Patience is not a skill that comes naturally. At least not to me. I'm just as aggressive as the next person when it comes to wanting to see the impact from my ideas. What I have plenty of is impatience. I want to see the results now, not years down the line. The reality is that innovation takes time.
In the 7 Immutable Laws of Innovation, the Law of Patience states:
Innovation takes time. More time than is expected. The organization must take the long view on innovation and avoid the temptation and resist the pressure for short-term adjustments. Annual resets of budgets force innovation to take on a short-term planning horizon. If resources are adjusted to help the organization meet quarterly budget challenges, then most likely, the Law of Leadership is NOT in place. Don’t fall into the trap of the “Rule of 18”. Are resources committed beyond the traditional budget planning cycle?
Patience at HP
One example of getting it right is the story of David Packard and HP's decision to jump into the computer market. At the time, the industry was dominated by IBM, DEC and others. HP managers made their case that HP should enter the market based on the companies expertise and capabilities. David wasn't convinced but made the decision to follow the expertise, commitment and passion of his executives. When the decision was made, David made it clear to everyone inside HP, that this was a total commitment on the part of the company. The timeline he set out? To be the #1 computer manufacturer in the world in 25 years. How long did it take? HP became the #1 computer manufacturer in 23 years. That's what I call “sticking with it“.
At the same time, some innovations do need to be killed. They should be killed when all other options for success have been exhausted and its obvious that they aren't going to deliver.
Be careful not to be too quick to pull the trigger and kill an idea. Anyone can use short term metrics to rationalize a decision not to go forward. The safe answer is “no” as it eliminates the risk while the risky answer is “yes”, when the path to success is not guaranteed. There are no guarantees in life. I'm sure Bill and Dave questioned the decision to go into computers, but they had patience and stuck with it.
How should you instill patience into your innovation programs?
- Be realistic about how long this is going to take and set an appropriate time horizon. If it will take decades, then set the timeline accordingly.
- Define regular checkpoints/gates with clear objectives for each gate. Do not make these gates correspond to budget or planning cycles.
- Do NOT use the gates to rationalize killing the project, but instead, use the gates as a prompt for management to know where to commit time and resources to ensure the project is successful.
- Only after you've exhausted all options over multiple gates, do you consider killing the project. Even then, make sure you aren't killing it for the wrong reasons (e.g. getting nervous, wall street pressure, etc)
The point is, when you start down the path of creating breakthrough innovations, realize that you are making one of the most significant commitments for the organization. Once you commit, then really commit. Don't throw in the towel at the first sign of trouble.
How important is the law of patience to your organization?
Other posts on the 7 Immutable Laws: