In the new book The 20% Doctrine: How Tinkering, Goofing Off, and Breaking the Rules at Work Drive Success in Business, tech reporter Ryan Tate investigates Google’s practice of “20-percent time“ for engineers. According to the behemoth, giving employees one day a week to explore ideas and develop personal projects keeps them passionate and motivated, their creative muscles limber. It puts a silicon gloss on the old “what’s good for the goose” adage.
While flexible time policies at Google and Hewlett-Packard are well publicized, it was 3M that pioneered the practice. In 1948 the Minnesota manufacturer implemented the “15 percent rule” — which, years later, birthed the Post-it Note. While daydreaming about a bookmark that would stay in place in his church hymnal, scientist Art Fry recalled a light adhesive developed by his colleague, Dr. Spencer Silver. We can thank Dr. Fry’s creative epiphany every time we write a to-do list.
As author Martin Lindstrom recently suggested in Fast Company: embrace boredom; let your mind wander. Maybe you do your best thinking at the gym, or in line at Starbucks, or at happy hour. (Pre-Siri, cocktail napkins did more than protect the bar.) While it’s easy to think that Steve Jobs worked nonstop, he made the most of Zen moments, and engaged in a little goofing off like everyone else.
So how does this translate to the agency environment? While caricatured as a place where employees sit on yoga balls and play with their dogs (see the Portlandia sketch below, filmed in Wieden+Kennedy’s mazelike Portland office), the freeform workspace encourages employees to congregate and collaborate.
Creative breaks make us more efficient, whether they’re spent in a cubicle, or lying in bed. Heck, increased leisure time might decrease energy consumption and solve the credit crisis, according to an English think tank. Who knows? If a daydream gave us the Post-it, the door is open.