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The Most Neglected Act of Innovation

The Most Neglected Act of Innovation

by | Jul 15, 2019 | By David Dye, Courageous Cultures |

If you’ve never seen it before, it’s hard to describe the power of an avalanche. Fortunately, I’ve never experienced one myself. But I have seen their power. This weekend, Karin and I cycled in the Colorado mountains between Frisco and Copper Mountain.

neglected act of leadership biking rockies

Between those two mountain towns, I saw the remnants of ten avalanches that happened over this past winter. The avalanches scoured the mountain-sides, snapped trees, and piled the debris at the bottom of the slopes.

neglected act of innovation creative destruction - avalanche chute

It’s easy to look at all the destruction and feel sad—it’s humbling to see nature’s power this way. But these scoured mountain slopes aren’t the end of the story.

In the Rocky Mountains, aspen trees thrive in the open areas avalanches or forest fires cleared. In the autumn those aspens turn color and create these beautiful veins of color.

Over hundreds of years, the evergreens will replace the aspens—until the next avalanche or fire starts the process again.

Seeing the power of these avalanches and the beauty they eventually create, reminded me of the challenges leaders face with innovation.

The Most Neglected Act of Innovation

When you and your team think of new ways to serve your customers, more efficient ways to achieve results, and new solutions for old problems, it’s important to remember the most neglected act of innovation.

When we work with leadership teams, one of our favorite tools is Own the U.G.L.Y. – a facilitated conversation where leaders answer courageous questions to help uncover deeper challenges and opportunities that will advance their business.

U.G.L.Y. is an acronym. The G stands for “What’s Got to Go?”

This is the most neglected act of innovation. In the push to achieve more and be better, it is easy to add solutions, processes, and tasks—all of which are valuable or you wouldn’t add them.

But what will you stop?

This is hard work. Most people grow attached to doing what they’ve always done—and for good reason.

“What you’ve always done” worked. It got you here. Setting it aside feels foolish, risky, or even negligent. It is hard to let go of success, but if you don’t, there are painful consequences.

Your team can burn out under the weight of too many tasks, tools, and processes. Or quality suffers as everyone tries to do everything they’ve always done plus the innovations. Or you can prevent your success as you hold on to old ways of thinking or past experience that no longer serve you.

What Can You Stop or Let Go?

Ideally, some new ideas will improve efficiency and save time. But not all of them. To build the new, clear some ground. For example:

  • Eliminate meetings – If you hold a meeting because you always have, shake it up. Skip a week. Do you even need it? Or was inertia soaking up time everyone could use more effectively?
  • Shorten your meetings –  Make your meeting the most productive use of everyone’s time.
  • Reduce constant interruption – Can you shift your culture to create blocks of time for deep work where you will not interrupt one another apart from critical issues?
  • Let go of past experience – you had a boss react badly when you brought up a process improvement. That was five years ago. Are you holding on to that image of all leaders and holding yourself back? Stop using that filter, try to persuade your supervisor, and see what happens.
  • Inventory redundant processes and get rid of the extra weight – one of our client’s rapid growth led to many project-tracking and communication tools. It took longer to track a project than to do the work. They eliminated all but a few tools and got back to work with more time and bandwidth for what mattered.

Fortunately, letting go of what doesn’t serve you and your team doesn’t have to be as violent or painful as an avalanche.

Create a habit by taking time once or twice a year, or when you first implement a new process or project, to ask “What’s Got to Go?” Let go of what you can and enjoy the freedom, speed, and productivity that result from this neglected act of innovation.

Your Turn

We’d love to hear from you. Leave us a comment and share your favorite leadership example of stopping doing something. 

David Dye helps human-centered leaders find clarity in uncertainty, drive innovation, and achieve breakthrough results.  He’s the President of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. He’s the award-winning authors of four books including Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul and hosts the popular Leadership without Losing Your Soul podcast. David is a former executive and elected official. David and his wife and business partner, Karin Hurt, are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells – building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.


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