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Innovation starts from home



“The secret to business success is good sleep”. I don’t know if maybe that is already a quote somewhere from a great businessman or philosopher, but I woke up and wrote it down sometime last year in Manchester. I had been travelling a lot across time zones, and sleep deprivation was beginning to affect me. I decided to take some time off in Manchester.

I woke up that day and realised how effective my choice had been. My decision-making became much better. My decisions are always better after I have had some sleep. When they say people should “sleep on a problem”, it is very sound advice. I have come back once again from another holiday from work, and I am feeling sharper than ever.

I asked myself a question during the last Christmas and New Year break, “where do most African entrepreneurs sleep?” How does the quality of their sleep affect their decisions and choices? We seem to focus more on where people work but we never really look at where they sleep or live. I believe that creativity starts from home and not from the office. I work primarily from home, and I create an environment around me that ensures optimal productivity.

My friend Editi Effiong, the founder of the innovative digital agency Anakle, says that his best ideas come in the shower. Sometimes he gets out of the bathroom, writes things down and goes back again to the shower to think some more. His method is probably why he keeps coming up with winning ideas and projects.

I saw Editi’s bathroom when he was renovating his house. It is a massive one. He deliberately created it that way because he knows how important it is to him and his creative process.  I know that not many people can afford that luxury or the ability to be able to work from home but I sometimes ask myself if we are putting the cart before the horse when we wait first to afford comfort at home, instead of building a comfortable abode that can enable us to grow faster.

Some years ago, we did a telecommuting experiment at our office in Lagos. We asked people to work from home if they wanted to. We thought it would be a good way to remove the stress of the commute to work and increase productivity. What happened after shocked me. People preferred to come to the office daily instead. There were more distractions at home than at the office. One of my colleagues told me point blank that she preferred to run her generator at home only at night instead of 24 hours. It was an epiphany.

Decision fatigue
At a workshop session with the People Operations team at Google during the Global Launchpad Accelerator, someone asked why Google provides food at its offices. The answer was not one of those “flowery” ones about “creating the right environment” and “great culture”, it was a data-driven response. Google found out that providing food in the office and making people as comfortable as possible reduces decision fatigue. One of the most common sources of decision fatigue is deciding what and where to eat.

According to Wikipedia, “In decision making and psychology, decision fatigue refers to the deteriorating quality of decisions made by an individual after a long session of decision making. It is now understood as one of the causes of irrational trade-offs in decision making.”

Google realises that the work of a technology professional involves making several decisions daily and the quality of those decisions matter and ultimately affect the quality of their output. Simplicity is the ultimate productivity hack. It is why Steve Jobs had only one simple way of dressing in his turtleneck sweaters. It is also why very successful people like Mark Zuckerberg and Barrack Obama have clear and straightforward wardrobe choices. To a more considerable extent, it is why most technology people don’t bother too much about fashion or social fads. Some even take it as far as ignoring religion. Bill Gates once famously said that devoting too much time to worship was, “an inefficient exercise in the allocation of time.”

We realised that telecommuting caused more decision fatigue for people in Lagos than solving it. We could not afford to buy generators and fuel for everyone who decided to work from home because it was impractical. The office is the real home for most technology people, and that is why tech companies try to make them as comfortable as possible. We took it further and decided to let people live in the office. Our offices around Africa are both living and working locations, this solves a lot of headache for young people who cannot afford their place and also removes the stress of the long commute.

In the era where remote working is becoming more of a norm, the role of the home is growing more in importance than ever before. In places where people have comfortable homes, telecommuting and remote working is possible and has led to higher productivity. I believe tech hubs will migrate to living communities rather than sterile offices or forced working places. Ventures Platform in Abuja got it right by providing sleeping and lodging arrangements at their incubator. It may become an African trend.

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