I have spent two weeks this summer in retreats. I expect to be better at all of my roles (CEO, husband, father, friend) because of the time I spent in the retreat context. What is the nature of retreat, and what role can it play in innovation?
A retreat is more than a mere respite from one’s chosen field – otherwise it would be called vacation. Retreats incorporate (1) focused reflection and (2) commitment to new ways of being. As I meet with corporate innovation leaders, I often see the concepts of retreat and reflection being built into the innovation system.
P&G’s Clay Street Project (pictured above), for example, is a sort of retreat. It functions as a residential program where an intact BU team works outside the day-to-day business for 10 to 12 weeks. [As the photo shows, Clay Street even uses a gong to make people mindful they are in session.] At the end of the session, the team is repatriated back into the BU to implement the new concepts they created at Clay Street.
For Clay Street facilitators, however, there was no breathing room between sessions. “BU teams were stacked up in the queue like planes coming into O’Hare,” saysKaren Hershonson at Clay Street. “(Clay Street facilitation) was very rewarding work, but it was a one-way trip to burn-out.” So Clay Street adapted its staffing model to incorporate retreat principles. Today it relies on pairs of facilitators, and planned “retreat” time for the facilitators to reflect and build their skills.
At McDonald’s, innovation activities are structured into 100-day “bursts,” with several weeks of reflection and recharging between bursts. Melody Roberts, the head of experience design at McDonald’s, says “100 days just seems to fit our natural human social rhythms.”
These examples highlight one of the key benefits of retreat: intensity. “Teams that anticipate a retreat are more free to Go For It,” according to Clay Street’s Michael Luh. “They don’t have to reserve energy to manage burnout.”
Bottom-line: If you want a sustainable innovation capability, you’ll want to incorporate retreat and reflection into the pace of activity.