It has been reported recently that the famous 20% idea time through which Google encouraged employees to work on their own projects, is no longer in use.
However on further research it would seem that it is in principle still possible for Google employees to work on individual projects but the pressure of time is such that employees often end up working 120% overall.
Why is this an important topic?
Well my take on this is that innovation, or rather creativity and idea generation which proceeds innovation, takes time, requires commitment from the organisation and engagement from employees. Therefore it calls for a process and systems to manage the flow of ideas.
Google were not the first company to introduce this ‘idea time’ concept. In the 50 ties 3M had an approach that encouraged people to spend 15% of their time on new ideas.
One of the most famous results of this was the post-it which originated with Spencer Silver, a researcher at 3M, who discovered a new kind of light adhesive in 1968. This was initially shelved because it had no obvious commercial application. A decade later, his colleague Art Fry turned this product into the now famous Post-it product.
There are many examples of companies supporting and managing the generation of ideas through a variety of means.
Companies such as Texas Instruments and IBM encourage innovation through collaboration and crowdsourcing.
IBM introduced the concept of Innovation jams which provide online space for collaboration both inside IBM, and outside with clients. One example given by Liam Cleaver, VP of the IBM Social Insight group, is of a Jam with Nato which is about building a collaborative community across the whole organisation.
Texas Instruments leads a global innovation challenge for students which involves setting competitions worldwide to encourage students to collaborate on a design project that uses TI technology. This is a great example of utilising outside expertise and fresh ideas to push the boundaries of existing technology.
Other schemes I have come across involve funding being available for employees to develop their ideas through their own projects. This type of scheme usually demands having some justification for the funding and a sponsor or champion being allocated to support the project. Robert Rosenfeld at Eastman Kodak developed the concept of the Office of Innovation in the 1970 ties which encouraged collaboration across functions, the development of ideas and management of them them through a process of screening, review and sponsorship.
What is important, irrespective of the type of idea generation scheme that is introduced, is that ideas are encouraged and from as diverse a background as possible; both fresh ideas from outside the organisation through the type of collaboration that IBM and TI encourage or ideas from your employees. This latter group interact daily with your systems, processes, products, customers etc and are in the best position to come up with new ideas, or ideas for improving upon what already exists.
The question is how will you support this?
As in the example of Google or 3M, will you allow people to take some time outside their normal work to try out new projects?
Will you both empower and encourage your employees to try out new projects?
Will you fund this project, or allow free access to your resources?
Will you provide a champion who can be a support for the new ideas?
Will you offer recognition to people trying out new ideas even if they fail?
Will you offer support for the employee in selling this new idea/project internally?
Do you already have an idea management scheme? If so I would love to hear from you how it works.