Google has significantly altered what was once the infamous “20% time”, where employees were encouraged to take a day a week to pursue a project of their own interest. In the past, “20% time” has resulted in GMail, AdSense and Google News – all large parts of the Google product portfolio. “20% time” has been copied by many companies as a way to harness the passion of employees in a self-directed way to (hopefully) innovate and create new products/services. The excellent book Drive by Daniel Pink comes to mind, which delves into the topic of motivation and work. Daniel talks about Google’s “20% time” as well as other companies experimenting it. With Google’s recent pairing down and focus on fewer products, was “20% time” – at least as it has been known in the past – destined for the chopping block?
Christopher Mims at Quartz wrote a good article on this topic, and he raises a good question.
A more focused strategy may be good for Google’s bottom line, and is arguably a necessary step as the company has grown larger and harder to manage. But it’s worth asking: Has the company lost something by making innovation the province of an elite few, rather than a part of every engineer’s weekly routine?
Hindsight is always 20/20, and it’s often hard to predict the result of a course of action ’til after it’s been done. We’ll see if “20% time” ended up being an essential ingredient that helped make Google unique, or if it simply was a luxury that Google could effectively shed to become the company it wants to be.
What are your thoughts?