Stealing for Innovation



That word fascinates me. I literally never heard of the word until a few years ago, and now I feel as though I’m constantly viewed through its lens. I was so sure someone made up the word to sell a corporate training program that I looked it up in dictionary I’ve had since college. Doh! Found it there.

Innovation, innovating, innovate. I’m constantly wondering what it means. Am I doing it right?

Innovation, What Does it Mean?

To overcome impostor syndrome I’m going to fake it ‘til I make it and use the word as a reminder for my own understanding. I think I can lean into this meaning for innovation: “a surprisingly creative invention that’s valuable.”

Sounds rational – right? Even better is that it overlaps with all of the things I’ve practiced through my personal and professional life. It feels like something I can achieve.

Innovating, How Many Times?

Looking back on my work performance in 2014 I’m happy to report to you that I was innovative 5 times. Is that more or less than what you’re thinking? Of course it’s DPM season as I write this, and I hope my management chain figures 5 times of innovation was enough to keep me on board.

Reflecting on those 5 occasions I remember each came with a dedicated amount of stealing. Does that sound grim? Not stealing ideas, but stealing time!

Innovate, When?

From my perspective, when it comes to innovation, the surprisingly creative invention that’s valuable, can’t be marked on a calendar. Yet our entire way of working is typically scheduled by processes leaving no room for surprising creations. My months are accounted for in a product roadmap, my weeks planned in project story work, my daily hours billed to task codes.

What time am I stealing? Hours from my personal life as I read blogs and scan source code from the emerging technologies turning into industry best practices. Hours from my teammates as I ask them to cover todos while I cobble together prototypes and streamline daily tasks. Hours from my product partners as I tap dance around closing stories making them better than they asked for.

Who Steals to Innovate?

Some of my programmer and designer friends won’t steal time. They follow the rules. I admire that, but we all loose.

Tedious manual tasks lose opportunities for automation, teammates lose a chance to be taught about new technologies, customers lose out on delightfully consistent experiences. Everyone misses out on something they’ll never know they wanted because the thing was never invented. Everybody misses something potentially amazing because we’re closed off from inspiration as we dutifully do our jobs.

Where Does Innovating Begin?

Is there a better way than stealing time? How can innovation be cultivated? Can your leadership put into action formal ways of giving time to creative individuals? Will that put them into a mode where they’re open to receiving fresh ideas leading to the surprisingly creative inventions that are valuable? I believe so, and I’ve seen it done, but it takes mindful effort.

Try it this year, and let’s do something awesome together!