The following is a summary of my most recent study. The author is innovation consultant Claudia Suraga who is better presented here: www.claudiasuraga.se
PERMISSON TO PLAY
Few people familiar with corporate innovation are unaware of Google’s 20% rule. It states that one fifth of the time of the work week can and, in fact, should, be devoted to the development of new ideas. These should be aligned with what one believes would be of value for Google Inc, and has rendered the company not only a reputation of being one of the best at innovation; it has also set free the mind of the company’s coworkers. At a closer glance, this might seem a little peculiar. Is that all it takes? Some free time to do whatever you deem Google-fit, and then innovation will show its creative face?
Now there might be (and most probably is) a lot more to it in terms of culture and a history of innovations; perhaps a strategy, a feeling originating from the founders, a common corporate mindset, and all that other very important stuff that would make business and creativity researchers spend decades trying to capture the essence of what makes Google tick. But if we drop all that for a sec, and only focus on those famous 20%; that narrow scope alone gives us a clue of what innovation is all about.
“This is also where Google’s “20% time” comes in — if you want innovation, it’s critical that people are able to work on ideas that are unapproved and generally thought to be stupid. The real value of “20%” is not the time, but rather the “license” it gives to work on things that “aren’t important”. ”
Paul Buchheit, creator and lead developer of gmail
The creator of gmail clearly and distinctively catches the very soul of the 20% – it’s about freedom, and the license, or permission. Now how about that? Strange it seems, to be given freedom, as if this was something taken from us as we enter into our professional roles. If this is the case, who is taking it?
The blunt and somewhat annoying answer is: we are. Concentrating on getting things done, it seems, has left us efficient and executive, but limited our capacity for innovation. With the 20%, we are given back something that originally belongs to us. Used properly, this is the thing that is of most value to the corporations we join: our free spirit, our independent thinking, and the capacity to create. The permission of the 20% reminds us of this; it reinstates the full space needed for us to unfold our potential, and gives us the humble opportunity to be ourselves, our full selves.
Samuel West, creativity researcher at the psychology department at Lund University in Sweden, has included this phenomenon in his latest article on the relevance and importance of play at work, studying play as facilitator of workplace creativity. Permission to play, in his work, is one of four encouragers for creativity in the workplace; the other three being Setting an Example, Structure and Matching (the latter referring to tuning in adequately to the group to set an appropriate level for the play). An interesting observation, penetrating the core of the Google reference, is the one he makes about Structure, in which he quotes one of the interview respondents of the study as follows:
The structure of the game allows the participants to feel safe in that they know what to do and what to expect, however once they have gotten started, they start to ignore the rules and create new ones.
As our more creative ideas silently linger on the side of to do-lists of daily operations, like the forgotten children of priority, they never really get the chance to show their true selves. A permission to create, to innovate, to play, is their cue; a chance to rise to their potential, show us what they’ve got. Usually, this neglected side of us doesn’t get much room to play; no time, and no space. It gets lost and forgotten, which is why permission is a form of revival button. As we push it, something happens. Mildly at first, we try out this new territory, once so familiar to our younger selves, now a stranger. But as we get reacquainted, and the structure that West has brilliantly grasped the quintessence of, starts its supporting; we regain confidence. And at one magic point, we transcend into a state where structure changes from support function, to milestone function. It is no longer used to hold us up, it is used to let us go farther, to let go of the rules and to break, remodel and ignore them.