Don’t Throw Out The Bathwater!

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As Brian Carney and Isaac Getz point out in a Wall Street Journal opinion, Google apparently has been cracking down on employees use of its “creativity for innovation†time commitment – that employees can spend a fifth of their time working on whatever innovative, maybe even crazy, projects they wished.

Google had widely touted its 20% time as a cornerstone of its “innovation machine.” Supposedly this time has led to many of Google’s “most significant advancesâ€, including Gmail, Google News and Adsense. Adsense accounts for a quarter of Google’s $50+ Billion annual revenue.

Google is not the only company to give employees time to pursue their own ideas. 3M (the maker of Post-it Notes, etc.) and W.L. Gore & Associates, (the makers of Gore-Tex) also provide “time for innovation†though the amount may be different (e.g., 3M allots 15%). Many companies provide more structure – you can request time to pursue an innovative idea and the company grants it. This maximizes the possibility that an innovative product or service results, though it eliminates the possibility of creating something from a truly “crazy†idea.

You can’t just throw money and bodies at innovation and expect results. Most ideas provide no positive results; gems are rare. They authors not that according to academic research, a company, on average, needs 3,000 ideas to get 300 of them formalized, 125 of them into small experimentation, 10 of them officially budgeted, 1.7 launched—and one that makes money.

Freeing up time for innovation is not just another on-the-job perk; it’s an investment. My advice to Google is not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Time for innovations is not an indulgence – but a necessity in today’s fast-paced world. Instead, develop a tighter systems allocates a certain amount of time for certain categories of ideas. One idea is that of Rite-Solutions, which allows people to submit ideas on a stock market of ideas, from which the best ones are selected for people to spend time pursuing (See Practically Radical). There are others.

How does your company handle this situation? How do you encourage employees to be creative and develop innovations for the company? Share your responses!