“They don’t understand? After all this time, they say they don’t get it? We’ve been working on this for three years! What for have I written all those reports and did all those presentations? Do they have any respect for the work I did?”
Hearing this leader’s frustration brought back memories of my own. The world of corporate innovation is rarely gentle to those brave innovators and intrapreneurs.
In addition to dealing with a difficult task of bringing something novel to life, they also must navigate the organisation that does not necessarily want to support them.
The support comes and goes, ideas need to be sold internally again and again; and all the hard work can disappear in a single reorganisation. Yet, all of these hardships are pale in comparison to the satisfaction, joy, and pride derived from succeeding with your innovation project—despite all odds.
Great innovators have learned how to practice proper self-care, so they don’t get crushed by the system and find themselves badly burnt out. I’d like to share with you some of the practices that worked well for me and the leaders I have coached.
1. Eat well, drink well, sleep well
The sacred trio; obvious, yet the most important. With the chaos and whirlwind of the everyday business, it’s easy to neglect basic bodily needs. Sandwiches and fast food replace a proper meal; while coffee, soda, and energy drinks are consumed instead of water.
It’s fine when that happens once or twice, but when it becomes your regular “work diet” you make your body suffer. Not only that—it also starts affecting your sleep, which in turn leads to diminished cognitive abilities.
Think of it as a basic hygiene. Changing these three is simple, and it pays back handsomely.
2. Engage in daily physical activity
Get that oxygen! I’m not talking about doing hardcore training everyday, but going out and allowing your muscles to activate. A solitary walk in the park; a stroll through the forest with your partner; playing with your children—anything works.
This has been easy—and sometimes mandatory—to neglect during the pandemic. But even that limitation can be overcome with a little bit of creativity: vacuuming the house; working in the garden; lifting the kitchen table.
3. Learn how to trust your body, in order to learn how to cope with uncertainty
I’ve been training martial arts for more than 25 years. When I step on the mat I’m not fearless because I believe that I can predict what my sparring partner will do, but because I have confidence in myself, my skill, and my ability to adapt.
There is a great saying that goes along the lines of “a thousand changes but ready for each one.” Again, it is not about some mystical foresight, but confidence in one’s own experience and skill.
Innovation is inherently uncertain and ambiguous. And while there are methods to reduce this, there will always be some unknowns. Hence, it is important for any innovator to learn how to trust their own judgement, intuition, and experience. That is the path to stresslessness.
4. Don’t let your idea consume your identity
The easiest way to identify an innovator is by their (over)eagerness to tell you everything about their idea. They could go for hours and hours, covering everything—including the least important details.
Passion is important, but so is remembering that you are more than your idea. There is certain risk in allowing it to consume your whole identity. If you don’t ensure space and let yourself unwind, it is easy to get stuck and feel unable to proceed.
Of course you must work on your idea, but not necessarily every waking hour! Cordon it off, allow it to marinate in your subconsciousness, and then engage with it again. You might get surprised with what comes out of it.
5. Be gentle with yourself
Innovators are subjected to immense pressure from outside—the customers—and inside—the organisation. Both sides have high expectations while providing minimal support.
All this tough work, requiring a lot of juggling and political navigation, can be exhausting. There will be disappointments, failures, and setbacks. And when these happen it’s critical that you are gentle on yourself.
Focus on doing the best work you can, make sure to learn from everything you are doing, and you won’t have many regrets.
Perhaps you feel overwhelmed with the above, or think that it doesn’t pertain to you. I’d like to remind you that no one is impervious to the daily grind, no matter how they feel. My suggestion is that you begin with any point that resonated the most with you. These simple practices will improve the quality of your life multi fold—so that you can become an even better innovator.