In 1935, Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, a 26-year-old Indian physicist, challenged conventional wisdom by proposing a radical theory that would prove the existence of black holes. He presented his idea to the Royal Astronomical Society in the United Kingdom, whose members had a hard time believing his evidence.
Google’s every action is studied under a microscope. However, one major “mistake” that Google made may have gotten lost. Google’s policy of freeing up 20% time for all engineers, no management approval needed, was cancelled. Yes, this is the same policy that was responsible for Gmail. Google’s former policy had been held up as best practice at Google and in the tech community, and was advertised as a Googler perk. Although the 20% rule had been used at 3M and HP before, Google made it their own and resulted in industry changing products.
You may ask - why was the 20% rule such a good idea and why is removing it a mistake? The reason Google’s 20% time off is a great idea is because it worked and worked well. One needs a certain amount of freedom to be creative. A study on mechanisms of grant funding (long term vs. short term) found that freedom encourages creativity when the freedom was believed to be long term. “If you want people to branch out in new directions, then it’s important to provide for their long-term horizons, to give them time to experiment and potentially fail. The researcher has to believe that short-term failure will not be punished” ” says Pierre Azoulay, an associate professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and an author of an MIT study on the subject. Freedom of thought inspires creativity and the development community, more than anyone else needs to break away from traditional thinking.
When you think fashion, the last thing you would imagine is a person wearing the same dress over and over and over again – for a whole year. Yet, that is what Sheena Matheiken, founder of the Uniform Project did. She pledged to wear one little black dress for 365 days to promote sustainability, and raise funds for the Akanksha Foundation – a non-profit organization providing education to children living in Indian slums.
In my five years at the Bank, I have learnt a number of lessons. One of the most important is that even though each practitioner brings specialist knowledge, that knowledge must be applied from an overall development perspective, for we’re trying to achieve development in imperfect settings where the gap between the ideal and the reality, between principles and practice, is often wide.
Let me spell out some of these lessons:
1. Anticipate issues but be ready for surprises
Development doesn’t take place by complete fluke nor is it a sure-shot thing that the efforts will succeed. While it is important to plan and plan well, things seldom happen as planned. It is seldom a smooth affair. While an intervention may have been designed keeping the context in mind, the context itself keeps evolving continually. So, it’s best to anticipate how things may evolve and prepare for it, but be ready for surprises as well.