What does your company do?
Every company does something different, no matter how slight. Even Burger King and McDonalds have their differentiators.
These differentiators, and ones you've planned to release later, are vital to your survival. They make your products unique. If you pick the right differentiators and can communicate their value, you win! If you pick the wrong ones or can't communicate the value of the right ones, you may well lose.
Companies are filled with people. By and large, these people care about the company. Not only because they like having a job, but also because they are interested in their profession.
At Modus Cooperandi, we try to schedule specific times just to think together. Frankly, it's my favorite part of owning a company. When we were in the Lake Union offices, we had 3pm Scotch. We'd break out the single malt, some nice glasses, and just talk. No agenda was set, but these conversations were deep and engaging opportunities. We developed a lot of new knowledge from our 3pm Scotch.
When I was in DC, we instead took "apple breaks," or went for a walk. Whenever we'd hit a wall in our work, someone broke out the cutting board and knife we knew it was time to talk it out.
Modus' main product is intellectual - we manufacture ideas and knowledge. Whether we are writing a white paper or coaching individuals or teams, we are leveraging tools to help them better manufacture their own ideas and knowledge.
3pm Scotch was a time of invention. We'd gather, find a topic, and off we went. Many times there'd be a running theme that carried over from the previous day, but that theme evolved. The ritualized nature of these gatherings became part of the culture. Corey and I would start talking about something in the morning and one of us would suggest writing it on the white board "for Scotch." We'd record it, and then get back to daily business.
This prevented that conversation from becoming a distraction at at 10am, and instead honored it as a legitimate business act at 3. It also gave us a specific time where we - as a company - took our manufacturing resources (our people) and focused them on new product development or product improvement. We didn't do this by forcing a particular topic, but instead by providing the time in the first place.
On separate occasions, both Thu An and Jeanine expressed how they'd been waiting for these moments all day. This had nothing to do with the Scotch (they often drank tea), and everything to do with something they were itching to talk about.
Software development and other knowledge work teams rarely do this. We get so buried in the day-to-day "work" that we forget what it is that we are building. We miss opportunities to make them better or sell them faster.
Apple Breaks often occurred like Andon events on an assembly line. When someone pulls an Andon cord in manufacturing, it is an instant alert that there is a problem, and a team quickly forms to solve it. In some cases, the pull of the Andon cord may actually stop all production.
Apple Breaks caused us to get away from our laptops, regroup in the kitchen, and discuss the problem we were facing. Tonianne and I would get away from our screens and instead focus on the issue, rather than on the words we'd typed. Tonianne likes to say "our nose is too close to the canvas."
Apple Breaks not only forced us to focus on and solve the issue at hand, they also got our noses away from the proverbial canvas. They gave perspective. They gave us time to work it out.
Most importantly, Apple Breaks gave us permission to stop "working" in order to get work done. Permission is important here. When you are building something for a living, walking away from the production center feels like you are abdicating your responsibility. But this isn't the case.
Watch any construction project. The construction workers take regular breaks, and not just because their work is physically exhausting. It's because they know the more tired they are, the more likely they are to injure themselves. Sometimes walking away from the computer is the best way to use the computer.
Apple Breaks recognize that the source of many issues is often being stuck in the current form of the solution we are working on. The more we stare at that form, the more invested we are in it. Walking away from it frees us of its tyranny. On more than one occasion, Tonianne and I solved a problem during a 20 minute Apple Break that we fought with for days on the screen.
Why Scotch? Why Apples?
You can eat or drink whatever you want - that's irrelevant. The point here is: Take time out to think expansively. Take time out to solve problems as they happen. Your people need permission to think. Give it to them.
Remember: Knowledge is your company's #1 asset and its #1 product. Knowledge comes from thinking. Did you really hire people to not think?