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Want 20% time like Google? Build the foundation first

Max Farrell is the Co-Founder of Create Reason, a firm that inspires entrepreneurship inside companies. 

CR work

Our team at Create Reason recently facilitated a one-ay Creation Jam -- an interactive function within a company to spark innovation and cross-functional collaboration across departments.

The day went amazingly well. Employees pitched concepts and developed them, many of which were quite impressive. Significantly, new relationships were formed across department lines and teams were engaged in refreshing ways.

At the end of the day, awards were given out to the best concepts in different categories. One of the awards for the best concept was the opportunity for “20 percent time” for about a month to expand on the concept and explore adding it as it as a new service offering.

20 percent time allows for employees to spend an average of one day a week with groundbreaking concepts or incremental improvements to develop them out over an allotted time inside the company. The 20 percent time model has been famously implemented by companies such as Google and 3M, to allow employees with groundbreaking concepts to develop them internally. This is how Post-It notes, Gmail and a slew of other products have come to life. 

Both our team and the senior leadership were excited to see this experiment play out. When we made the announcement to the staff, there was a surprising backlash from some of the employees.

The winning team looked distraught as they were given what should have been a moment of glory. They didn’t see it as an opportunity to create something new. They saw it as more work.

This experience forced us to take a step back to understand why this would be the case. It turns out truly successful 20 percent time is like the self-actualization in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.  20 percent time can only be successfully implemented with several other conditions being met. Most importantly: the work has to get done and get done well.

When a company’s talent is swamped with the work in front of them, innovation is the last thing on employee minds. The mindset is not — “oh I can work on this” but rather “oh I have to work on this too”. It makes a big difference.

When built within a company from the ground up or added with the right conditions to an established organization, 20 percent time can serve as a catalyst for rising concepts around how to better the organization or creating new products to steer the company in exciting directions.

What is your organization doing to foster innovation and creativity? Let us know in the comments below or send an email and share!

Update: Google has announced they have refocused their 20 percent time. 

 

To keep the conversation going: 

Twitter: @MaxOnTheTrack / @CreateReason

Web: CreateReason.com

FB: facebook.com/createreason

Email: max@createreason.com

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