Category: Innovation

Take 10 Challenge: make and keep an appointment with yourself to think

We hear a lot about the need for public servants to innovate and to collaborate. However, how do we find the time to do this? The reality is that without attention, it is very easy for us all to focus our time on just what is in front of us, on the work we are doing right now. This focus can mean that we are not giving enough attention to the bigger picture or connecting with people in our divisions, agencies, across government or in our communities.

So what can we do? Well, to help us all remember to take the time to broaden our focus and look at the bigger picture and connect with other people, I propose we scheduled it. That’s right, make an appointment with yourself, which you must keep, and dedicate that time to really thinking about what you are doing and how it fits into the bigger picture. Now change is hard, so to make it easier, I challenge you to dedicate 10 minutes per week, just 10.


Take 10 minutes each week – Just 10 – and think about your work. Take time to consider how what you are doing fits with the bigger picture, what information you could be sharing, how you can connect with people in your division, agency, across government or in your community, or how you could improve the way you work or the way services are delivered or the way you deliver services.

Make an appointment with yourself for 10 minutes a week, every week and keep that appointment. It just might be the best 10 minutes of your week.

You might find the best time is those 10 minutes before or after lunch or the first 10 minutes of your day. It doesn’t matter when, but find 10 minutes where you don’t feel rushed or you are likely to be interrupted. In fact, find a place where you can spend 10 minutes and not be interrupted. Often the simple act of sitting or standing somewhere different can change your thinking.

You could do your Take 10 session in a group, but I encourage you to spend 10 minutes with your own thoughts before opening up to a group for discussion.

To help you with your Take 10 session, you might like to consider the Take 10 Challenge Questions. Clearly you don’t have to answer them all in a 10 minute session. Read the questions and see what thoughts they might spark.

Imagine the ideas and, in many ways more importantly, the action that might come from 10, 20, 100, 1,000 or even 10,000 public servants spending 10 minutes a week thinking about how their work fits in the bigger picture, how to better align their work, what information should they be sharing or seeking. The table below shows just how powerful just 10 minutes a week can be.

In Just One Week of the Take 10 Challenge

Public servants 10 20 100 1,000 10,000
Total Minutes 100 200 1,000 10,000 100,000
Total Hours 1.7 3.3 17 167 1,667
Total Days 0.2 0.4 2 21 208

[Note for simplicity the above table is based on an 8 hour day and a 46 week working  year]

Looking at the above table, if 10,000 public servants spent 10 minutes per week to just think, this is almost equivalent to one person working every day for a year (based on a 46 week working year), with no distractions or breaks. What’s more, this effort can be achieved every week.  It is hard not to get excited about the possibility of what might happen if a large group of people spend dedicated time to purposefully think about their work and then act on those thoughts.

I am interested in your Take 10 Challenge experiences.  You can email me or post a comment here about your thoughts on the Take 10 Challenge.  I also interested in knowing what questions you ask yourself.

Download: Take 10 Challenge – Template and Questions

What is innovation?

Innovation is a well used term and so often gets confused or associated with the creation of big ideas.  People associate innovation with flashes of inspiration, with developing the light bulb.

To me, simply put, innovation is ideas in action.

It is not just about invention.  It is not always a new product, service or process. Innovation can be as simple as improving an existing process or changing the way we deliver an existing service.  Innovation is not just ideas.  You have to put your ideas into action.  You have to actually make them work for them to be considered innovative.

I believe anyone can innovate. You don’t have to be a so-called creative type of person.  If you have an idea and you put it to work then you are an innovator.

Innovation is not about change for change sake.  The intention is to make a positive change and improve a product, service or process.

Innovation is not about people in a laboratory wearing white coats conducting experiments; it is not about people sitting in a room with funky chairs and garish coloured walls just thinking things up.

Innovation is happening around us all the time.  It is happening in our work places right now. Every time we improve a product, service or process then we are engaging in innovation. Every time we make something faster, simpler, better or improve its quality then we are innovating.  Every time we remove waste from a system then we are innovating.  Every time we move a transaction from requiring physical or over the counter services and move them to an online space then we are innovating.

In a public sector context innovation is about improving service delivery to the community, whether that is through direct services or policy development or our internal administrative process. If we improve any of these areas then we improve our service to the community.


What are the Brown M&Ms for the Public Service?

Dan Heath and Chip Heath have drawn inspiration from some interesting sources in their article “Business advice from Van Halen” published in Fast Company .  The story talks about early warning signs and eventually explains that Val Halen had a no brown M&Ms clause in their contract. In addition to requiring a bowl of M&Ms backstage, the contract contained Article 126 which read:

“There will be no brown M&Ms in the backstage area, upon pain of forfeiture of the show, with full compensation.”

This simple requirement buried deep in the contract, a contract spelling out detailed technical requirements, allowed Van Halen to quickly determine if the production crew had read the contract and whether or not a technical error was likely.

So what are the brown M&Ms for the public service?  Here are some ideas:

  • No thought of the citizen / the public in service delivery, policy development and implementation
  • Little or no focus on the future just dealing with immediate problems
  • Absence of alternative view points being presented in discussions
  • Lack of a bias for action, just lots of planning
  • No mistakes
  • People who use the sentence – ‘we can’t raise expectations’
  • Units with an over-representation of 50+ year old men
  • Strong hierarchies
  • People uncomfortable with even a little brainstorming, who divert conversations to frameworks, processes and resources
  • Units that never describe the ‘outcomes’ from their work.

But how do we get the same immediacy as Van Halen’s brown M&Ms?


Got a good idea? Feed it to the Lions

John Kotter in his article entitled “Need Buy-In? Invite the Lions in” has some good advice about protecting your good idea.

I am sure you have experienced that sinking feeling that comes from a good, even great, idea that is trampled and crushed by the usual suspects before it can take flight.  Mr Kotter suggests that the way to protect your idea, or even come to the rescue of someone else’s, is to understand the strategies of the naysayers.  Mr Kotter sets out 4 strategies that are used to kill a good idea:

  • Death by delay;
  • Confusion;
  • Fear mongering; and
  • Character assassination.

To these 4 strategies I suggest you can add two types of “smiling” assassins:

  • Capacity limiters – those that believe that the agenda is already full and bringing in another idea is beyond the capacity of the organisation; and
  • Guaranteed deliverers – those that need a guarantee that whatever idea is taken on, there must be a safe passage to a guaranteed result.

Both of these groups are ‘on-your-side’ and want to progress your idea, its just that their conservative nature or perhaps their being worn down by experience that desires or needs a greater certainty from everything they commit too.

Using your understanding of the nature of the naysayers and their strategies, Mr Kotter suggests that you should “invite in the lions” to critique your idea.  Engage your attackers and answer them fully, let them see the value of your idea and win them over.  At the very least you will know what they will say when you present your idea for wider acceptance.  Great advice, but you will need to wear a thick skin and keep the faith!

Another interesting comment from Mr Kotter is that:

“competent creation and implementation of good ideas is a basic life skill, relevant to the twenty-one-year-old college graduate, the fifty-five-year-old corporate CEO and virtually everyone else. This skill, or lack of it, affects the economy, governments, families and most certainly our own lives.”

I like the thought that the creation and implementation of good ideas is a basic life skill.  We need to be taught more and I agree with Mr Kotter, more work needs to be done around implementation.  I myself struggle with implementation, whether it is due to not knowing where to start or simply that existing commitments or a lack of resources gets in the way.

In talking with others, there are a few of ‘rules of thumb’ that seem to be essential if you are going to get your idea across the line.

  • First up, timing is everything.  If there is no ‘clear air’, or the key decision makers have very little ‘left in the tank’ then you are pushing things up hill;
  • Next, the messages need to be crafted so it is easer to ‘say yes than to say no’ – it links with the first point, but you need to avoid ‘deal breakers’ upfront;
  • As well, your language is crucial.  Creative types use a language that scares or disenfranchises a lot of people – you really need to communicate with them ‘on their terms’ and use your energy and enthusiasm to drive them from within.
  • And finally, spend the time ‘one-on-one’ with the people likely to be key in the room (this is very much like Mr Kotter’s idea of inviting in the Lions).  Give them a chance to voice concerns and problems in privacy – and for you to take those on board or explain how you have catered for those issues already.  It means that they then see a piece of themselves in your pitch.
  • And remember – if you can’t describe ‘what success looks like’ then its pretty hard to ask people to follow you!

Do you have any tips for advancing good ideas? Please share your experiences, I would like to read them.

regards, Jason
A public servant since 28 June 1999.