We know from many corporate examples that giving employees free time to experiment yields creative insights. Until recently, we haven't known exactly why. While there is still research to be done, perhaps a suitable model for noncommissioned work has developed.
Business books and management gurus have long sung the praises of giving employees free time to tinker on projects they initiate. The idea seems to have begun with 3M, who allowed employees to spend 15 percent for their workweek focused on projects that were unrelated to their normal work. More recently, Google upped the percentage to 20 percent of the workweek. Many other tech companies seem to have followed suit, some changing the formula a bit to establish dedicated “hack weeks” or “FedEx days” where all employees shed their normal projects and tinker with ideas that are inherently interesting to them. For companies that use such programs, innovation seems to increase. 3M points to legendary products such as the Post-It note as proof of its effectiveness. Google can hold up Gmail, Google News and AdSense as vital products birthed in 20 percent time.