The 3-box time management strategy is the fifth in a series of articles that describes the unique traits of a corporate intrapreneur.
The next three habits, when practiced properly at a corporation, can often lead to the successful delivery of ideas. Idea delivery is characterized by the creation of a product or service that provides value to a customer.
These first stages of delivery occur as part of a technique known as 3-box time management, which is depicted below.
Vijay Govindarajan (VG) is a Professor of International Business at Dartmouth College. He is the author and evangelist of the 3-box strategic approach to corporate innovation. Three-box innovation strategy dictates that the majority of corporate resources should be invested in the Box 1 diagram listed below: Manage the Present. This box represents the continued development of existing products to yield most of a corporation’s revenue. Employees supporting this box focus on existing customers and processes, and they continue to leverage their existing competencies. In essence, this box “funds” the development of innovation within a corporation. Some companies fall into the trap of spending close to 100 percent of their resources in this box.
Vijay advises corporations to allocate portions of their resources to Box 2 and Box 3 as well as tried-and-true Box 1. Box 2 selectively abandons the past by “forgetting” most of what is known about the products built in Box 1, including why they were built and whom they were built to satisfy. This break from tradition enables an innovator to take existing products into completely different markets.
Box 3 is a more radical approach to innovation. It completely ignores current processes and products and prominently targets the future.
The figure below applies this 3-box corporate framework to an intrapreneur’s use of his or her own time (note that the box titles change when applied to an individual).
Intrapreneurs can be most effective when they are delivering products as part of a business unit (as opposed to being a member of a research team in an ivory tower). Why? They often prefer to be in the trenches, where they can be highly productive, visiting customers, and collaborating with others. They are respected within their organizations for doing those very things.
Perhaps their most significant contribution to their business unit’s product line is funding their employment and that of their collaborators. They are squarely positioned in Box 1.
Spending all of their time in one area of expertise does not enable intrapreneurs to achieve success. Their natural curiosity and passion will not allow them to stay in only one place. They practice the discipline of limiting the amount of time they spend in Box 1.
By limiting the amount of time they spend in Box 1, intrapreneurs make time for Box 2 and/or Box 3 activities. They set aside the time to learn about customer issues. They set aside the time to explore adjacent technologies. They regularly meet with experts in adjacent fields and collaborate to dream up ideas of what might be possible. Most importantly, they begin to build out their ideas.
It is worth pointing out the difference between Box 2 and Box 3 intrapreneurial behavior. Box 2 behavior is characterized by Venn diagram innovation. The intrapreneur collaborates in the context of a well-defined customer problem.
Box 3 behavior is characterized by blue sky innovation: taking the initiative to learn new technologies and collaborate without necessarily starting with the context of a defined customer problem. Blue sky innovators may ask themselves and others, “What might this capability be used to do?” Answers to this question can result in breakthrough innovation. It is often the case that breakthrough innovation can be applied to customer problems they don’t yet know they have!
It is a difficult balancing act to regularly spend time outside of Box 1. It takes passion and persistence. But it is the very first step that a new intrapreneur must take to prove his or her worth!
Subsequent steps build on this important ability to manage one’s time well. The technique of intentionally limiting personal visibility is a non-obvious method to effectively focus intrapreneurial efforts. I will elaborate further on this next step in a future post.
Steve Todd is Director at EMC Innovation Network, and a high-tech inventor and book author “Innovate With Global Influence“. An EMC Intrapreneur with over 180 patent applications and billions in product revenue, he writes about innovation on his personal blog, the Information Playground. Twitter: @SteveTodd