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Invest the Time in Innovation

There is an effort to reward ratio with everything. You want a better body? You’ve got to eat right, exercise, and lay off the alcohol. You want to be a better SEO? You’ve got to learn more, go to conferences, and become friends with SEOs who are smarter than you. You want a better company?…

There is an effort to reward ratio with everything.

You want a better body? You’ve got to eat right, exercise, and lay off the alcohol.

You want to be a better SEO? You’ve got to learn more, go to conferences, and become friends with SEOs who are smarter than you.

You want a better company? You’ve got to set some goals, develop a strategy, and invest the time to do the work.

It really doesn’t matter what reward you’re going for. Whatever it is, you’ve gotta be committed to putting forth the effort.

I wanted us to be better

In 2012, I wanted Mack Web to be a better company. At the beginning of the year we set some pretty lofty 3-5 year goals and were eager to work towards them. But like many companies we soon ran into an obstacle: when were we going to find the time to spend on us? We run a pretty tight ship. We have a tiny team of 4, and we were already spending every waking minute delivering win to our clients.

I realized that we would never have the time to spend on building a better company unless we made ourselves a priority. We had to make the time.

So we did.

And Innovation Friday was born

Every Friday, the entire Mack Web team sets aside time for innovation and creativity. We take a break from our normal ball-busting routine to slow down and spend time on us. We call it Innovation Friday.

From lunch time through the end of the day, we make time for training, creativity, problem solving, and slacking off (i.e. going to a bar or leaving early). We don’t do any client work, and we only check email periodically throughout the day to make sure there aren’t any emergencies.

Our innovation days usually look something like this:

We keep a structured schedule so that we make the most of our time together. Even though we have five hours, it always goes by really fast. So one person on the team keeps an eye on the schedule and keeps us all on task.

We chunk the day up into four really important things:

  1. Individual time
    We push pretty hard every day, so it’s really nice to look forward to dedicated quiet time at the end of the week. During individual time I ask that the team focuses on something that increases their value within the company. Most of the time the team is reading, watching videos, or doing modules in DisilledU.
  2. Training time
    This industry moves so quickly that it’s nearly impossible to stay on top of all the knowledge. If our team is not continually working on learning new things, we’re totally going down. So each week during training time we work on a skill that will strengthen our expertise.Our company is kind of a hybrid. We’ve got a variety of skills to work with from design and content, to SEO and social media. As much as we can, we try not to silo our roles and come together to accomplish what the client needs. So during training time we focus on learning new things that will help our team stay well rounded. Training time also allows us to make education a priority and set the necessary time aside to stay on top of our ever-evolving industry.
  3. Creativity time
    Creativity time is kind of new. We realized we needed a time each week to talk about cool things we’ve read or seen (and that may have nothing to do with SEO). We didn’t want to add another meeting to our week, so we carved out the time during Innovation Friday.The thought with creativity time is to bank up a bunch of super neat ideas that we can pull from when we’re working with our clients. This helps when we’re stuck or just need to break out of routine and do something fresh.
  4. End of the day
    Once we’ve worked through our entire innovative day, we’re ready for a break. Sometimes we’ll call it a day a little early. Sometimes we play games. Sometimes we go get a drink together. It’s really nice to just relax as team instead of always pushing so hard. This portion of our Innovation Friday reminds us that we do actually kind of like each other. Especially when we’re not under a bunch of pressure.

Other stuff we’ve done
Sometimes on Innovation Friday we ditch the structured schedule and go on a field trip. One of our very first field trips was to New Belgium Brewing. We were in the early stages of redefining our values, mission, vision, and culture. We heard they had a pretty awesome culture and we wanted to check it out. I do recall there was some beer drinking that was done in the process. All in the name of innovation.

What we’ve noticed

Thing is, you will always be too busy to do things for your company. There will always be things that you’ll want to make time for, but won’t. Putting Innovation Friday on the schedule has committed us to becoming a better company. We’ve been holding ourselves accountable for this time since February and it’s made all the difference in who we’ve become.

So even though our work week is shorter (we work 4 and 1/3 days on clients, and 2/3 on us), we have experienced some really great things:

Accelerated realization of goals
Some of the 3-5 year goals that we set for our company have been completed in 9 months. The time we spend on Innovation Fridays keeps us motivated and focused so that we are working on accomplishing our goals and not just talking about them.

We’re smarter
Although the team is encouraged to work on their knowledge and furthering their expertise all the time, we spend at least an hour of Innovation Friday reading and learning new things. Our scheduled trainings help bring our diverse team up to speed so that they can better serve our clients.

We’re stronger
This year has presented more challenge and change than I care to think about. Innovation Friday has kind of been our glue. This time has been a gift. We have resolved issues that would normally have been band-aided and pushed to the side in order to handle our current client workload. It has been an incredible accountability tool.

We have happier clients
It probably comes as no surprise that if you invest more in yourself and your company, that you become an even bigger asset to your clients. Even though we’re taking time away from client work, we are amplifying the value we provide them because of the improvements we’ve focused on. We have heard a lot of comments from our clients this year about how we’re different (in a good way). I attribute that to a stellar team and the fact that we committed to making the effort.

Innovate with us

What if you took some of that time that you spend on your clients and spend it on your own company (or your own growth)? Don’t you think you’d begin to experience some of that same success that you bring to your clients?

What is it that you really want to do for your company (or even for yourself)? Find the time to set aside and do it.

And let me know how it goes.

 

  • http://twitter.com/AndrewJayBart Andrew Bart

    Excellent post Mackenzie! I am big believer in the value of dedicating time once a week to researching, education, and innovation. Several years ago, I read The Google Story by David Vise. One of the standout takeaways from that book was that Google requests that their engineers spend one day a week researching and developing their personal “big-ideas” for innovation. This concept stuck with me and I have applied it to my own workflow with great success. Moving forward, I think we will see this philosophy adopted by an increasing number of businesses.

    • http://twitter.com/mackfogelson Mackenzie Fogelson

      Thanks Andrew. It’s great because it empowers the team to be thinking this way too. Then I’m not the only one innovating for the company. They always have solutions and better ways to approach things for our company and for our clients that I have not thought of because we’re in different roles. It’s been tough to dedicate the time to it as we are always pushing hard with lots of work, but so well worth it. We’ve solved a great deal of challenges with Innovation Friday. It’s been a great addition to our operations.

  • http://seorewind.com/ Chris Countey

    Thanks for sharing this! I continue to be impressed with the industry as a whole, especially when I see competitors allowing each other to share stories and pushing each other to do more.

    I hope you don’t mind if we borrow a few of these ideas to better ourselves :)

    • http://twitter.com/mackfogelson Mackenzie Fogelson

      Hey Chris! I agree and give huge kudos to iAcquire for inviting me onto their blog to chat about something that is unique to our company, but with the goal that it will better all of the companies in our industry.

      I would love if you would borrow the ideas for Innovation Friday! Please let me know how it goes. I’d love to hear what new ideas you’ve come up with. We’ll start a movement!

      Innovation Friday FTW!

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  • helenlagares

    I do have to say how this post made me think, not just about how the company I work goes so far, but about how I have been spending my time learning and running my personal projects. Althought i will make Chris’ word mine, when he says that he could borrow some ideas from innovation friday.

    Moving forwad, I am glad to see (this is something that i have had discussed about) how the industry there wants to share good ideas and grow the field, invited someone from another company to share what have been working for them so far. You are not afraid to come together and join effords to make professionals stronger. It is something that I miss most in Brazil.
    Well, i will try to pass these ideas forward to my boss and hopefully we’re gonna makr something different here.
    May I ask if I could translate this post to Portuguese? Keep going sharing good things