Is your inner sloth stopping innovation?

Popular quotes stick with us but not always associated with the person who originally said it. It may be true that Bill Gates did say when faced with a difficult problem the best person to solve it is the laziest as they’ll be the most efficient. It’s also unlikely that he was the first or only person to have thought in this way.

There is a lot of sense in this approach. Simplicity is a lot harder to achieve than we think. Overcomplicating a process seems to come much more naturally to us. Again, it could have been Churchill or someone else who said – “sorry for the length of this letter, I didn’t have time to write a short version.”

If we’re thinking about lazy things then the sloth is one animal that comes to mind. It’s perhaps an unfair label to give them as there is research that shows they’re not lazy just very efficient. There was one aspect I discovered about a sloth recently that made me think about how leaders can prevent innovation from occurring.

The human hand, when relaxed, sits open. Yes, I know you’ve just looked at your hand think about this. The hand (or claw?) of the sloth works in the opposite way. It takes energy for them to let go of something. For an animal that sleeps in a tree, this is a useful design feature. A hand that grips in when relaxed sustains life.

In business, we’ve become used to thinking about our natural state and how we behave under pressure. I wonder if rather than being “human” in our grip when challenged by new ideas we’re in danger of being more like the sloth.

If our default “relaxed” position is to grip to what we know, the processes that we’ve followed in the past, the hierarchy and control structures that have allowed us to reach our current position then it’s going to take a lot of energy for those things to change. Just as we tend to think about our hands being open or closed during everyday life, I suspect we’re not even aware of the extent to which we cling to the things that we like just the way they are.

Innovation starts with us being open to the possibility that there could be a different way of doing something. We need to invite that challenge and exploration. If people come to us to share and develop ideas but find that our hand’s grip to the old way of doing things those ideas will stop coming.

Lazy people may find good solutions but your inner sloth could be that barrier to those things being adopted. If we’re going to reimagine the future and take advantage of the technology developing around us then it’s time to kill the inner sloth and let innovation flourish.

Written by

An experienced senior digital business leader with experience of delivering transformative change.

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