The 20% Doctrine | Ryan Tate

Summary of: The 20% Doctrine: How Tinkering, Goofing Off, and Breaking the Rules at Work Drive Success in Business
By: Ryan Tate


Get ready to discover the power of the 20% Doctrine, a transformative principle utilized by innovative companies such as Google to drive success in business. Through fascinating case studies, you’ll learn how allocating 20% of paid work time to passion projects can ignite creativity, boost morale, and lead to impressive results. Find out how Gmail, AdSense, Flickr, and other groundbreaking innovations emerged from this unconventional yet highly effective concept. As you delve into this summary, you’ll uncover guidelines on implementing this doctrine, from embracing creative freedom and quick iterations to connecting with personal passions and seeking external support.

Innovate with 20%

Allow Personal Projects to Drive Innovation

Learn from the likes of Google and encourage innovation by allowing your employees to work on personal projects for 20% of their work-time. This approach facilitates creative freedom, encourages passion-driven work, embraces reuse of existing systems, recognizes that a crude first attempt is better than a delay, urges quick iterations, promotes information sharing, and advocates for being open to outsiders. Regularly engage workers with side projects that inspire and challenge them and allow them to think out of the box.

Many companies impose rules and bureaucracy that discourage employees from thinking innovatively. A 20% work-setting avoids such demotivation and instead permits employees to feel empowered. When given the opportunity to work on personal projects, workers develop infectious enthusiasm that creates a benefit to company morale and the product.

Don’t aim for perfect, especially not on the first try. A crude, primitive version of your project yields critical momentum and advantages; refine and improve it later. Embracing rapid releases and consistently seeking feedback from others enhances projects’ developments and may win support outside of the regular chain of command. Finally have lessons communicated as they’re learned to keep existing networks informed.

The Power of 20% Projects

In the corporate world, the lack of structure is the whole point of a 20% project. It springs from solving a problem that bothers you personally and that drives you to solve it for others. One prime example is Google engineer Paul Buchheit’s two revolutionary projects: Gmail and AdSense, which earn some $10 billion annually for Google. Buchheit adapted Google’s rudimentary email system by coding Gmail in a matter of hours and testing it with his co-workers. His goal was to acquire 100 happy users before releasing it to the public, which he achieved with one convert at a time, and now has over 200 million users worldwide. Buchheit’s supervisor forbade him from working on AdSense, but he hacked a porn filter to create and release a prototype of AdSense by morning, proving the viability of the 20% doctrine. Other individuals and companies have since successfully used the 20% concept. The time to take 20% projects seriously is now.

From Bankruptcy to $30 Million: The Story of Flickr

Steward Butterfield, Caterina Fake, and Jason Classon founded Ludicorp in 2002 and developed Game Neverending, a web-based game. Facing bankruptcy in 2003, they gave their team creative freedom to come up with new product ideas and hacked the game code to create Flickr, a photo-sharing web service. Flickr employed “the pivot” business strategy and with iterative improvements based on customer feedback, they released the first public beta version. Within 18 months, Yahoo bought Flickr for $30 million. The story of Flickr shows how side projects can be a solution to insular thinking and how “the pivot” can help firms create entirely new products.

The Rise of Hackathons

In 2005, Atlassian and JobSpot pioneered the concept of a hackathon as a one-time eight to eleven-hour pressure-cooker event which produced new breakthroughs and increased company morale. Inspired by their success, Yahoo programmer Chad Dickerson organized and sponsored the first official Hack Day programming marathon in 2006, which turned out to be a game-changer for the company. Since then, high-tech firms like Google, Facebook, Twitter, eBay, and LinkedIn have adopted this practice globally. Yahoo’s hackathon went beyond the internal boundaries of the company, as it organized its first public event to attract up to 500 outsiders. The Open Hack Day in 2006 turned out to be the Woodstock of hackathons, earning accolades from bloggers and industry observers. Hackathons let programmers showcase their talents to the world, fueling innovation, and improving relationships between companies and customers.

From a Teacher to a Successful School Principal

Joan Sullivan, a public school administrator, proposed launching a new academy in the New York City public school system under the aegis of her high school’s nonprofit parent organization, Urban Assembly. Mayor Michael Bloomberg and school chancellor Joel Klein approved her proposal. Sullivan became the principal of the new high school, Bronx Academy of Letters, in 2003 at the age of 29 with no administrative certification. The school opened with 79 students and five teachers and achieved phenomenal success by 2007, ranking seventh among 400 New York public schools. By 2009, it achieved a 90% college acceptance and a 90% graduation rate, compared with the citywide average of 52%. The school raised $5 million in private funds, set up an endowment, and received $29.2 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s New Visions for Public Schools program. Bronx Academy of Letters’ success shows how important it is to free people from ordinary boundaries and enlist them as allies by showing them concrete things they can do to improve your project.

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