What comes to mind when you hear the term innovation burnout? Webster's dictionary says that burnout is the physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive or prolonged stress. Burnout occurs when we feel overwhelmed, drained, and unable to meet that constant demand.
For innovators, it's that constant demand for coming up with new ideas. Being in the innovation game for some forty years, I have often gone through the burnout stage. Burnout can kill your creativity that drives innovation. Over the years, I've learned that there are things you can do to avoid it.
If you face burnout, it is essential to talk to somebody about it, whether your spouse, boss, or friend. If you don't address burnout, it can impact your career, family, and even happiness.
Dealing with Innovation Burnout as a Leader
The first thing you can do to deal with burnout as a leader is to eliminate time wasters. While at HP, when I asked my team to update me on something, they would often lose weeks of productivity preparing to present to me. Included in this time was preparation, meetings, etc., all leading up to a one-hour session with me.
In my organization now, when I ask someone for something, I have a conversation with them that does not need wasteful preparation. This meeting helps my team avoid burnout and keeps them focused on their projects, collaborations, etc.
The second thing leaders need to do to avoid burnout is to establish priorities. In my organization, I am a big believer in utilizing OKRs (Objectives and Key Results). Having set priorities helps people know what order they need to do things in.
Thirdly, leaders need to encourage and, at times, force downtime. By taking breaks, you replenish that energy required for the next project. At CableLabs, we offer unlimited paid time off (PTO) to our employees. If our managers see an individual struggling or just came off a big project, they often force them to take PTO.
We also shut down our teams periodically, allowing them to rest and avoid innovation burnout. By disconnecting, I found that my teams come back with better solutions to problems. The fourth thing leaders need to do is allow employees time to disconnect at the office. Employees shouldn't have to be on call at all times. Having stress from their boss constantly messaging them will fuel their burnout.
Leaders also need to set boundaries for their employees. When you are outside of work, you should disconnect from work. While this is not realistic with all jobs, it makes a big difference when implemented. When a leader does these five things, it gives their team time to recharge and avoid innovation burnout.
Avoiding Burnout as an Individual
The first thing you can do is invest in your physical and mental health. You are an innovation athlete expected to perform at a high level. Athletes exercise physically and mentally to stay in shape and get more vital and more innovative. As innovators, it is essential to eat well, exercise, and do things that feed your creativity. This podcast is one of my creative outlets as I do it outside of work.
The second thing you need to do is take ownership of recharging your batteries. Don't wait for your boss to force you to take a vacation. Even as a startup guy, it is essential to take breaks to recharge. If you are struggling, don't be afraid to share your struggles with your leaders. If you are feeling this way, other people in your organization are probably feeling the same.
The last thing you can do as an individual is to find a community of fellow innovators. Within this community, you can find help from innovators who have experienced the same struggles. Check out the Innovators Community here.
To know more about avoiding innovation burnouts, listen to this week's show: How to Avoid Innovation Burnout.