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Do You Have the Capacity to Innovate?

Jeff DeGraff
Jeff DeGraff
Jeff DeGraff

The same thing happens to me once every three months. I’m productive and prolific and then, all of a sudden, I feel overwhelmed. I realize that I’ve taken on too much. When it comes to saying yes to interesting new innovative projects I’m easy. I wear the scarlet I. The truth is this: I want it all even though I know I can’t have it all. When I hit this period of oversaturation, I get my staff together and we push some things off my plate and other things off the table entirely. I call this rebalancing.

Innovation is time and resource intensive. It requires the capacity to tinker and tune and test until the novel solution presents itself. Rebalancing is crucial because you can never get to the new thing you want to do if you can’t let go of the old things. Everything costs something in terms of your valuable time. It’s a simple truth: you just can’t keep adding new things. You’ve got to ask yourself this question: what are you willing to stop doing to free up the time and resources necessary to do what you want to do?

I was on a plane returning home the other day, and the woman sitting next to me told me about an idea she had for a novel. She’s had this idea for 20 years. During those two decades, if she had written half a page a day, she would’ve finished a draft of this novel in less than two years. She told me she couldn’t even write half a page a day because she’s a consultant who travels all the time and goes to the gym every morning. I asked her this: “What three things are you willing to get rid of to make time to write your novel?” And she said, “I can’t get rid of any of them.” I broke the news to her: “Then you’ll never write the novel. You have control over all these constraints, but you’re not willing to let any of them go.”

Everyone you know is busy, stressed, overworked, and overtired. The result of this do-it-all mentality is mediocrity. Spread yourself too thin and everything you do becomes middle-of-the-road. The only way to produce excellence is to give yourself the space to achieve it. This is where rebalancing comes in. Performing a capacity review is easy. Diagnose and make a list of three kinds of activities:

1. Creating capacity (best if done first)

a. the things you need to do less of

b. the things you need to stop doing

2. Maintaining your essentials

a. the things you need to keep doing

3. Pulling yourself forward (best if done last)

a. the things you need to do more of

b. the things you need to start doing

Think of managing your capacity like managing a portfolio of stocks. You can buy, sell or hold them but each represents a conscious decision you make about the allocation of your time and resources.

You can always make room for something that you want. Innovators are people who make time for experimentation and risk-taking in their everyday routines. I’m not asking you to change your schedules or priorities entirely. It’s merely a matter of making minor but game-changing modifications to your daily habits.

I have to be realistic about the challenge of time in my own life. When I’m starting a new book, I have to rebalance my work and personal pressures in order to find the time to do it. It may mean teaching one less class or taking one less client in my consulting practice, but I have to give up some things. If you want to produce quality, you first need to free up the capacity to do it. What are you willing to give up that will create the capacity for you to innovate?