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Harold Jarche

"Instead, we have focused on creating a culture that engenders new ideas and rewards innovators, encouraging them to tackle new projects above and beyond their 100% contribution to mainline company execution."

My understanding of that statement is that you don't give any company time for innovation, you just expect everyone to work overtime and not have a life outside work. Is that correct?


Harold: If you met the Kosmix team, you'd be keenly aware that most have a life outside work. I also say this explicitly in the Team section of the post.

Given a high-octane team, the right environment, and good understanding of company priorities, it's possible to get the mainline work of the company done and still have people innovate beyond that.



Your title is indeed correct - 20% time is not enough. But at Google, thats not the only thing to foster innovation. Just to take the factors you mentioned:
Team - smart people all around
Environment - there is an emphasis on college-like atmosphere. I am fairly certain you have visited google campus.
Incentives - Google, too, has 'peer bonuses' and awards like 'EMG award' and 'Founder award'.

So I would rather sing a different tune - these things are not enough and you need something more (like 20% time, perhaps) to encourage innovation.

As company grows, so does 'middle management' and so do 'processes'. In such cases, people drift away from the core company values. 20% time proves valuable in such a scenario, since it gives someone a formal opportunity to get the mainline work done and get some time to work on own ideas, free from the hassle of management and processes.

Harold Jarche

@Datawocky That's what I hoped it would be like. I was just confused by the "100% to mainline company exec." - more than 100% in my mind means working beyond the norm. If everyone is happy, then that's great.

Michael Christensen

Have to agree 100%. Great post - keep up the good work. Thanks.

Dunston rocks

How do you account for people who may not be at their peak in grad school or even later, but might give their best well beyond the much-feted college / grad school years?

Also, the inherent assumption in your argument is that productivity level is a constant, which is a trap.

More importantly, the underlying argument is that somehow people with the same 'academic' /professional background are in 'the same place'. The whole premise of a grad school bringing out the best in people only seems to underline that the grad years were probably YOUR best years. Nothing more.

Harry Fuecks

At local.ch we had 20% time but the problem was no one ever used it, because of either self-induced or peer (not manager) pressure that made taking 20% time feel like pulling a sicky.

We later changed it to the notion of "hackdays" where the whole engineering team works on anything they like.

During hackdays, managers and the business are not allowed to intrude - the only valid reason to interrupt is if the live site is down. And peer pressure flows in a different direction - working on your "normal" work is frowned upon, as it undermines for everyone.

The only guideline on *what* you do is you have to deliver a lightning talk at the end - i.e. if you wrote an ant simulator, you'll have to explain that to your colleagues.

What gets done in practice is stuff like prototypes, trying out stuff like Open Source projects or online APIs or learning something new.

We do this 2 days every two months, which of course doesn't add up to 20% time but is at a level every can accept.

88 India

Its good, to have innovations in your company, as they can pave way for a new products or functionality in your existing products....but making your employees to do over time for that innovation is a bad idea, they must come from their heart which is the base for innovations...

Jo Jordan

The whole ethos of a research environment is that everyone is working on their own project. There are overlaps and a common project called teaching but the drive comes from each person.

The 'top' is there to provide the environment where this drive is nurtured and supported. Included in this is managing the meeting structure where we discuss the courses we offer - the interface between the unfolding world of ideas and the world of noobes.

Like the first comment, I was pretty turned off by your description which is sad as I thought your product was good. But using a product produced under duress is a little bit like drinking tea grown on a badly run plantation . . the bottom line is that tea drinker suddenly becomes unnecessary


@Jo Jordan: I'm not sure what turned you off, or how you got the impression of duress. Also, not sure of where the teaching and research come in. I do teach at Stanford, but Kosmix is not a university but a company.

The biggest point I'm making is that a startup like Kosmix needs to have a straight line direction as well as a vision and environment that encourage employees to innovate beyond the straight line. Innovation cannot be mandated by management, but they can create the right environment for it.


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