I am not a baker, but I decided that I wanted to bake an apple pie. Not knowing what ingredients are used to make an apple pie (other than the apples of course) and not really being tuned into what baking ingredients we have in the house at any given time, I had to start there. I had to find a recipe that I was comfortable using and determine which ones we had and which ones we did not have. That took some time. I then was able to put together a shopping list and venture off to the store. I only had a few things to pick up, but it took me a while because these were things I was not accustomed to buying and did not know where they were located in the grocery store. I returned home and started going through the recipe step by step. I was finally able to put my pie in the oven and cook it for the right amount of time.
And it was a good pie.
I enjoyed making apple pie, so it became something that I did from time to time…once every month or so, I would bake a delicious apple pie. After doing it a half dozen times or so, I was pretty good at it. I became efficient with my time. I knew the recipe by heart and I also knew whether we had the ingredients on hand or not. If I did need to go to the store, I could find what I needed quickly and make well informed purchases. I was able to move through the steps of preparing the pie quickly and comfortably rather than slowly and carefully moving through each step as prescribed by the recipe. By the time I baked my tenth apple pie, I was even more efficient with my time, my energy and my money. I did not even need to look at the recipe.
I also was no longer learning anything.
The first time that I baked an apple pie was the most inefficient. Everything that I did was new. It took me forever just to figure out what ingredients we had and did not have at home. I did not know where to look, I was not sure what kinds of things I was looking for, it was all knew to me. I made poor purchases at the store. Wrong size, wrong brand, wrong form of ingredients. I was inefficient with my time, with my energy and with my money. That first time was the least efficient, but it was also the time when I learned the most. Every step in that process was a learning experience for me. I learned about what goes into a pie, I learned about what we keep in our kitchen, I learned about where to find things in the grocery store and I learned how to prepare and bake a pie. Every part of the process taught me something new.
As I made more pies, I became much more efficient…and I also learned less each time. By the time I made my tenth, I was incredibly efficient and learned nothing new from doing it.
I see a lot of organizations today that have a hard time learning anything new. The problem is not that they do not want to learn, the problem is that their management practices make it almost impossible to learn. Learning is sloppy and experimental and inefficient and anything not directly pointed at a robust business case and a solid Return on Investment is suspect.
Learning and creativity and innovation are, on a foundational level, pretty easy and fun things for people to do. My children do this stuff all the time. They try things, they experiment, they play and they break the rules…and they make a mess, and they constantly learn.
I personally could care less about whether or not you have a VP of Innovation or an Innovation team or a an innovation strategy. Do you allow people to be inefficient? Do you give people time and space and resources and permission to play and experiment and make a mess? I would take this over an innovation strategy any day.