Syndicate content

20 percent rule

What Can We Learn from Google's "Mistake?"

Tanya Gupta's picture

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.