Sean Johnson

Microvation and the radical transformation of your job

Why small innovations well executed can change your life.

One of the more common complaints about one’s job is the inability to “get your ideas heard.” At every company I’ve been a part of, there was a large faction of people who lament over drinks about how they have good ideas, and the only thing keeping them from making those ideas a reality is their lack of power or clout in their company.

And they’re probably right, although not for the reasons they think.

The reasons they think their ideas aren’t heard have everything to do with the company. Their boss is trying to keep them down. The head of the company is too disconnected from the day-to-day to see a good idea for what it is. And everyone else is too lazy to implement it.

But in reality I think the problem is threefold, and all of it rests on the shoulders of the budding innovator.

Pooping your idea

The typical way in which these folks share their ideas is through what I call “pooping your idea” out there. Pooping your idea basically involves opening up Outlook, cc’ing a minimum of 10 people, outlining the basics of your idea, pressing send, and then patting yourself on the back, waiting expectantly for your boss or colleagues to tell you how brilliant you are. What usually ends up happening instead?

Nothing. The idea gets ignored, and ends up forgotten. The person who pooped the idea in the first place adopts an outlook that “no one listens to me” and decides to be an emotional drain on the company. If they aren’t going to listen to me, why should I work hard for them?

The two problems with most people’s approach to sharing ideas

  1. They Bite off bigger ideas than the organization is ready for them to take on.
    It’s not that the company isn’t interested in changing for the better, or doesn’t value innovation. In all likelihood, the company got to where it is because it learned at some point to do something better than most other companies. Rather, it’s that they don’t think that the employee is the person who can get it done. They’re trying to tackle problems that are out of their pay grade.
  2. They don’t do a thorough analysis of the problem. Instead, they take 10 minutes to write out their thoughts and send – no review, no evidence to back it up, no consensus of opinion, no massaging the argument and proposed solution until it’s just right. They seriously expect everyone else to figure that part out.
  3. They have no clue how to handle the internal politics involved in making something happen. The reality is that until you’ve earned a reputation as someone who can make things happen, very few people will listen to you. And even then, no one is going to take a memo you write and turn it into the reality you desperately want to see on their own. They’re busy – they have their own projects and problems they’re dealing with.

In short, since no one cares as much about your idea as you do, since you haven’t thought it out that well, and since no one trusts you to make it happen, your brilliant idea is immediately discarded.

The good news is that there’s a solution. And it’s easy to do. It costs nothing but your time. And it addresses all three problems above.

Microvation

Microvation is the principle of innovating on a smaller scale. While very few people in an organization have the power to make the kinds of decisions that can make or break a company, everyone can microvate in their respective areas of responsibility, no matter how small.

What does a microvation look like? Microvation is looking at a way to improve an expense report. It’s adding a “10% discount if you pay in 10 days” coupon to invoices. It’s building an extra 1-2% margin into a proposal and sending that amount back in the form of a check with a note about how you got the work done under budget. It’s setting up Salesforce or SugarCRM to handle client records. It’s creating a Basecamp account and training your colleagues on how to use it. It’s sending out a monthly email newsletter about your department’s progress on critical projects. It’s organizing a lunch and learn series, bringing in smart people in the industry to talk. It’s sending a Valentine’s Day or Thanksgiving card to your clients instead of the usual Christmas card.

By approaching your job through the lens of microvation, everything becomes an opportunity to practice the art of innovation (and more importantly, the art of execution.) By getting really good at small things, you earn the right to talk about larger things over time. It replaces cynicism about your job with excitement. Instead of pooping ideas, you take initiative. And instead of lamenting on what could have been, you get increasing responsibility as word spreads that you’re the person improves things and gets things done.

I would argue that by microvating, starting with the most insignificant project and working your way up, you can transform your job in a year. It was the exact process I followed when I moved to New York, in which I went from Account Manager to Director of User Experience to Creative Director in 12 months. It requires a lot of work, humility and patience. But the payoff in job satisfaction and professional growth is astounding.

A twelve month microvation plan

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