When the going gets tough, Krim and his co-founders, who have become good friends, can lean on each other. The ability to unplug and get away for a few hours is something Krim has the luxury of doing, given the great co-founders and team he's built.

Published on: Nov 30, 2016
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