Thursday, August 20, 2009

Take The Time to Think

Like any good manager, Bill Gates realizes he doesn’t need to know everything. He has employees that do that for him. He relies on them, as he should. He recognizes how important it is to learn from his employees, take the time to understand what they know. He learns from the ideas his employees have. He takes time to think about and ponder the direction Microsoft should take. A few years ago, the Wall Street Journal published an article, In Secret Hideaway, Bill Gates Ponders Microsoft's Future, in which Robert A. Guth describes one of Mr. Gates’ “Think Weeks”. He takes two one-week retreats from work and family. (The article is only available to subscribers.)

In any case, the idea of
Think Week struck me and got me thinking about innovation and the processes involved. Alone, Mr. Gates reads the manuscripts of Microsoft associates. The topics cover a large spectrum from the future of technology to the speculations of what the next best products might be – new products and revisions of current products. Did you know any employee could submit their ideas to Mr. Gates? He reads as many as 110 of these papers during his Think Week.

Beyond reading, Bill Gates responds to the employee. One of these essays could spawn an email from Mr. Gates to hundreds of Microsoft employees. The employees are anxious to see whether their paper or idea might get the green light from one of the Think Week retreat.

Reading and thinking during time alone offers Bill Gates the opportunity to utilize one of his greatest tools for innovation – his employees.

What this means to the rest of us.

A CEO whose time is worth about $3000 per second takes the time to read and ponder the future of Microsoft (estimates based on increase of Mr. Gates’ wealth from 2007 to 2008, working a 16 hour day). I think it just might be worth my time to read about new ideas, consider my work and life and make some changes. It’s probably true for just about everyone out there. Learning from the more successful people in this world is probably better than trying to emulate your drinking buddies.

Innovation and Creativity from Thinking and Dreaming Excercises
  1. Read with pen and notebook in hand. Take notes. No idea is a bad idea. Write down any idea that comes to mind while you are reading.

  2. Keep a notebook. That period of consciousness when you are thinking about nothing in particular before you fall asleep or while you are driving your car can provide significant insight into what might be going on in your life. Those ideas need to be recorded for future reference. Keep track of these ideas by keeping a notebook in your car and on your nightstand.

  3. Write one idea on a piece of paper. At the top of the paper, write your idea. Brainstorm any thought that comes from that one idea. Record any thoughts on the what, how and where to use the idea. Who can help you implement the idea? Record any other thoughts that enter your mind about this idea.

  4. Read non-fiction. You know, I love to read. I read a lot. Most of what I read is fiction, though. Like candy for the brain, there is not a lot to gain from this reading list. Pick up trade magazines and journals, read online articles. Get into some of the more meaty and brain-nourishing treats. Non-fiction is a good place to get some depth into your thinking.

  5. Keep a folder for reference. Keep articles in a folder of related articles or ideas for future reference. Then, periodically reference the folder. Glance through the folder for insight. You thought it was important enough to keep once. Look at it again.

  6. Utilize technology. Create “idea files” on your computer. Create an Idea or To-do file in your email program. Use this as an easy place to add ideas as they come to you.

  7. Stare out the window. Take the time to do something rote that allows for thoughts to spin uncontrolled through your mind. Play with a desk toy, take a quiet walk.

  8. Encourage staff and coworkers to do these things and share their ideas with each other. Sponsor “think” or brainstorm sessions. Schedule a place and time to plan and generate ideas.

  9. Develop an employee suggestion process. Employees are the ones doing the work. You might find they have some very good ideas for improving the processes they do every day. I tried an idea box once. It didn’t work. The process has to be a little more proactive. Creative ways to get employees involved goes beyond a box you hang on the wall.

  10. Make time. Schedule think weeks, days or hours for yourself or your work group.

Think and learn. Taking the time to think and learn is critical. Creativity and innovation don’t happen in a vacuum. There is truth in the old adage, “stop to smell the roses.” Make the time to plant ideas and harvest innovation. This will fuel progress and success.