What are some of the things you know you should do, but you don’t?

  • Eat five servings of vegetables each day
  • Take a multivitamin
  • Do 10 minutes of cardio daily

Why not?

  • Vegetables don’t taste as good as pizza.
  • Multivitamins don’t affect how you feel today (or tomorrow or next month)
  • You don’t have time for the 45 minutes that 10 minutes of cardio actually takes (changing into workout clothes, doing cardio, showering after)

It’s ok. I get it. Heck, I say all the same things.

What about the other things you know you should do but don’t?

  • Invest in innovation
  • Invest regularly, not just when business is good
  • Invest repeatedly because it’s a key driver of revenue growth and competitive advantage

Guess what, the reasons you’re not doing it are similar to why you’re not eating vegetables, taking a multivitamin, or sprinting through your neighborhood:

  • Innovation is so much more uncertain and complex than running your day-to-day business
  • Innovation doesn’t affect your bottom line this quarter (or this year or next)
  • You don’t have time because you’re focused on putting out fires and operating today’s business

It’s ok. We all get it. Heck, I’m absolutely sure we all have the same reasons.

How to Turn Shoulds Into Dids

What can we do about all this? After all, the first step is acknowledging you have a problem (or, at least, aren’t doing something you know you should).

1. Start Small.

It’s not practical (or yummy) to go from zero servings of vegetables to five, so don’t. Try going from zero to one and find a one you like (not just tolerate). 

Same thing with innovation. Don’t go from no investment to standing up an entirely new team in new fancy offices with massive budgets. Find a nagging problem that annoys everyone and, if it can be solved, will produce tangible and meaningful results. Tap a few people to work on it full-time, give them a small budget, and a short timeframe within which to make progress (not solve the entire problem), and check in weekly.

2. Piggyback on another habit

A multivitamin won’t change how you feel today, but it could change how you feel years from today. But trying to remember to take a multivitamin every day is mentally exhausting. So try to work your multivitamin into an already existing daily habit. Do you have prescriptions you take every day? Put the vitamin bottle next to those. Stare at the coffee maker waiting for it to finish? Put the vitamins next to it, so you take them while staring.

Same thing with innovation. You have teams in your organization consistently working to make your products and processes better, faster, and cheaper. Have them teach others how to do what they do. You have business leaders projecting ever-increasing revenue. Ask them to explain what needs to happen to make that growth possible and how it will occur. Then invest in the people, skills, and resources required.

3. Say what you mean (even if it’s super uncomfortable)

If it’s important, you make time. After all, research proves that “I don’t have time” means “it’s not a priority. If having great cardio was really important to me (it is), I would make time to run (I don’t). In other words, great cardio is important, but it’s not a priority (or not a higher priority than binging Stranger Things).

When an innovation team asks for time on your calendar, don’t tell them you don’t have time. Be honest and tell the team they’re not a priority or a lower priority than the other things you’re spending time on. Harsh? Yes. Helpful. Absolutely! This level of honesty gives the innovation team a clear sense of what they’re competing against for scarce resources, the bar they have to clear to rise up your priority list, and a starting point from which to work with you to get what they need in a way that works for you.

You can do it

Shoulds fill our lives. But they’re not all equal and won’t all become dids.

If a should is essential, we’ll find a way to make it happen. It won’t be easy, but it is possible. If a should isn’t essential or as important as other shoulds, it will stay a should. 

Maybe that’s ok. Maybe it’s not. Maybe I’ll regret choosing fries over mixed veggies as a side.

We’ll know someday.