IVE Associate Major Nick Street Considers Time Constraints and The Productive Working Environment
Those of a certain age may well remember an advert for a particular beer. An ageing swimmer would attempt to swim across a harbour and get into a pub before the barman had finished pouring his pint; his supportive friend ensuring that the clock only started when he would stand a chance of winning the challenge. Herman Melville’s ominous words, ‘tick followed tock’ was the repeated mantra in the background. The onward march of time hangs over us all.
The utopia is a world where teams can be given a problem and unlimited time and resources to come up with a solution. Logic suggests that in this environment, that team will be able to employ their creative powers without constraint and thus develop the most imaginative and efficient solutions to problems.
There are two problems here. The first is that time is a commodity over which we have little control and which we must often ration. Regardless of the environment we try and create internally, external factors are likely to come and provide some form of time constraint on our processes. Is a competitor working on the same problem; the first to reach the solution getting to enjoy the spoils? Must your industry find the solution to your problem before new legislation comes into force? Are shareholders expecting a new product to be created before the end of the financial year? Secondly, if we are left alone to ‘be creative’ without a deadline, what is the real likelihood that we will come up with something usable; without a deadline, will a student ever finish their dissertation?
Time, and the associated pressure it creates often galvanises the creative process. Often referred to as the Yerkes-Dodson law, a person’s performance will increase as their arousal increases (up to a point), and we can see this at play daily. Who hasn’t sat with a colleague who, as their deadline approaches, has suddenly knuckled down and produced the goods? Evidence exists on a grander scale when we reflect historically. Building the atomic bomb before the Germans during WW2 certainly focussed the minds of those scientists working on the Manhattan Project. Getting to the moon before the Russians gave an impetus to NASA. Every four years there is a country suddenly realising that it only has weeks to finalise stadiums, transport plans and athletes’ villages before the eyes of the world turn to watch the Olympics; Lord Coe described planning for London 2012 as ‘the race of my life’.
Leaders who fully understand their team can ensure that they have their people working where they can maximise their talents and thus their creativity, in the most efficient way possible. When people understand themselves, understand how they can release their creative potential and do so in an enabling environment, they can achieve so much more. When combined with a leader who gets this, the speed with which creative solutions can be found will be increased and the analysis of a problem can be deeper and more thorough. The only problem now is for leaders to find the time to learn about their teams in this way.
Major Nick Street is an Army Officer with 11 years’ experience leading teams in complex environments and finding novel solutions to difficult problems . He has a passion for incorporating creativity into leadership and strategic planning.
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