12 Ways to Encourage More Free Thinking and Innovation Into Any Business

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There’s a strategy out there called “20 percent time” which has a mystifying fascination. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s the strategy that created AdSense, Gmail, Google Maps, Google News, Google Talk… sound familiar?

20 percent time was created by Google Founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin in 2004. It’s designed to give employees one full day per week (20 percent of their time) to work on a Google-related passion project of their own choosing or creation.

To spark more creativity within my agency, I’ve decided to implement the 20 percent rule as well. Every Friday, our team has the chance (if they choose) to work on personal projects that align with our higher level, aspirational thinking. So far, the results have been phenomenal.

Here are 12 things I’ve learned about the 20 percent rule that can help encourage more free thinking and innovation in your business:

1. Empowerment

Nothing screams freedom like the ability to work exclusively on something you’re passionate about. It’s important to trust that your employees will give 100 percent.

If you start to micro-manage or dictate how 20 percent time should be used, you’re ultimately stymieing growth.

2. Flexibility

One of the benefits to this “rule” is that it’s actually not a rule–it’s an option. If you don’t want to spend 20 percent of your time working on a personal project, then you don’t have to.

It gives your employees the freedom and flexibility to make their own decisions–something that will help improve time and account management.

3. Success

If you want to build a successful company, you need to breed a culture of success at every level. This means recognizing that some of your more “junior” staff might actually have some great ideas up their sleeves.

Just think–Gmail was born when a bunch of Google engineers said, “I think we can do email better than any other service.” Fast forward twelve years and Gmail now has over one billion users.

4. Responsibility

Great leaders know how to delegate responsibility and let go of outcomes. That’s why the 20 percent rule works, because it teaches employees about the weight of responsibility.

Responsibility falls on the individual or team, who must exercise complete control over the project’s success or failure (and learn from it retrospectively).

5. Cost Effective

It pays to have driven, happy employees. Studies have shown that unhappy employees cost American businesses up to $550 billion each year. Conversely, happy workers are 12 percent more productive than the average worker.

Commit to one day per week and see how this impacts your bottom-line.

6. Collaboration

20 percent time is a great way to break down office barriers. Employees that work in completely different departments might find shared interests that help them gain a better understand of their colleagues and their work.

7. Failure

The 20 percent rule doesn’t mean every single idea you create is going to be a success. In all likelihood, most will never make it past the development stage.

It’s within these failures that people are given the opportunity to grow, develop and learn. Never take that for granted, and make sure to encourage progress.

8. Idea Sharing

The Google Sky project is a great example of idea sharing at its finest. A number of Google engineers discovered a shared passion for astronomy. These employees starting talking to each other and said, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we could turn the Google Earth cameras up to the sky?”

Over time, the engineers built a product that we now know as Google Sky.

9. Employee Retention

Millennials who feel they’re at a great workplace are twenty-five times more likely to plan a long-term future at that company.

In my experience, the 20 percent rule is a great way to keep staff engaged, excited and focused. When you put power in your employees’ hands, you’re saying that you value and trust them to create something meaningful.

What’s more engaging than that?

10. Innovation

Get this: 84 percent of consumers say it’s somewhat or very important that the company they buy from is innovative.

Innovation doesn’t have to start from the top. If you’re stuck for thought, implementing the 20 percent rule can quickly bring about a flurry of new ideas. The C-suite can then help decide what will likely work for the company and what won’t.

11. Mindset

Mindset is so important for company growth. If you’re a business that wants to succeed and innovate, you need to foster a can-do attitude.

Spending your Fridays on a personal project helps build a growth mindset, because you’re working on something that’s tangible, real, and most importantly, created by you.

12. Culture

Research from Columbia Business School has shown that 92 percent of employees believe improving their firm’s corporate culture would improve the value of the company.

20 percent time can act as a clear message to your employees: We believe in you, you’re an integral part of our culture, and we want you to succeed and follow your passions.