If you only read one thing this week…

50% of Google’s products started life as part of their ‘20% learning and innovation’ time that employees can use to explore anything they want. What can we learn from this? by ifyouonlyreadonethingthisweek
August 27, 2006, 5:46 pm
Filed under: Articles, If you have 30 mins, Management

Marissa Mayer is Vice President of Google’s Search Products & User Experience, and she recently gave a presentation at Stanford University about how to foster creativity and innovation in an organization. You can listen to it (it’s an mp3, which should play on any computer, of a 15 minute presentation, with another 15 minutes of questions).
She says that every Google engineer is encouraged to spend twenty percent of their work time on projects that interest them (anything – it doesn’t have to be directly related to their job, in fact, it shouldn’t be). It turns out that many of Google’s newer services, such as Gmail, Google News, Adsense, Suggest, and Orkut originated from these independent endeavors.
Among the issues she addresses is the question that many people would ask her “Aren’t you giving away 20% of your productivity?” In response to this she mapped all Google products, and figured out which ones came from the 20% time. She worked out that 50% of what Google launched in 2005 came from 20% independent time – that’s two and a half times more productive than you would expect.

It turns out that when you take really smart people and give them really good tools, they build really beautiful and amazing things that are really exciting, and they do it with a lot of passion and momentum, in such a way that you actually see 2 1/2 times the output of what you would expect given the time. The key isn’t that it’s 20%, or one day a week, it’s that our engineers and product developers see that, and they realize that this is a company that really trusts them, that really wants them to be creative, and really wants them to explore – whatever it is that they want to explore, and it’s that license to do whatever they want that really fuels a lot of creativity and innovation.”

The interesting question for us is how are we using the five percent learning time that all Mercy Corps staff have built into their roles? Are there things that we could be learning from Google, or are we different in some important way?

For those who want more, you can read a fascinating 2005 Business Week article about managing Google’s ‘ideas factory’, and a 2006 article about managing Google’s new product process.


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What are you doing with your 5% learning and innovation time at Mercy Corps?

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