Time to Make Time for Innovation.

Innovation Takes Time

When it comes to one of the top companies leading innovation, I still don’t have the straight story – does Google have 20% time or not? Do you remember the tale of Google’s 20% time? A while back, a story circulated that everyone at Google was given something called 20% time, which meant that you, as a Google employee, could spend a full 20% of your time at work on something that had nothing to do with your regular job. This 20% was ideally spent doing something interesting and innovative.

The idea was that people needed time to think, to do new things, to innovate. When they spent 20% of their time not doing their regular job, but working on something else – like a passion project – not only did they get time to innovate, they had the time to develop new skills and new connections, both of which could not only drive innovation, but also bring new perspectives into employee’s regular jobs.

If you think about it, that’s one day out of every work week, not doing your job, but something else. Doesn’t that sound luxurious?

I don’t know about you, but I don’t think any (or many) of us could ever have that luxury – we typically spend over 110% of our time on our regular job, with no time left to innovate. How many times do you work the evening and weekends because you simply do not have enough hours in the day?

I’ve heard various talk about the 20% rule, that it was phased out because there were many people who couldn’t find another project to work on, or others who felt that there was no way that they could only give 80% of their time to their jobs. The other rumor I heard was that some people couldn’t think of what else to do with their 20%.

In any case, a company giving all their employees a full day each week to pursue other things – maybe even incredibly game changing things – is great. Whether it continues to happen or not, the concept is sound – we must be able to carve out time to innovate.

Disruptive New Ideas Need Time To Percolate

Breakthrough, disruptive innovation rarely comes from seeking out small incremental changes in one’s core business, but great leaps into new spaces and places, facilitated by time, resources, and a vision to do just that. The most innovative firms out there not only provide the time and space for their employees to innovate, they reward their employees with real rewards for innovation, creating a virtuous feedback loop which increase the amount of innovation overall.

Contrast these visions: which of the companies are more innovative: those who talk about innovation incessantly, but do not provide any mechanism, time, or resources to building innovative products and services, or those who do? The business world is littered with dead companies, all who focused on their core business, all who told employees that innovation was everyone’s job, but failed to provide them with the time and tools to innovate.

Its key to allow your employees to have the time to innovate.

If not a actual percentage amount like Google’s at least run events like hackathons (which are not just for developers), develop an innovation pipeline and allocate some resources to review ideas and develop prototypes. Develop a well formed and well communicated (even more important) innovation pipeline to capture and funnel those ideas into a process to prepare the best ones from product.

Finally, when you do launch some of those ideas into the market, make it clear where they came from and how they got there. Soon after, this feedback loop will help you to generate better and better ideas.

Time you’ve given your employees to innovate will be time well spent.