From books and how-tos to best practices and research, the inspiration and tools for innovation are seemingly everywhere, making creative disruption achievable if we just give it room and time to thrive… or so the thinking goes. The truth is that innovation isn’t just new thinking, it’s actually putting those new ideas into practice. Or, as John Maynard Keynes said, “The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones.”
And allowing our teams the freedom to escape those old ideas and innovate new ones is a large part of the thinking behind encouraging employee passion projects goes.
Google may have made the concept famous with their (defunct in name only) 20% time rule, where employees could spend 20% of their time experimenting with their own ideas. But the concept is a lot wider than just the search giant. Many startups have utilized the idea, and of course, 3M is possibly the original pioneer of the idea that giving employees more freedom and time to pursue what they love will result in happier, more productive employees.
As creative professionals, this concept should come naturally to us, but it’s often hard to justify the luxury of a passion project. However, when you feel a certain sense of creative freedom or opportunity to pursue a project just for the sake of enjoyment, you’re more likely to be inspired, refreshed and reconnected with your work. As we’ve said before, sometimes we are judged by our amount of structured creative output, rather than our quality, which can hinder us from taking real creative risks and innovating our processes, our work and ourselves.
So don’t discount those doodles, scribbles and side projects your employees may be doing in their downtime. You never know what will spark their next successful idea, and giving them the space, encouragement and freedom to explore their creativity will foster a more supportive, rewarding environment. After all, if they feel they can be open about their experimental projects, who knows what they will share with you — and how those ideas will be actualized in the real world.