Keep ideas flowing with Exploration Days

- Practices & Exercises

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by Louise Brace

In a TED Talk, educationalist and author Sir Ken Robinson spoke of the extraordinary capacities that children have for innovation. Growing up we are naturally creative, inquisitive and with exceptional talent, which Sir Ken believes is squandered during our education.

By the time we reach adulthood, our creativity has been literally ‘educated out of us’ by the barriers of school, society and corporate business. And Pablo Picasso was quoted as saying, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain one when we grow up.”

If we are all creative. All innovators. How do we keep experimenting and discovering as adults? Can our creativity stay alight in our corporate lives?

There is hope. As innovation and creativity become a top priority for organizations, employers are realizing the potential of every employee to innovate new products, services and more compelling ways to do business. The corporate stifling of creativity is diminishing,  as intelligent leaders recognize that innovation doesn’t just come from the top; in fact, rarely comes from the top. It’s the teams and employees on the ground who have the ability and vision to deliver commerce and enterprise solutions for the future, and create the right environment where business can survive.

It’s precisely because it’s not their business, that employees have a better ability to innovate in an organization – apart from the fact that bosses hire amazing talent of course! When you don’t have to worry about the financing, recruitment, investors and business plans, there is no fear in failure. And being a creative innovator is all about taking risks. If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original (another quote from Sir Ken Robinson’s fascinating speech, by the way). Bosses rarely want to be wrong and create more risk in their competitive business environment.

So how do we inspire and motivate employees to deliver the organization’s next best-selling product or service? By taking away the barriers and fear of ‘getting it wrong’ and giving back the opportunity and the freedom to create the next ‘big’ idea.

Jurgen Appelo suggests the introduction of Exploration Days as an effective way to channel creativity and innovation. Let employees experiment and try new stuff out. If fact require it of them.

Exploration Days have many guises. Also known as Shipit Days, Hackathons and Disruption Days; the goal is to give time out to your budding inventors to run with new ideas and experiment with a crazy notion they dreamt about and that might not be so crazy if developed in the cold light of day.

Exploration Days are also about giving your raw talent time to master new concepts and abilities. And they will thank you for it. In fact, this is an excellent way to engage and motivate employees; allowing them to develop, self-educate and find their purpose within your organization.

Nurture your team as entrepreneurs – or intrapreneurs, and you’ll watch the best ideas emerge. Think of it as an investment into the creation of an internal incubator of talent.

How can I make Exploration Days productive?

Every team exercise or game must have constraints. The role of a good manager is to know how to introduce constraints that will allow creativity to flow, in a structured way.

Google's 20% innovation time

Tips on how to run successful Exploration Days

  1. Don’t allow your team to run experiments, make it a requirement: Allocate time for ‘Exploration’ every week, or month, and make sure that during this time, no routine work is undertaken. You might pick two days a month, once a week. It depends how important innovation is to your organization. Google allocate 20% of a working week to exploration and experimentation. You can see from this example the success of giving your employees freedom to innovate.
  2. Know when to step in, or stand back: A constraint put on the team leaders would be to know when to step out of the equation and let employees get on with their experiments. On the flip side, a good leader should also be available to give guidance. So it’s also important to make teams aware that support is there when needed. Otherwise you may find great ideas fizzle out to nothing if employees are unsure how to take their idea and make it deliverable.
  3. Make it measurable: It’s great that you’re giving your employees time to get creative, but that time must be measurable. Everything that happens within that ‘innovation’ time must be measurable. Before the introduction of Exploration Days, your organization must decide what it wants to achieve from this time: what you want delivered and what metrics will you use to determine that the time has been valuable; measuring the results and success of each experiment.

Jurgen explains how to use Exploration Days to plan for a creative time in which your colleagues can experiment

Have you tried any of these ideas? Comment below about your experience, we can’t wait to learn from your innovative ideas!

2 thoughts on "Keep ideas flowing with Exploration Days"

  • Stefan Andersson says:

    Great article! Could you give please give me a reference from a credible source for the claim that “Google allocate 20% of a working week to exploration and experimentation”? All I could find was posts noting that if there ever was such a policy, it was stricted up 9 years ago, and killed 4 years ago. Do we have from a google source that this is in fact still their policy, or not?

  • Sam Mednick says:

    Thank you for your note and for reaching out. The article was written in 2015, so at the time, from what we understood it was in place in Google. Without reaching out to Google and having them on the record about this, the latest article we found referencing this was in 2018: This doesn’t mean it’s still happening although the article doesn’t say that it stopped. When the 2015 article in our blog was written, we understood from open source reporting that the program was taking place. Additionally if you’d like to be put in touch with the author of the blog we can connect you.

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