How Time Crunches Kill Curiosity

Time is our least renewable resource. While “time management” sounds like a nice-to-have, it’s actually essential to producing innovation. There is a direct connection between the amount of time employees have to reflect, to be curious, and to experiment with the overall creative output of the organization. If your business depends on staying ahead of the competition and designing solutions that truly meet customer needs, you can’t afford not to think more consciously about how employees are managing their time.

There are three ways in which time scarcity influences your team’s work practices and undermines innovation:

Confusing responsiveness with value creation. The onslaught of communication – 100-plus emails in a week or day – can easily lead employees to perceive that answering emails and instant messages is their primary job. This, combined with meeting overload, is the central source of the time crunch. Employees often spend so much time in low value collaborative activities that they lose their own sense of agency and value creation.

Emphasizing efficiency over curiosity. As highlighted in a recent Harvard Business Review cover story, “curiosity is much more important to an enterprise’s performance than was previously thought.” Curiosity is the fuel for innovation. But when organizations overemphasize efficiency and established ways of working, they make it much more difficult for the curious-minded to persist.

Perpetually being overloaded. When we are out of time, we naturally look for shortcuts – heuristics – that allow us to bypass the hard thinking and leap quickly to an answer. Our brains are happy to comply and offer us the confirmation bias, zooming in on data that supports our pre-existing conclusions rather than disconfirming data.

Organizations that want to cultivate greater innovation need to pay greater attention to how their teams think about and manage time. We encourage leaders to seed three beliefs in their teams:

  • Making time for the things that matter often means saying NO to the things that don’t
  • Your time is a valuable and scarce resource. Consider the ROI of how you are spending it each and every day
  • Your first answer is rarely the best one. Give yourself time to generate a volume of ideas rather than having to go with the first option

The pace of work is only going to accelerate in the years to come. Helping your team protect time for reflection and experimentation is essential to resisting the pull back toward the conventional answer.