Vaya Insights
Free Thinking Time Leads to Innovation

Unrestricted Thought Time Fosters Creativity

Innovation. It’s something that every successful company requires. Everyone is searching for “the next big thing” whether it's a phone, a pair of glasses, or a car. 

Not everyone has time to be an inventor. With all of our day-to-day responsibilities we just don’t have time to pursue that great idea we had yesterday while driving to work. So how can companies continue to produce new products? You probably thought of a brainstorming meeting with a bunch of people throwing around ideas in a high-rise office building. Well sometimes that is how innovation takes place in corporations but some of the big players have been trying out a new tactic….

and it works. Corporations such as Google, Yahoo, and HP give their employees an allotted amount of time to work on their own projects. Google, for example, has what they call a “20% Time Model.” This model allows Google employees to use 20% of their time working on innovative ideas of their own. Some companies, such as 3M, have been doing this for a while and it has proved successful. According to an article by Talent Management Magazine, “the Post-It-Note was thought of while 3M scientist Art Fry was using his ‘15 percent time’ to hatch his own idea in 1974.” Is this a good model to spark innovation or is it just a waste of time and money? The answer to this question may be different for each company. A distribution company would almost certainly fall short of shipping orders on time if every employee were given 20% of their time to innovate instead of filling orders. Other companies would surely benefit from having more ideas come to the table. If your company is considering implementing a model which allows employees time to work on their own projects then consider the following benefits for giving employees dedicated time to work on their own projects:

  • Allowing employees to innovate provides them with a sense of autonomy and freedom which will raise morale.
  • According to Talent Management Magazine, “Gmail, Google News, and Google Talk” were created through the use of Google’s 20% time model. This model has the potential to be profitable.
  • Giving employees time to innovate allows for ideas to surface which may not have made it to upper management meetings.
  • If given time to innovate, employees can take a break from the current projects and clear their minds to start producing new, fresh ideas.

If you do decide to implement a model like this for your organization, then consider a few options to make it successful. There should be oversight to make sure that the employees are making good use of their time. Do not hover over their shoulders the whole time but make sure that they are using the time to be creative and not just sit on Facebook. Perhaps make the innovative time optional so that those who have no interest in freethinking time are not tempted to waste time. If an employee comes up with a potentially successful idea then make sure it is clear that they will be rewarded and not just ‘gift’ their idea to the corporation. This will make it much more likely for someone to share their ideas.

Many successful ideas come from companies which allow their employees to spend time on the clock being creative in ways other than day-to-day activities. All it takes is a small amount of dedicated time and your company could be producing the next big product. If your business can’t afford to dedicate employee time to innovation, below are a few ideas to drive innovation:

  • Regularly schedule brainstorming sessions that are geared toward generating new ideas for how to improve the business
  • Study the innovations of others and tailor their approach to innovation to your organization
  • When new ideas are brought to the table resist the urge to shoot them down and try to support team creativity/innovation

Every business can benefit from applying these practices. Ask yourself and your peers which model is right for your company.

Your employees are your greatest strength. Turn their talent into a competitive advantage.
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