Innovation 101: A personal ROI approach

Whether you’re driven or intimidated by innovation, here’s my approach for learning how to manage your time so you can make room for all those great ideas.

Are you one of those people who dream up a lot of great ideas? If you are, I bet this scenario is familiar: When you present your ideas to your company, you’re asked for write-ups, requirements and business justifications. After you’ve created all that great documentation, you’re told there’s no budget or resources, or that the idea, while good, is just not a priority. All that work has led nowhere. If this happens one too many times, you simply don’t bother again.

You are not alone. I’ve given up, too. And for a creative mind like mine, that’s torture. So, many years ago I started to take a more personal approach to innovation – an approach I can control. (The other good news is that if you’re intimidated by innovation, this approach makes it much more, well, approachable.)

A time-saving exercise?

Let’s take a simple example. My job clearly defines what I have to do, but how I do it is up to me. I’m on a project that requires me to assemble weekly financial data. To do that, I run several reports, enter them in a spreadsheet and summarize them. That takes about 15 minutes. Because I want to reduce that time, I invest two hours (120 minutes) in Google research to learn more about Excel. That gets the weekly time down to five minutes. Is the time I save worth my 120 minutes of research?

Let’s do a little back-of-the-envelope math. Saving 10 minutes a week means it will take 12 weeks to get back my 120 minutes of research. But wait…I’m running five projects in parallel, which means I’m really saving 50 minutes a week, so I retrieve my 120-minute investment in less than three weeks. My personal ROI is roughly two-and-a-half weeks.

Since I work 50 to 60 hours a week, will an improvement of 50 minutes per week make a difference? Honestly, I probably won’t notice a change in my daily life.

Personal approach to innovation

Then again, start extrapolating. Let’s say I come up with a half a dozen incremental improvements. Suddenly, I have a few hours each week to do things I’ve always postponed for lack of time. I can perform some of my work better, and I can actually be proactive – maybe even strategize – instead of constantly putting out fires.

If you give this personal approach to innovation a try, your productivity improvements will be subtle at first. But if you keep investing in small improvements that deliver rapid personal ROI, you’ll quickly notice a marked improvement in efficiency.

You will not be the only beneficiary of this improvement – your colleagues and company will also benefit. First of all, your increased productivity means you have more time to do work the company values – not just mindless, repetitive activities. And here’s the key: If you share your innovation with colleagues and they start using it, you can exponentially multiply the benefits your company accrues.

The bottom line is that innovation does not need to be on a large scale and it can start on a personal level. Ten small innovations can help your organization just as much (and probably more) than one big one. Even if the innovation works only for you, your company benefits. Getting others to improve their productivity is corporate gravy.

Every big idea starts small. Give yours a try.


Thomas’s mission is to help the CA Technologies team of talented project and program managers…

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