37 Signals is an Innovation Insurgent of the highest order. Jason Fried, one of its founders, wrote a book on how to do business unconventionally a few years ago. If you haven’t read it, read it.
Anyway, for me, their book is a celebration of innovation. Contrarian, and smart, to the bone.
But, that is not the only way 37Signals celebrates innovation? According to Jason Fried, from May through October they only work four days a week:
Yes, some businesses are more seasonal than others, but ultimately the stuff we do at work isn’t that much different — it’s just busier some times than others. That isn’t change, it’s just more volume.
I wanted to do something about this. So, at 37signals, the software company I’ve run for the past 13 years, we take inspiration from the seasons and build change into our work schedule.
For example, from May through October, we switch to a four-day workweek. And not 40 hours crammed into four days, but 32 hours comfortably fit into four days. We don’t work the same amount of time, we work less.
Most staff workers take Fridays off, but some choose a different day. Nearly all of us enjoy three-day weekends. Work ends Thursday, the weekend starts Friday, and work starts back up on Monday.
The benefits of a six-month schedule with three-day weekends are obvious. But there’s one surprising effect of the changed schedule: better work gets done in four days than in five.
When there’s less time to work, you waste less time. When you have a compressed workweek, you tend to focus on what’s important. Constraining time encourages quality time.
At 37signals there’s another thing we do to celebrate the seasons: we cover the cost of a weekly community-supported agriculture share for each employee. We enjoy this benefit year-round, but fresh fruit and produce really glisten in the summer months. It’s a simple way to celebrate change.
It is a very ingenious way of becoming more productive. It is a productivity strategy, but it is also inspired some innovation-driving actitivies:
In the spirit of continual change, this summer we tried something new. We decided to give everyone the month of June to work on whatever they wanted. It wasn’t vacation, but it was vacation from whatever work was already scheduled. We invited everyone to shelve their nonessential work and to use the time to explore their own ideas.
People worked independently or joined up with other employees on team projects. The only rule was: explore, see if there are ways to make our existing products better, or come up with a new product idea, create a new business model, or do whatever is of most interest…
When I talk about celebrating innovation, I’m not talking about outcomes. I think we tend to focus too much on these and not so much on the process itself. Everyone wants to be innovative but none want to go through the ups and downs of the process.
It is like staying fit, everyone wants to be thin and healthy (what) but no one wants to do the necessary activities (how) to accomplish that. What you have to do to create a change, is reward specific behaviors, not outcomes.
The how is where the rubber meets the road. All the activities that will stimulate innovative thinking happen here.
Point: Wrong way thinking breeds creative ideas. Celebrate the process, not the outcome.
Photo Credit: becauseimme