Recently, I was teaching a group of nonprofit executives about Almost Impossible Goals and Innovation. One of them said “How am I supposed to get staff to spend time on this when they are already booked 100% on other things they are doing?”
The answer, of course, is that you need to give people time away from their current projects to do this. And it is not a popular answer.
This brings up the whole issue of “slack” – essentially, extra time than what is needed for every person to work 100% of the time on their main job.
One way people think about this is the “permanent slack” in which companies like Google give their employees up to 20% of their time to work on “side projects” which could become their next breakthrough product (read more here).
But you don’t need to go that far – you can introduce “temporary slack” from time to time for special projects. If you want a group to work on a new innovative project that is outside their regular work, then intentionally grant them time to slow down on other projects.
Slack is vital for innovation and progress. Anyone who has gone rock climbing knows that as you want to climb higher you need to ask your partner on the ground who is controlling your safety rope to “give me some slack” (read more here).
You can’t climb mountains without slack and you are less likely to create new innovative ideas without it either.
And by the way, the financial corollary for slack is budgeting R&D funds for running experiments on some of your new innovative ideas (read more here).
Great leadership is often about making wise tradeoffs. Sometimes it may the tradeoff of slowing down current production a bit so you can invent your next great idea that will make even more of a Mission Impact.