This article is the first of a 3-part series where I will look at scale, transparency and uncertainty. These are 3 key determinants necessary to achieve a mindset that allows for more innovative flow in our work environments.
Ignite Philly is a festival of ideas (the first Ignite started in Seattle, Washington). The clincher is that speakers get only 5 minutes, in pecha-kucha style, to tell the audience a compelling story about... anything! The subject must of course be meaningful to them, and topics have ranged from civic engagement to human anatomy. In Philly, they've been held in the Johnny Brenda's bar, and most recently moved to the FringeArts Building. This past month Oscar Beisert urged people to preserve buildings in their neighborhoods; Rob Blackson demonstrated why we all should be giving to the Symphony for a Broken Orchestra; and Ryan Starr sparked encouragement for us all to stop procrastinating by sharing how he started the High-Res Podcast on design. The environment is super casual and the audience is kind-hearted and receptive. What is most poignant is how deep, introspective and impactful people's messages can be in just a short 5 minutes.
This has gotten me to think about the significance of scale. Many times when we think about scale, we consider mass or expanding the quantity of something: "e.g.. "How can we bring a multiple of 10x the number of products to scale in this new market?" I have been considering scale in terms of time.
Often in my workshops I give a short exercise where I ask people to quietly write a list of all the possible ways they can think to use a paperclip. I give them 90 seconds, and I ask them to stretch and pretend as if they are 7 years old again, to think of at least 20 non-sensical ways one might use paperclips. At the end of the exercise, we often reflect that had I given the group 90 minutes, instead of 90 seconds, they would not have necessarily thought of 60x the amount of ideas. In fact most of us start to hit our idea peak at about 1 minute into this exercise.
Start experimenting with challenging yourself or your team to produce a high quantity of ideas in a pressure cooker amount of time. Don't let "perfection be the enemy of good". Aim for quantity over quality; you can always go back and refine, adapt, research and build on concepts.
Scaling time works in the other direction as well. What if we lingered more in some area of our work? How often do you wish you had the permission to dwell deeply on a particular topic or aspect of a project, in order to see what new ideas might be revealed? Well, try it. Artists in the studio and scientists in a research lab are well aware of the necessity to linger and delve deeply into a particular area of a project, and Twla Tharp advocates this in her book The Creative Habit. Start granting yourself and your team, permission to dive deeply into a minutiae area for an extended period of time. Start small and perhaps dedicate 1-hour to this type of lingering, once a week.
By using the scaling of time as a tool, you will cultivate a culture of prototyping and experimentation in your work.