Innovation Through Margin

In seasons of professional life, we encounter moments of stretching ourselves. We might work a few extra hours to help hit a deadline. Most IT projects encounter situations like this. We, however, strive to avoid making over-extension the work life normal. One of my favorite database administrators used to ask pointed questions of our teams at times. She would ask “Do we live to work? Do we work to live?” If our goal as creators involves innovation and bringing new ideas to market, I believe that leaders should consider the benefits of margin in work life culture.

I became inspired to share this blog post as I’m reading “Win at work and succeed at life.” I love that this book shares the perspective of Michael Hyatt and Megan Miller. In this work, Michael and his daughter Megan reflect on the necessity and benefits of setting work and life boundaries. For me, I do my best to stay on top of my spiritual life and make sure I connect with my family well. As a technologist, I also enjoy the craft of bringing new ideas to life. If you’re interested in perspectives and tips on balancing your work and professional goals, I feel that the Hyatt family shares some great reflections, lessons learned, and personal strategies. While I love the lessons from Michael Hyatt over the years, I strongly appreciate the opportunities to learn perspective from Megan Hyatt Miller. As I support my wife in her professional journey, it’s been helpful to reflect upon the unique challenges of working mothers. Love getting new ideas for caring for my wife.

Innovation time off

In Agile cultures, we burn through lots of 3M “Post It” notes to build our Kanban boards and run brain storming sessions. It turns out that the product idea for “Post It” notes started from a place of margin. At the time, 3M fostered a culture of innovation time off. Engineering staff had 15% of their work capacity allocated to experiment with new product ideas or implementation strategies. This culture decision and execution have help them earn billions of dollars over the years. This strategy influenced other companies that we know and love including HP and Google. Some of our favorite innovation off products from Google include Google Cardboard, Gmail, AdSense, and Google News. It’s interesting to see the impact of “innovation time off” projects, company hackathons, or longer-term innovation projects. Innovation involves bringing new ideas that solve business problems to market. Some of our most influential products got started from a place of margin.

Management of technical debt

During an Agile meetup, I learned some fun facts about the team that makes Visual Studio Code. Microsoft Visual Studio Code has become one of the favorite programming text editors for web developers. Their product leadership team could run all team members to 100% capacity to ensure the company has planned and executed every hour of effort. As an open-source product at Microsoft, the stakes are high for Visual Studio Code. Microsoft needs to engage software professionals with super productive tools that drive revenue to Microsoft Azure cloud solutions. There’s documentation to write. They have a very active community engagement process through their public GitHub repository. Since Visual Studio Code is made by human beings, there’s bugs to fix. The VS Code team intentionally decided during one of their retrospectives to reserve a portion of their team capacity to reducing technical debt and engineering driven quality improvement. This empowers their agile team to find and destroy bugs proactively, creative test automation, improve technical design to save time, write better programmer documentation, and community engagement efforts. In the context of my Agile meetup, multiple Scrum masters validated the benefits of protecting a healthy margin for the team for technical debt reduction and long term quality investment.

The benefits of the wheel life

In the past year of pandemic, I feel that Zig Ziglar’s teaching on the wheel of life has become more essential for families. In the picture below, you can see various parts of life de-composed into zones. The wheel of life lesson encourages professionals to keep balanced investments in each vital area of life. Let’s say that you remain super focused on professional success, but you neglect areas of life like family or taking care of your body. You end up with a flat tire. Can you keep these zones of life completely in balance in any given week? No. I feel the struggle is important. I keep coming back to this tool for myself to help me retrospect on ways that I can focus and act upon the things that I love and care about. How does the wheel of life help the bottom line of companies? In my view, if leaders encourage their team members to connect with a sustainable pace of work and a balanced life, you find that team members are happier and more engaged. An engaged team member knows that you care for them on a personal level. This culture creates higher productivity and team loyalty. This is a good reminder that I need to go for my daily walks. Some of my best ideas come on my treks around the neighborhood. I also know that I’m more charged for writing code when I balance my life with writing music. ( I need a good jam session this weekend. )

Wheel of Life

Wheel of Life at

Happy team members are super productive team members. In visual design, we often talk about the value of white space to help things visually pop. In the world of music, the moments of silence matter as much as the well-crafted and well-timed melodies. Margin seems to be an important component for moving a team from good to great.


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