I just saw this post from Matt at the 37 Signals blog about the benefit of “playtime” on innovation in the workplace. It’s a brief thought but a very important one. Matt pulls a quote from Jim Coudal that is right on:
Most of the smart, creative, successful people I know spend a good deal of time looking for inspiration, tracking down ideas and doing research. We do all those things too, we just don’t have a problem with calling it what it is, “goofing around.” Play is essential, it’s through play that you find connections between things that might not be at all obvious through logic or practicality. If you don’t have any accidents how are you ever going to have happy ones?
He goes on to mention other examples of how companies invest in innovation by giving their employees some free time. How does Newfangled do this? Well, we do this in several different ways that I think accumulate to a holistic investment in our people and their minds.
Primarily, we strive to make our company culture educational. This has been modeled by leaders in our company since the very beginning, people who sincerely care about the development of others and have always been motivated to share their knowledge freely. Our new employee training is structured in an intentionally school-like way, partly because we know that there is a steep technical and operational learning curve, but also because we want to set an early precedent of an educational dynamic at Newfangled. Beyond that, we’ve built in some specific scheduled time for learning, growth and exploration. Our developers take every Friday afternoon from 3-5pm to explore concepts, investigate new technology and techniques and discuss their work. This is time “off” the production schedule. They also gather for a day long “summit” on a quarterly basis for more intensive dialogue here at the North Carolina office.
In addition to meeting weekly to check in on projects, discuss concepts and ask questions, our project management staff also gathers monthly for half-day professional development workshops. Since we started this program, we’ve done sessions on topics including information architecture, prototyping, search engine optimization, and design. The project managers also meet once a week independently to give each other feedback on their current prototypes, evaluating them in terms of information architecture, usability, and SEO. This gives them a regular opportunity to get out from in front of their inbox and ringing phone to share knowledge and use one another as resources.
Finally, we have two company-wide retreats each year (that’s Katie, Eric, and I after we hiked up to Looking Glass Rock at last year’s retreat). The first happens in the fall (our next one is coming up in the second week of September), where the entire company gathers for four days in the mountains reflect upon the past year, talk about how the company is doing from all vantage points, and simply enjoy one another in a beautiful setting far from the office. The second retreat is a one-day gathering in February at a retreat center near to our North Carolina office. This one is primarily a chance for us to hear a “State of the Newfangled” address from Mark and talk business, though we do also enjoy some great food and lots of laughs. Last year, we had three core sessions for the winter retreat, which included Mark’s state-of-the-company presentation, which also touched on how he presents Newfangled to prospects and clients, my presentation on Three Necessary Disciplines for the success of our company, and a session on the development progress of our content management system.
When I reflect upon all of this, I’m excited and thankful to be part of a company that cares just as much about developing great people internally as it does about selling and delivering a great service.