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Innovation Lessons from Childhood

Funny thing, but as we grow-up and get “smarter,” we tend to make things more complicated than they need to be, and innovation is no exception. New product innovation is complex enough to begin with; so let’s look at a lesson we learned as children that can help simplify it and deliver more impact.

My wife taught four and five-year olds for many years, and whenever I was lucky enough to see her in action I always learned (or re-learned) something myself. During one visit, it struck me how smooth playtime was. You would think that a room full of five-year olds would be a real beehive of activity; while the children were certainly displaying all of the energy and enthusiasm you would expect, they weren’t flitting from one activity to the next. Since five-year olds don’t have the longest attention spans, I marveled, “How do you keep them so focused?”

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{ 5 comments… add one }
  • Coach Lowell July 14, 2011, 3:33 pm

    Mike, this is a great post! I can’t believe no one has commented yet. From what I’ve learned from neuroscience and from my own experience, you are right on the money about multi-tasking being a deceptively inefficient practice.
    One additional practice I found works for me comes into play when I have to suddenly leave a task in mid stream. I leave a note for myself telling me what my last step was and what my next step must be when I get back on that task. It makes ramping back up a bit faster.

    • Michael A. Dalton August 11, 2011, 8:29 am

      Thanks Lowell – great advice when you are interrupted. Unfortunately most people are encouraged to keep so many balls in the air, that just managing the notes becomes “overhead.” As much as possible it’s important to try to change the root cause and move the company’s culture away from encouragement (or even structural requirement) of mutli-tasking.

  • Lin C March 19, 2013, 11:26 am

    Do you have a reference for this statement? “A study of engineers found that the percentage of value added work dropped rapidly when they were assigned to more than 2 projects at a time. With 5 projects, value add had dropped to only 20%. As multitasked as people are today, it shouldn’t be a surprise that it’s taking longer and longer to get all of the work done. What a demoralizing effect.”
    I’ve heard that from a number of people, but have not been able to track down the original study. I would like to read it.

  • Bud Equi March 7, 2014, 10:57 am

    These children were fortunate to have a great teacher. It is my observation that a vast majority of children go through their school education and their home life without consistent direction to “focus and finish”. Instead the myth of multi-tasking is injected into every day as we try to “do it all” to satisfy a social norm.

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