innovation

Quality and Innovation on the Road (or, Maintaining Momentum in Large Projects)

Hey everyone! I’m back. I just returned from a 16 state, 20 day, 6392 mile road trip across the US – by myself. For me, driving is one of the most meditative, mind-clearing, rejuvenating activities in existence – especially in the west, where traffic is almost a non-issue.

Like usual, the little voice in my head pontificated about quality for much of the ride. Although I’ll write more about each of these points (and more) in future posts, I wanted to capture some of my “lessons learned” from reflection on the trip.

  • When your plan is to drive so many miles, there is NO way you can focus on how many miles you have left to go, and still maintain the mental and physical energy to complete the trip. The best way to ultimately achieve your goal is to point your car blithely in the direction of your intended destination, start moving, start enjoying each moment of the trip, and set smaller, more realistically achievable objectives (like “getting to the town an hour away”). By getting the trip’s endpoint out of your head almost completely, you’re better able to focus on the here and now peacefully, calmly, and with well preserved physical and mental energy (while still making progress towards your goal). This has implications for organizational goal setting!
  • By setting smaller objectives, you also leave yourself open to new “trip innovation”. For example, I knew on one part of my trip that I ultimately had to get from Salt Lake City to Santa Fe. By not setting firm deadlines with myself along the way, but allowing myself to go wherever the spirit of the trip led me from day to day (and hour to hour), I ended up doing cool unexpected things like spending an afternoon at the Taos Pueblo, which definitely enhanced the ultimate quality of my trip.
  • There are amazing physiological benefits to “getting into flow,” Csikzentmihalyi-style, the most pronounced of which is being able to drive 800 miles in one day (for me) and end the day feeling energized (and able to drive another 200 miles, if I didn’t have that restriction on my driver’s license). Imagine putting in a 12-hour day of work, and then wanting more? That’s how you know you’re on the right track. You’re doing something that you feel good about… you’re getting immediate feedback on your progress… you feel empowered and in enough control.

You might be reading this and say “Hey! Those perspectives are all well and good for a vacation, but it could never apply at work.” And my response to you is… well, why not? IMHO, our work lives should be just as enjoyable as our vacation lives, otherwise we’re doing something wrong. It’s our job to figure out how to make it happen, for ourselves as individuals, and for the groups and organizations we’re affiliated with.

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