Transformative Ideas Take Space

I find that I face an ever-present battle for balance. It’s a struggle between creating the next new thing, while keeping what was the new thing going and delivering on its intended outcomes. I often find myself in the thick of the nitty-gritty details with my team. They help shield me from quite a bit, but we all have to roll up our sleeves. So when you’re doing that day in and day out, how do you find the time to create those new ideas, or even evolve your thinking about current projects to move them forward—a core component of everything we do?

I recently slated myself to take three weeks off for summer holidays. I saw many of my colleagues in Germany taking weeks off a time, which, as an American, was a foreign concept to me. However, I figured if there was a time to lean into my new international work life, this was it. The idea of three whole weeks of not being in the office was something I couldn’t fathom—it was like a workplace unicorn. I’d taken a week off at a time before, but even then I did an awful job at separating from work to restore myself. The challenge was in front of me—what would I do with it?

Well, I failed miserably. I got sucked in deeper than I had before. I was popping into offices, arranging customer visits ahead of trips with friends, wedging and maximizing every moment I possibly could—or at least that’s what I told myself. My email became a source of anxiety as I saw the number grow on a daily basis, even after pruning out the junk. This part of the story is really no different from what most of us experience—and that’s the problem. We know it and talk about it, but we still get sucked into the same behaviors time and time again. After my three weeks, while on the plane back to Germany—which I almost missed trying to make a last-minute dinner with newly minted German friends—I faced the realization head-on that I had absolutely not rested, I hadn’t rejuvenated and, most importantly, I hadn’t given myself space.

Taking a step back and thinking through my actions, I realized that what I had done was not commit to my job, but rather demonstrated poor management of my time and ultimately diminish what I bring to the table. I knew I was worn down and I just wore myself down further. Knowing yourself and what you do well is important in figuring out how you add value on a daily basis. My realization is that one of my biggest contributions at work is either coming up with new ideas and/or connecting the dots on things my team is doing to amplify their work and the impact it can have on our organization. It could be helping to get barriers out of the way so that we have a clear runway, or simply taking the time to review a proposal or approach. I’ve talked about how the thinking we have and the action we take in our Corporate Responsibility (CR) efforts at MilliporeSigma is different than the traditional risk-based framework of CR. Ours leans more heavily on an entrepreneurial and change-maker approach.

This path often takes more up-front work and energy to build awareness and enrollment in our way of thinking, especially in a newly combined organization that is still identifying its culture. I’ve likened it to repeatedly throwing yourself against a brick wall until you finally break through. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the energy to even approach the wall.

Having the discipline to stay present and realize the impact of my approach over those three weeks was a huge gap for me. The recognition of where we are in our CR journey was momentarily missing. While it’s still very early in the process and takes a lot of reminding for me and the team, we’re moving from crawling to starting to take those first big steps. The expectation of what we deliver is rising because of the success and determination of our team to take big bold ideas, commit to them and bring them to life.

For the first couple of weeks after I got back, when people asked me how my “time away” was, I was much more in-tune with what happened and called it my “fauxcation.” I did this with the intent to not repeat my transgression of the past—instead my plan is to start small and reclaim some time to give myself space and permission to think about something, anything or nothing. From past experience, I know that in this space, the next big idea or connection point for work is just around the corner. Hopefully that “fauxcation” is a thing of the past—let’s see how that goes!

Jeffrey Whitford is head of global corporate responsibility for MilliporeSigma.


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