As management philosophies go, the concept of ‘creative downtime’ will either have you rubbing your hands in glee, or running for the hills.
Being a ‘change’ business, we at Blackswan know all too well the fear that comes with the idea of change.
Employees often fear the unknown, and may resist giving up some of their daily work time to work on projects outside of the norm.
But as Google demonstrated, this downtime can have huge, positive ramifications for your business.
At Blackswan we have started our own version of creative downtime – called New Time. And only time will tell how successful it is for us…
“Creativity is intelligence having fun” – Albert Einstein
Back in 2004, Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin launched “20% time”, where employees were encouraged to spend 20% of their time working on projects outside of their usual remit - but on something they felt would benefit the company.
This creative time has produced products including Gmail, Google News and even AdSense – so there is clearly some merit in this scheme.
And Google isn’t the only one (and certainly wasn’t the first). 3M Corp allotted 15% of its staff’s time to innovative projects, which led to the creation of an office staple – the post-it note.
"Good ideas are not adopted automatically. They must be driven into practice with courageous patience" – Hyman Rickover
A study conducted in the 1990s by a team of researchers led by Harvard Business School's Teresa Amabile, showed a similar trend.
In the study, a group of artists contributed ten commissioned and ten non-commissioned works. The commissioned works were judged to be significantly less creative than those where they had free rein.
Creative downtime doesn’t have to take away huge chunks of your working day. Giving your staff a set time – maybe 30 minutes to an hour every morning, to brainstorm ways to improve your business – can be incredibly effective. At Blackswan we’re taking an hour a day to work on a project outside of our normal remit, with the mindset that if you let the creativity flow, there’s no end to what could be achieved.
“Creativity involves breaking out of established patterns in order to
look at things in a different way” - Edward de Bono
However, there is also the school of thought that creativity is something that can’t be forced. So while the idea of unstructured time for employees to pursue independent projects may sound good in theory – how does it work in reality?
There’s no denying there’s merit in the idea, and the ability to reward innovative activity and benefit from creativity and insights that may never have otherwise seen the light of day, is a positive thing.
But this approach just won’t work for all employees. Having a set time where you’re told to think outside the box, find something creative and beneficial to the business, is too much pressure, and can actually stifle the creative juices.
At Google, employees aren't forced to work on additional projects and there are no written guidelines about it. Maybe it’s this flexibility that allows those who do have the ideas and creativity to be able to pursue them, while letting others who would perhaps not benefit to continue with their everyday work?
One other factor to bear in mind is that some projects – maybe even the majority of projects conducted in this time – won’t be immediately productive, and risk being shelved before they get off the ground. How long should you continue with a project that isn’t financially beneficial if the time it’s taking to manage is eating into your usual profit margins? How many projects did Google and 3M fail at before they hit on Gmail and post-its?
"Be the change you want to see " – Maurice Duffy, Blackswan CEO
Aside from the pros and cons are the grey areas. Should this time be spent to the benefit of the business in terms of making money? Or the betterment of the staff the business employs? Making your employees better rounded individuals will have a knock on effect in productivity within the business, but bosses are likely to want to see profit, and quickly.
There are positives and negatives to creative downtime, and it is a much debated subject in terms of the ‘correct’ way to manage it. Change is not something to be feared, and at Blackswan we’re hoping to create something amazing out of our New Time. Check back soon for updates on how we’re doing and what we’re up to…
For more information on what we can offer you, contact us at Blackswan on +44 (0)845 603 2815 or email email@example.com
Celebrating women in business this International Women’s Day