Sergey Brin and Larry Page on Google

Scott Berkun’s article about Google’s 20% time mentions that the Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page shared during their talk at TED that the Montessori school philosophy influenced their ideas on 20% time. I find it stunning that a school-philosophy triggered what I believe to be one of the most amazing concepts for a work environment.

For those of you that don’t know: Google’s 20 percent time is a well-known part of their philosophy, enabling engineers to spend one day a week working on projects that aren’t necessarily in their job descriptions. You can use the time to develop something new, or if you see something that’s broken, you can use the time to fix it.

Here’s Sergey Brin and Larry Page’s (not so recent TED) talk (jump top 8:50 if you want to hear the Montessori part):

6 Comments leave a comment below

  1. “20% time is a myth” according to this blog post by a former Google employee:

  2. Just today a Googler posted that he had only ever used 1 day of 20% time in 5 years:

    I had 20% time in primary school but you had to present your results every term (musical performance, completed electronics etc.)

  3. 3M has been doing this since before most of us were born.

  4. It’s a nice idea, but the implementation needs work. It often ends up as being 20% of 120% time, not of 100% time. (I was a Googler).

    Atlassian took the idea but then iterated and improved on it, and I admire their approach. It is more structured, but that structure makes it easier for employees to take advantage of and to do so in a balanced way.


  5. Cmetzendorf: it’s not a myth – it’s an attitude they talk about and use often. It’s true they don’t make you track all your hours and hit you over the head if 20% of your time isn’t dedicated to a side project. But much like 3M’s 5% time, the goal was to create a spirit of experimentation and on that count it has been successful there.

    It is also true that as the company has grown the attitude has diminished, but it’s still alive there in degrees much larger than most other companies, including tech companies.

  6. I could have a lot more enthusiasm for these ideas if I didnt know that google created a class of 4th class workers who digitize books (yellow badge workers or scan opps). Check out “workers leaving the googleplex” on vimeo to see the expose by andrew norman wilson.