The pressure is on for businesses to foster innovation. Google does this by allowing their engineers 20% of their work time for exploring new ideas. But one of Google's most popular companies, YouTube, found they had a hard time getting their engineers to actually take their 20% innovation time. So bi-annually, YouTube has a week dedicated solely to innovation. Engineers are given free range for one week to test out their new ideas on 1% of users (Are you a guinea pig? If you aren't seeing any advertisements while on YouTube, you are). One outcome that came out of innovation week was correcting a video's aspect ratio by adding black bars to the side. Another was the audio comment preview, which earned that engineer 'The Awesome Cup', a giant award cup that resides on the desk of the engineer who has the latest awesome discovery.
It's a good thing that YouTube is trying to set aside time for innovation, but trying to jam in creativity during one week's time seems a little jarring; it's missing a fundamental truth of innovation. It takes time for an innovative idea to come to fruition. Steven Johnson argues in his book, Where Good Ideas Come From, that innovative ideas start out as slow hunches that need time to incubate. Is a week enough time for a hunch to grow into a really good idea? Also, are these engineers working by themselves to come up and test good ideas? Johnson suggests that the best work spaces are those where workers from different departments communicate with each other so that they can be sparked with new ideas. Johnson's preference would be having a coffee shop-like atmosphere where people can engage in conversation, exposing them to a chaotic environment where hunches can collide and become ideas. One company known for innovation, Apple, seems to be following some of these ideas by taking their time with presenting new products and having designers and engineers work together to create an amazing product.
So is it better to work on an idea once a week or have one solid week to really work on your ideas? Is working alone pointless when it comes to innovation? Must we engage with others in order for ideas to combine with other ideas? How do your amazing ideas form?
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