When was the last time you thought about becoming a little less efficient?

Lately I’ve been considering efficiency and effectiveness in how we spend our time. From my perspective, those time management decisions are, in essence, how we optimize the relationships we invest in. But it’s a double-edged sword.

Optimizing is in many ways the arch-nemesis of innovation, because in attempting to drive effectiveness you try to streamline. And in that modus operandi, you become so focused on optimizing your time that you leave no margin for agility. You lose the ability to respond to ad-hoc relationship opportunities that arise.

I’ve always said, “Give me somebody’s checkbook and calendar and I can tell you about their portfolio of relationships.” I hear people say, “I’m too busy, I can’t add one more meeting.” When I hear that, what they’re really saying is they have priorities—and new relationships aren’t among them. If you’re not open to ad hoc relationships, you’re going to miss out on some that could open amazing doors.

What would happen if you focused on outcomes instead of inputs—on what your time management produces, instead of optimizing your time utilization?

Google is known for its innovative “20 percent time” program. Google tells its engineers to spend 20 percent of their time working on something not in their job description, as long as it’s aligned with the overall Google strategic vision. What is your 20 percent, with respect to your portfolio of relationships?

If you want to explore new growth opportunities, you’ve got to open up space for that to occur. Let’s face it, there will be some inefficiencies in that. Take another tip from Google, where they say, “what we do is fail—and fail fast.” If you apply your “20 percent time” to opening your door to new relationships, some won’t be going anywhere of interest to you, and that’s okay. Fail them fast and move on. But don’t be rude about people wanting an hour of your time—because one of them might just lead to your next breakthrough innovation.

Personally, I get calls, e-mails, and social media pings from people all the time offering something—real estate, copiers, whatever. I believe it is simply good etiquette to have a respectful conversation with them. I might say, “Listen, I’m not a good prospect for you.” Or I might find I’m interested in what they have to offer. I recently got a LinkedIn connection request saying, “We’re working with other content leaders, and we have ways to scale your ideas.” It turns out they have a really interesting platform for me to build a “David Nour To Go” app that leverages content from my speeches and consulting work. And I would not have heard about it if I automatically deleted every inquiry I get through LinkedIn. If I were completely focused on efficiency and effectiveness, I would have lost that opportunity.

What you really lose by being so efficient is the ability to react to new opportunities. Instead, I suggest people create what I call “relationship on-ramps.” If relationship opportunities are not coming to you, seek them out. Who is of interest to you? Who has been mentioned in an article or given a keynote, who got your attention? Go look them up. I read an article and it mentioned a person whose work interested me, based in New York. I sent him a note saying, “I’m coming to New York next month, can I buy you a cup of coffee and give us a chance to get to know each other?” That’s creating a relationship on-ramps. They can lead to interesting new roads for you. Innovation doesn’t come from optimizing your time spent on “business as usual.” It comes from time spent with fresh influences.

There’s a right way to be efficient, and it has to do with the technology you use. Any tool that allows you to spend your time more productively will open up some margin for agility. Outcome-based objectives, tasks, and functions will drive a more labor-efficient way to engage relationships. What you do and how you do it does not matter. What matters is how quickly you can get to the desired outcome.

I propose that outcome can be allowing for some “20 percent time” to respond to relationship opportunities with agility.

Nour Takeaways

1. Become more selfish—optimize your time and effort to open up “20 percent time” for your own personal and professional growth.

2. Be savvy enough to leave some margin to explore fresh relationships, from which your next innovation may spring.

3. Create “relationship on-ramps” to pro-actively seek out relationships that interest you.


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