Are You Sacrificing Innovation for Efficiency?

What are you focused on for your business? Do you have your sights set on improving efficiency, and making sure your business is running like a well-oiled machine? That’s a great goal, but is there a downside to constantly striving toward greater efficiency? There could be: according to some experts, efficiency might just be one of the enemies of innovation. Let’s look at why, how a return to creativity could boost your business by making you more innovative, and how you can inject some of that important creative thinking back into your work.

Efficiency Vs Innovation

arrows in the middle of a target
You’ll have to limit the time and energy put into processes in order to truly be efficient.

According to Investopedia, “The term efficiency refers to the peak level of performance that uses the least amount of inputs to achieve the highest amount of output. Efficiency requires reducing the number of unnecessary resources used to produce a given output, including personal time and energy.” Sounds pretty austere, but many business owners do get caught up in the importance of speeding up processes, eliminating waste, improving quality, reducing costs, and generally pleasing customers, and embrace this way of thinking. 

Now, we’re not saying that those things aren’t important, but really consider what it means to be efficient: according to the business definition of efficiency, you’ll have to limit the time and energy put into processes in order to truly be efficient. And what is something that takes time and energy? Innovation – creating new products, services, or ways of doing things. Innovating also means trying things that don’t work, and that looks wasteful – and who likes waste? 

But creativity is messy, and can’t be reduced to inputs and outputs, or given limited space to grow. And creativity, and the innovation it breeds, could end up making all the difference in your efforts to separate yourself from the rest of the crowd, and ultimately grow.

The Importance of Creativity

Sure, the time and energy you put into experimenting and working towards innovation will have an uncertain future payback. In addition, cutting back on anything can have short-term payouts, making it tempting to work on improving current products and systems rather than finding new ones. But if you’re putting in less you could ultimately end up getting less back, right.

So you might want to consider taking some time to prioritize creativity and innovation over efficiency. Why specifically? Because:

  • Your business’ survival could depend on it – Think of it this way, no matter how efficient business’ producing encyclopedias became, they were always going to be killed off by innovations like Wikipedia. Or if you’re running a taxi company, you can tweak your day-to-day operations, but that won’t protect you from ride-sharing apps. The takeaway: you can improve your current product, service, or way of doing things with as much efficiency as you like, but it’s the businesses that take chances and innovate that could ultimately end up on top.rocket ship soaring above hot air balloons
  • You’ll get a competitive advantage – Your business might not become the victim of such extreme examples as above, but at the very least, you’ll probably end up with a product or service that is overlooked because it’s old and just part of the routine. If you’ve got something new, you’ll get more attention, and will probably be able to command higher prices.
  • You’ll have more engaged employees, and a better talent pool to choose from – Nobody likes to do the same old thing every day, and no one wants to see their talent and creativity go to waste in a stale environment. Not only that, but nobody wants to be treated like a machine that is constantly being told to work more efficiently! So, being known as an innovator will mean you’ll get a better pool of applicants to choose from, and your current employees will be energized by a creative work environment. That could make them more productive, without you having to resort to the austerity of focusing solely on efficiency.
  • You might just learn something! – Striving for efficiency might teach you how to cut back or increase output, but it probably won’t teach you much about what works and doesn’t in your industry, or what customers want. Working towards innovation and being creative, on the other hand, means experimenting, showing early-stage products/services to customers and gauging their reactions, trying to solve real problems, and yes, getting things wrong – but getting things wrong is a great way to learn how to get things right!

Slow Down and Get Creative!

Again, we’re not knocking efficiency: you’ve got to get things done, after all, and some things should be done quickly and with less waste. But, with that being said, sometimes to be truly effective, you’ll have to reduce the pressure to be so efficient, slow down, and try a little creativity and innovation. But if you’re wondering how to foster more creativity and innovation in your business, don’t worry – there are actually some pretty simple things you can do to get the ball rolling:

Give yourself space and time

What’s one major way we’ve managed to cram more efficiency into our working lives? By being connected All. The. Time. It seems like we can’t even wait in line for coffee without firing off a bunch of emails, or commute without jumping in on a conference call. And while we might think we’re making the most of our time this way, are we really? This ruthless efficiency with our time is actually taking away the space for thinking, reflecting, and generating ideas, so try to resist the urge to be plugged in all the time. It’s tough, we know, but don’t worry: those emails can wait.

Seek out difference

You and your team are totally on the same page, right? You know exactly how each of you wants things done, you’ve got the same knowledge base, and you’re working towards the same goals. Great for efficiency, but maybe not for creativity, so go out of your way to connect with new people who don’t share the same exact experience and views as you. They might work in different industries, spend their time in different places with types of people, or think differently than you do – and all of these differences could spur you to think in new ways.

Get out of the office

laptop outside on a tree stump
Try to get innovative by working outside and getting some inspiration.

Yes, we know, it’s hard to think that you can work efficiently anywhere but at a desk in an office, but being in that kind of space all day can really numb your mind. We’re not saying you have to immediately jump into holding meetings at the beach or on a forest path, but don’t be afraid to change up where you do your work, and where you consult with your team. A change of scenery could be just what you need for inspiration! But, of course, don’t forget to go to the beach, the forest, the park, or wherever inspires you and feeds your brain, instead of dulls it. 

In addition, getting out of the office in other ways could also help you be more creative. Take classes, go away for the weekend to a new place, or ride your bike during the day. Getting out of your same-old daily routine can be invigorating, and can wake up your brain and get those creative juices flowing.

Inject more creativity into your own life

Creativity isn’t always easy to just switch on. You’ve got to feed it. And a great way to make sure you can be creative in your working life is to find creative pursuits that interest you in your personal life. That doesn’t mean you have to all of a sudden become a painter or a concert pianist: you can do photography right on your phone, take a dance class, or even learn a new language. And get this: according to a study in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, different expressions of creativity can build your creative muscle and actually make your brain more efficient!

Get your zzzz’s

As we talked about earlier, we often think that being efficient means using every minute of our time, and that means staying up late to get things done, and/or getting up at the crack of dawn to clear our inboxes. But missing out on sleep means your brain won’t be functioning at peak performance. In fact, research published in Trends in Creative Sciences Journal suggests resting boosts creative problem solving, and that’s probably more important to your business than shooting off a few extra emails.

Efficiency versus innovation: it’s a tough choice, right? It doesn’t have to be: remember that fable about the tortoise and the hare? If you were going to take that story and apply it to your business, the moral would be that sometimes you have to go slow to get ahead, or even to go fast. Pressure to speed up and be more efficient could end up burning you out, and won’t necessarily move you forward, while creativity (even with the little bit of mess it can leave behind) might feel slower, but can lead to the innovation that your business needs to grow.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Let's Chat