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This article will change your innovation management vision for sure. At least for 20%.

Every now and then, I attend a management conference. Usually what I hear is the following: The current environment is characterized by rapid technological change, shortening product life cycles and globalizing. All organizations need to adapt to this dynamic environment and be more creative and innovative to survive, compete, grow and lead. To beat the new entrants, aka the startups, innovation is the key! Then startups enter stage. Wow, is the general word I hear from the audience, when the startup guy, usually in jeans and beard, explains his success story.

People and organizations are always looking for new innovation tools. From the wheel to Cooper’s innovation funnel, these are all great tools to enhance productivity. However, the full productivity will only appear to the one who understands the power of the tool. Same goes for organizations.

Before organizations can apply tools to enhance creativity and innovation, their employees should be encouraged and given the opportunity to be so.

Employees’ creativity can be enhanced when performing non-commissioned work as researched by Teresa Amabile, a Harvard Business School professor and popularized by Dan Pink, the famous author and journalist. Non-commissioned work is work whereby people are free to do what they want, without a prescribed task like commissioned work, whereas commissioned work are tasks dedicated by people higher in the hierarchy. The boss told me to do it - kind of work. In her study, Amabile collected art of 23 painters and sculptors derived from commissioned and non-commissioned work. The latter was found to be significantly more creative, interesting and valuable by the panel of art experts. An interesting and important incidental of non-commissioned work is the autonomy that individuals have over their time, task, team and technique.

A practical implementation is for example Google’s 20% time rule. Employees are allowed to spend 20% of their working time on side projects. Which sounds like a utopia: get paid to work on something of which you are passionate about and intrinsically motivated. Gmail and AdSense are examples of products that derived from this time. Several other organizations such as Atlassian, Twitter and 3M also execute such a policy. The Australian enterprise software company, Atlassian has their so called 'ShipIt' days. Every quarter they hold a 24-hour hackathon for their employees where they can work on anything they want, as long it is somehow related to the company. These projects can also originate from problems the employees face, comments of customers or input via crowdsourcing.

So what does this mean? Involvement of employees can lead to more commitment from them because their thoughts, ideas and projects can have an impact on the organization. We can speak of newly developed organizational culture; it can shift the organization in new directions. Different types and variants of non-commissioned work policies are in place but the essence is the same: foster creativity. In theory, there are a number of enhancers and inhibitors of employees’ creativity that are related to non-commissioned work polices. Besides autonomy there is motivation (intrinsic and extrinsic), willingness to take risks and encouragement by the organization and supervisors.

Yet, you don’t hear too many stories of organizations executing non-commissioned work policies. Why?

Is this because they simply don’t do it, or that they don’t want to publish it to the world when doing so? I know several projects have been halted, permanently or partially like with Google’s, because the focus sometimes goes out of control by the employees. Often, it only works with the employees who can really create something workable, like the techies in an organization. Other ones just do not have time for this or any other type of innovation because there is simply no time nor attention in the organization. This is the sad reality within a lot of companies.

However, taking it from a startup perspective. Isn’t this what all startups do? I have founded numerous startups and in each I have experienced the same thing. People are more creative 5 to 9 than they are 9 AM to 5 PM. In the end, we are all Dolly Parton trying to make a living during the day. With startups, working hours are less relevant, because there is no salary pay if you do not get the clients to your products and services. So usually during the day you service the regular clients and in the evening you have the time to finally build your dream. The most creative sessions are being held in the evening, when the brains can spend time together on brainstorming new ways to conquer the world.

What does this mean for collaborative innovation?

When you want to enhance the innovation level in the organization and create exceptional results, invite your audience and your team to create the breakthrough workshops in the evening. See if there is a change by tapping into the brainwork of free artists and startup junkies.

Within my group, we have been successfully experimenting with non-commissioned work, or as we call it pay and play days. I see that I need to take a less managerial role and a more inspirational one. But isn’t that what we all want? Lead, not manage?

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Jaspar Roos

Jaspar Roos

Jaspar Roos manages Future Ideas, one of the largest pan European public private platforms dedicated to the startup and venture eco system. Together with Emerce, a leading online blog, Future Ideas pu