Weird Ideas That Work examines how innovations come about in companies and how they can be fostered. The book also shows how creative tasks require a very different work ethic to performing routine tasks. The author cites various examples from the business world and the work of famous geniuses to explain his ideas.
The productivity of routine tasks can pretty much always be evaluated using a simple formula: draw on past experience to establish both how many errors and how much output you can expect for a certain amount of work. Then use this as a quality standard to measure your current process against. Generally speaking: the less garbage you produce, the better your process.
The makers of a car or a Big Mac already know exactly how the products should look, and so they put all their energy into ensuring that the manufacturing process is as accurate and efficient as possible.
However, it’s pointless to apply such standards to innovative work (i.e., the development of new things) because no clearly defined target exists: you don’t know exactly what it is you’re searching for. The only objective can be to carry out as many experiments as possible and produce a lot of unusable material. Sooner or later, you’ll find a gem in the garbage heap.
Alas, it is rare indeed for anyone to produce a great idea when they feel forced or under pressure. Great ideas are also impossible to predict: sometimes they emerge quickly, sometimes they incubate for a long time, and other times, despite all efforts, they never appear at all.
In general, it’s fairly common for highly innovative creative teams to work slowly. They may even work so slowly that outsiders get the impression they’re spending all their time doing nothing at all, but that’s because the outsider is judging the teams’ work by the wrong standards; namely, the standards for completing routine tasks.
But think about it this way: how productive would Archimedes have looked while he was taking his bath just before his famous “eureka” moment?
Innovative work can’t be judged by the same standards as routine work.