10 percent Time

Published: 10/31/2011 03:35 p.m.

I recently got to attend The Up Experience thanks to Schipul, and I really enjoyed all of the speakers. One of my favorites was the message shared by Dan Pink.

He talked about the importance of 10% time in cultivating innovation. You can read his article in the Telegraph to get the full story.

It starts with art. There was a study on the "creativeness" of commissioned vs. non-commissioned art. The outcome was this:

Put another way, the commissioned art was good. But the works that were great were consistently the non-commissioned ones.

This is probably frustrating to hear for the art commissioners. They paid good money for art, but the art that is better wasn't even paid for.

The point is that personal creativity, the type that isn't directed or instructed, turns out to result in the most creative outcomes.

Similar results were found at Atlassian, who hosts FedEx Days. FedEx days are once a quarter. The last Thursday night through Friday afternoon. Their goals are:

  • Foster creativity
  • Scratch itches
  • Spike (do something radical)
  • Have Fun

Employees "work on whatever they want with a skew towards" their products. The only rule is you have to ship something overnight.

There is also the story of The 2010 Nobel Prize winning Physicists, whose 10% time for "Friday evening experiments" lead to the discovery of graphene, a 1-atom thick material that stirred up the material sciences world. Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov worked together for years on Friday evenings before they wrote their paper in 2004 that lead to their Nobel Prize. Novoselov said of their Friday nights were spent doing:

"... all kinds of crazy things that probably wont pan out at all, but if they do it would be really surprising.

The goal of all of this undirected time, sometimes called 10% time, is to do something outside of your normal responsibilities at work. This is where breakthroughs come out. This is where creativity shines and innovation prospers. It's not through typical R&D, or even through individuals within an organization that are dedicated to "special projects". It's all about giving everyone a little bit of time to try something different. Time to innovate. Time to Think Different.