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Corporate Innovation Management: Unstructured Time

Posted on Thursday, May 26th 2016


Google became a pioneer in the domain of corporate innovation some years ago by introducing the notion of 20% unstructured time in which employees could work on whatever they wanted.

Other large enterprises followed along, and started experimenting with their own interpretations of unstructured time.

Most came to the conclusion, including Google itself, that completely unstructured time is not productive, and does not yield innovative ideas or projects.

On this subject, I want to call out another specific point from my previous article, Corporate Innovation Management – A Methodology Discussion, that addresses this issue. Just to remind you of the context, we’re discussing how the 1M/1M Incubator in a Box methodology drives structured innovation in a large organization.

In my interview with Jim Euchner for the Research-Technology Management journal, I said:

JE: Do the corporations also grant the time to work on the idea? Or do the participants still bootstrap that?

SM: It depends on the policy in the organization, but it’s generally considered extracurricular. It’s similar to other development programs. If you’re going to do an MBA on the side, for example, the company may pay for the MBA, but they’re not going to let you ignore your day job; that’s not how corporate learning works. It’s the same philosophy here. This is essentially an entrepreneurship MBA. That’s the spirit of the program.

To elaborate, what we’re seeing is that most engineers have high IQ but no training or experience in how to conceive a new product, validate its viability, design a business model, attach a pricing model to it, and calculate the size of the market opportunity.

However, being extremely capable intellectually, given the right framework and training, they learn rapidly.

And once they have the framework in their heads, they can also, rapidly, process their experience and start looking for gaps and opportunities – pain points – around which innovation can be catalyzed.

This more structured process is far more productive than a blanket 20% free time to do whatever.

Photo credit: Haldane Martin/


This segment is a part in the series : Corporate Innovation Management

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