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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Time for creativity: enacting 20% time at Carleton

<h as Carleton students enjoy ragging on Bon Appetit, the single biggest complaint I hear from my peers here is that there is not enough room for innovation.  We are too busy – too tied down with academics, sports, extracurriculars, friends – to think beyond our bounds and come up with new, original ideas.

This obviously isn’t just a Carleton problem, or even a college problem.  Businesses go through the same trouble.  Employees are too busy with the work that their bosses assign them to pursue, or even think of, any new idea.  The potential for innovation is there – all you really need, after all, is a bunch of intelligent minds that have been trained to think critically.  But there is too much demand for what a business needs in the here and now for anyone to think about what employees might come up with given their own time to peruse their minds.

Google has taken advantage of this problem.  They have something called twenty percent time, where employees take twenty percent of the time they spend working at Google doing their own projects and pursuing new ideas.  This often means one day out of a five-day workweek.  There are no real limitations besides that the pursuits have to be somewhat relevant to the company, so workers can feel free to invent, do research, or collaborate with one another on new projects.  This is no joke, either.  Some of Google’s most famous features, including Gmail and Google News, have come out of twenty percent time.  It’s clearly worked for them as a way to both keep their employees satisfied and stay on top of their game as an innovative competitor.

To be sure, this can’t work in all situations.  If a company manufactures pencil sharpeners, it would probably be more efficient to keep workers in their places to maximize profit and allow the higher-ups to make executive design decisions.  But with a company like Google, where innovation is at the foundation of the business and where workers are highly educated, motivated, and creative, twenty percent time can be the difference between good and great.
Back to Carleton.  Here, we have a similar situation: a crowd of smart young people, many of whom came to Carleton specifically because the students here are particularly engrossed in their passions.  So engrossed, in fact, that they loop back to what I wrote earlier – they feel as though there is not enough time in the day to do all that they want to do with their lives. 

Call me hopeful, but this sounds like a perfect opportunity.  Why not allow students to branch out and follow through with their ideas?  Enacting this plan would be tough, and realistically we wouldn’t be able to devote a fifth of our time to it, but we could do something.

When, you ask?  Midterm break.  Get rid of the excess work over the long weekend, maybe extend the break a day (maybe? Please?) and allow students to do something else with their brains.  It wouldn’t have to be extensive and it wouldn’t even have to be complete – but everyone would be required to work on some inspiration, some idea.  Then, they would have something to follow up on for later.

What would you do?

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