Three Paths to Innovation: Learnings from a Girl Geek Dinner

Albert Einstein famously said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions.”

Lynn Christensen, senior vice president of product development at Workday, dug deeper into the meaning of Einstein’s observation during a recent Bay Area Girl Geek Dinner hosted by Workday. She asked the audience, “How long would it take you to solve a problem?”

Many of the attendees initially responded that they would try and solve it as quickly as possible. However, Christensen suggested they spend more time thinking about the problem. Speaking from her own professional experience, she said software engineers should always take a step back to understand why they’re developing something in order to come up with a creative solution.

The mission of the weekly Bay Area Girl Geek Dinners, which companies throughout the area take turns hosting, is to connect women in the technology field. In addition to Christensen, other featured Workday speakers included Greg Pryor, vice president of leadership and organizational effectiveness, and Ali Fuller, director of UX product management. They discussed how they innovate within their respective organizations and gave tips to the audience on how they can be innovative in their own roles.

Workday Girl Geek Dinner
Ali Fuller, Greg Pryor, and Lynn Christensen lead the discussion at Bay Area Girl Geek Dinner hosted by Workday.

Here are three takeaways from the event:

Quiet Your Mind

While at work, people are often interrupted throughout the day by email, phone calls, chats, and more. With our time drained by distractions, we tend to focus on how fast we can get through tasks rather than think through them strategically. The solution? Block time on your calendars just to think, said Christensen. “You need to flush what’s bombarding you,” in order to come up with innovative ideas, she added.

Pryor agreed that the quiet mind has the ability to fire up insight—even more so than a team brainstorming exercise. He said some of the greatest ideas come to people while they’re away from the task at hand, during exercise, taking a shower, or meditating.

Set a Course for Your Journey

Christensen posed another question to the audience: “What do you want your legacy to be at your job?” She suggested that attendees define what their goals are and then set out to achieve them. That journey, she said, is how innovation works.

Yet realize any journey is a process, added Fuller. Innovation of any kind occurs continuously through small disruptions and doesn’t happen just once. And while change isn’t always easy, it’s often necessary. “Innovation is not complacency,” she said.

Explore Different Networks

Pryor shared new research on the power of networks to inspire fresh ideas and bring them to fruition. He listed four intentional networks we should create that are critical to driving innovation:

  1. Discovery—Connecting with diverse people who contribute creative thoughts and different points of view.
  2. Ideation—Discussing ideas with a tight group of friends or colleagues who can challenge and collaborate with each other.
  3. Adaptive Space—Enlisting sponsors on the operational side who can support your idea.
  4. Disruption—Working with others to commercialize the idea to bring it to market.
Greg Pryor, VP of leadership and organizational effectiveness at Workday, spoke about the power of networks.

Fuller agreed that having a network is necessary for cultivating an idea. And when people are intentional about the network they create, she said, they have the best chance of transforming an idea into an innovative solution.

At the end of the talk, Christensen asked attendees, “What did you love to do when you were young? Why did you love that so much?” She explained that growing up, she played basketball and loved being on a team, devising plays, and determining how to win. She brings this mentality to work and calls herself a “software coach.” She told attendees that if they can understand what they love to do, why that is, and how to bring that passion to their jobs, then they will thrive at work.