Is 20 percent project still followed at Google? One where every employee is recommended to spend 80% on the official job and 20% on the project of their choice? I wonder because every time we hear about the success of this particular experiment at Google, we hear about the same old handful of products. Mainly AdWords and Gmail.

Have there been no other successful products from this experiment? If yes, why don’t we hear more about them? If no, what has changed at the company? Has it grown too large to back small, hobby-like products? Is the environment not conducive for the small, hacky projects?

Marissa Mayer had famously quipped regarding the project, “I’ve got to tell you the dirty little secret of Google’s 20% time. It’s really 120% time”.

Maybe as the companies grow, the employees lose the sense of closeness, the sense of attachment they felt earlier. The sort of dedication that Mayer referred to just can’t be expected from an aloof employee.


ChrisJWilson says:

@amit I’m fairly sure I read that they killed it at some point. I guess they can just buy all the innovative companies now.

amit says:

@ChrisJWilson Yeah, possibly. With the people driving the project taking the backseat, it was bound to happen.

Another possibility, now that I think about it, is productivity and efficiency of individual, and so effectiviness of the project started getting measured. That’s never good for innovation/creation.

ChrisJWilson says:

@amit here’s an article I found about the changes and there’s an interesting quote on the Wikipedia page of 20% time which basically says the idea (that innovations can come from anywhere) is more important than actually giving time. I suspect it’s easier to have and share those innovative ideas when you know you can work on them.
I’d be really interested to hear about companies which still apply 20% time and what they have observed.

adamprocter says:

@ChrisJWilson I have not done any additional research but I think most studios etc have just become a little more free with there time so people can work on stuff together or try things out but I think this is now more under the guise that this usually has profit motive and also when you provide breakfast / lunch and dinner free at work you don’t mind if some staff do a little project together because they have stayed at work. Although I do wonder how that has panned out in the pandemic having all that food paid for at work each week is a big salary saver, did FB , LinkedIn / google sent vouchers…

ChrisJWilson says:

@adamprocter I thought I had read Google (or perhaps Facebook) had stopped the free meals deal to avoid allogations of keeping employees at the office 24/7. Maybe I was wrong and certainly that doesn’t matter during a pandemic where everyone is working from home.

Leave a Reply