THE 15% PROJECT: Testing out Free Time
3M, Google and others are well known for their 15% or 20% free time policy. A portion of each week is set aside for employees to work on their own projects. This free time has given the world Post-It Notes, Gmail, Google Earth and much more.
Feeling creatively drained the past little while I decided to give a whole day last week to making fish. I bought an old atlas for three dollars and cut out dozens and dozens of fish and strung them together to make mobiles. Being the owner of the company I was feeling a little guilty about directing my time at these fish, but ended up spending the afternoon in the equivalent of runner’s high for artists – that lovely space of creating where everything else disappears.
Freeing my brain of problems to solve and things to plan opened my mind enough that all of a sudden I knew exactly how to proceed on a couple of design projects. I also hatched a smart idea for a different angle for Anthem… and got several beautiful mobiles out of the process which I can give to friends’ new babies.
I would consider day one of the 15% project a success.
Unlike an employee my ‘free day’ isn’t a paid day however it may turn out to be well worth the time off for how many ideas it generates to be used during work time. I am curious to see what happens.
NY based designer Stefan Sagmeister takes one entire year off every seven years to nurture his own creative ideas. He claims that this year pays for itself above and beyond what he would have earned in the studio because of the innovative projects and ideas that come from it. You can watch his talk on TED about it here: www.ted.com.