Google’s 20% innovation free time: why it failed

Google’s 20% innovation free time: why it failed

Any CEO that does not recognise the need for innovation and the new systematic method of “Opportunity Capture” is really failing to embrace one of today’s major business drivers.

Why innovate?

In a previous article I cited the statistic of the short life of stagnant companies these days, now approaching five years compared with 65 years in the 1920s. You can be sure if you are not constantly moving your products, processes, services and customers to a better place, somebody will soon step in to steal your market with a better offering or improved business model.

Google’s 20% free time was a failure

Some years ago I was a group director of a very large company where we implemented 15% free time in an endeavour to achieve innovation outcomes. It was a complete failure.

Why? Because the production people or people whose output was quantitatively measured just never had such freedom of time.

As for more senior people whose metrics are somewhat less quantitative, the problem is that in these days of excessive time demands courtesy of emails and the like, most executives are already working 60 or more hours per week just managing their jobs. Would I now expect them to put their feet up on the desk to think innovatively for an extra 15% to 20% of their day? Of course not – this would never work.

Many ideas occur spontaneously – but don’t rely on serendipity

The real fact is that innovation and “opportunity capture” often occur at the most random of times whilst “on the job”. People just need to know what to look for and how to approach business with some simple opportunity capture tools and the mindset that realises that nothing we do or sell today will be the same in even five years’. There is always a better way. We just need to inspire people to be looking for better ways with an open mind and the right tools.


Furthermore, this is simple. It’s not high tech rocket science but as simple as even listening for a curse, understanding the reason for that curse then assessing whether a means to remove that curse represents a realisable opportunity.

I have used this approach successfully in many industries and even primary schools.

Indeed, if you “track” people doing their jobs and “capture the curse”, as I call it, you can actually plot a simple histogram of curses versus reason. I can guarantee that if you track anybody in a common or widespread occupation, i.e. many people doing the same task, you will find unbounded opportunities.

Furthermore, this technique is virtually risk-free, mathematically rigorous and systematic.

The above is just one of the tools of “opportunity capture”. The tools are all simple and easy to understand and use. Further, anybody who tries to call this high science and reserved for the specially gifted or the “innovation manager” is kidding you.

The means to build a business is to innovate with new opportunities, nobody would argue with that. The rest is just how you go about it, but remember the KISS principle.


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