Welcome back to our “CEOpinions” blog series where our venerable leader and CEO Matt Zeiler drops some entrepreneurship knowledge every month – last month, Matt gave some advice on what it takes to evolve from “founder” to “CEO.” This month’s post is all about the importance of 20% time in building a creative team that works well together.
20% time is a concept made famous by Google, that employees should spend 20% of their time doing work that benefits the company outside of their regular scope of duties. I believe that 20% time is invaluable to both the business and personal development. But, it’s not just 1/5th of your week. The concept needs to be ingrained in the company’s DNA to make it most effective – here’s how we approach the idea of 20% time at Clarifai.
20% time is great at bringing out fresh, creative ideas from everyone at the company. Without the constraints of everyday job roles and teams, people can think big and develop both new ideas and new skills. For example, someone who normally creates web apps might try their hand at making a mobile app even though they’re not officially on the mobile team. Or, a marketer might build a web page even though they’re not a designer or front-end developer.
Many people work with the same teams day-to-day. 20% time allows collaboration between people who don’t normally work together, which results in some pretty amazing and unexpected ideas and a stronger company culture.
20% time also gives people who are less outspoken in group meetings the chance to work on their ideas for the company. Not everyone is a type A extrovert, so it’s important to build a culture that gives everyone at the company the chance to contribute.
While day-to-day roadmap items require consensus building and agreement, 20% time allows people to take a crazy idea and run with it. They don’t need anyone else’s buy-in or support – they can just hack together a minimum viable product and pitch it to the rest of the team when they’re done. Quite often at Clarifai, these new ideas become essential roadmap items the company rallies around afterwards.
Sometimes, people don’t end up doing something completely off the roadmap in their 20% time. They do stuff that they don’t get around to in their weekly sprint plannings. 20% time helps people motivate themselves to do the less glamorous things like cleaning up technical debt or tightening up a budget.
At Clarifai, we do something a little different with our 20% time. We have one “hack day” every month which accounts for 5% out of the 20% time. Hackathons are a part of our DNA – we love sponsoring hackathons and seeing what students and customers come up with, so it’s only natural that we dedicate one day a month to building things together with other people.
Hack days are important because they give people the opportunity to work consistently on their idea for eight hours without distraction. They also turn 20% time into a fun and competitive event – we order catered food on hack days, crank up the music, and share all our projects at the end of the day. And it’s not just an internal hackathon – investors, intern alumni, and other guests come hack with us all the time. At the end of the hack day, a winner is chosen to receive the coveted (and kind of sticky) Golden Brain!