Innovate with what you have

Sunrise at Callanish – (c)

Innovation is simply doing things differently and doing different things

My simple definition of innovation.

It can be as easy as working with what you have available to do things differently. Today let’s look at some simple opportunities for you to do that, highlighted by two thoughts:

  • the amount of daylight we have
  • the recent shift in mindset around remote working

Our routines are still governed by industrial era thinking

Two days ago, Saturday June 20th, was the longest day of the year.

Where I live now in London, that means over 16.5 hours from sunrise to sunset, with true darkness of only about 6 hours. Compare this to the shortest day of the year when there are less than 8 hours of daylight.

In contrast, the Cayman Islands, where I have lived most of my adult life, is much closer to the equator so has just over 13 hours of daylight in midsummer and just under 11 in midwinter, it really varies very little.

So, the sun streams through my east-facing window in London before 5am in midsummer, as opposed to winter light after 8am in midwinter.

If we work with nature would be not look to do things a little differently with our work and life routines with the seasons?

Yes, if you live in Cayman where the variation in daylight is only from 11 to 13 hours across the year, perhaps not, but here we are in 2020 and most of us lead lives regimented by year round schedules put in place over two hundred years ago with the industrial revolution.

Consider also the idea of Daylight Savings Time, put in place in 1916 by the German Government by fiat as a way to reduce energy costs in wartime. I absolutely love the longer evenings from daylight savings time (and wish Cayman would do it too, rather than see sunset at 7pm in midsummer!), yet I mention Daylight Saving Time to highlight that this too has been in place for over 100 years as part of the industrial era.

I remind you of the six most dangerous words in business:

We’ve always done it this way

So, let’s look at working with the seasons, and also let’s link it to learnings from lockdown around working outside “the office”

Connected working and working with the seasons

Now, I’ve listened, read and then written several times during lockdown about how, after over half the world was rapidly locked down and so many people and businesses that had resisted working anywhere but the office found that, yes, it was really a viable option for many.

Last week I wrote: “A simple idea that could change so much“, the simple idea being to “Check your emails at home in the morning before going to work”. From that idea, in the post I worked through three iterations to a point where a new work schedule looks like going to the office Tue-Thu each week, working from home Monday and Friday and finishing work at 12pm on Friday, all with the same amount of working hours.

Now, though I took my time working through those iterations in the post, note that they are not really shifting “we’ve always done it this way” paradigms too much, but if we move too far then managers used to structure and routine (and perhaps who won’t trust their people, often as they take validation of their own identity from managing and controlling others.. sorry, I’m a coach, I see these things in people!).

What if, though, we added in working with the seasons?

Well, in some northern countries (with long summer evenings and shorter summers) they already do this. Let me give a couple of examples.

I’ve done lots of business in Toronto, the commercial capital of Canada, yet learned quickly never to get anything strategic achieved between mid June and early September. Why? Well, first they are in “summer mindset”, but also many business leaders there look to compress work each week into four days (or less) in the summer, driving north every weekend for at least 3 or 4 day weekends at their cottage on one of the many lakes.

Now to Norway, with even longer summer days than Toronto. One of my best friends used to work there in the oil industry. While there he worked on a contract basis where he was only allowed to do around 7 billable hours per day. When we visited, the house was full of young kids (his and mine), but we still spend lots of time together though he was at work full time. How? He chose to go in early and work from 7am to 2pm. Then, as it didn’t get dark until nearly midnight, we all had about 10 more hours of daylight ahead of us! I can tell you, my (very young at the time) Caymanian kids had trouble with the idea of “Bedtime” given they were used to darkness in midsummer just after 7pm!

A real example – Basecamp

During summer, we work 4-day work weeks, aka “summer hours”. Summer hours are in effect from May 1 through August 31 each year.

Why we only work 4 days a week during summer – about Basecamp

Long time readers will know I am a HUGE fan of David and Jason and their business, Basecamp.

Basecamp works summer hours. Do read their explanation piece at the link above, it is very clear about three core benefits this creates, all about energy, focus and “creative constraints”.

Long time readers will also know that I love Basecamp as the are a “calm company” and, yes, that they have ALWAYS been a “remote” company, the idea of “going to the office” is the exception rather than the rule for them and always has been. I wrote about them and my own history of working outside a set office back in May 2019 in: ““WorkAnywhere”. Going beyond “Remote”

So, not every business is ready for remote working as the norm, but perhaps, in reading this, you can make some changes in your work, as well as some in your personal life.

Small personal changes?

For me, moving to London three years ago re-introduced me to seasonal changes in daylight. Yes, I learned that I do love to plan to go home to Cayman often in the winter months to get warmth and sunlight, and I also learned to really make the most of the warmer and, even more notably longer days in summer.

I’m more a morning than an evening person, so for me I love to get up really early in summer and go exercise, making a few shifts to make this happen.

One weekday morning this week, as an example, and having gone to be reasonably early the night before, I will get up after 5am, make coffee and write my daily post (to go out at the usual 8am), then leave on my bike after 6am to meet two friends and go for a 2+ hour bike ride (with a coffee and bacon roll stop in there, of course!), then will be back home, showered and behind my desk again by 9am, all having enjoyed sunshine and temperatures of around 17-20c.

Would I do the same in midwinter when it gets light at 8am and temperatures near freezing? No, the bike stays (almost exlusively) indoors on the turbo trainer from about November to March 🙂

You? What changes have you made, could you make to work both with the options of “connected working” outside the office and in working with the seasons?


Innovation is simply doing things differently and doing different things

Also published on Medium.