Imagining an Incubator Program
I do some of my best work on the weekend. That's not to say that DTLT isn't a great place to work or that we don't get a lot done during the week. In fact I'm sure my wife has wished on more than one occasion that I'd leave my work there and not be glued to the laptop so much on evenings and weekends. But the reality is that the work I do during the day is often very different from the work I feel free to do on the weekend. And it's got me thinking and wondering what it would look like to flip some of that. Everyone loves to cite Google's 20% time as a motivator to giving employees time and space to explore their passions and dream up big things. In many ways I feel lucky at DTLT that I've felt more often than not that I'm given this freedom on a regular basis. The demands of my job aren't so large that I don't have time to read up on what's out there, install a few test pieces of software, tinker for a bit. But the reality is that there are plenty of things I'm responsible for during the week. Meetings are a regular occurrence, sometimes several over the course of a day. Meet with a faculty member about a course they're working on. Meet with a cohort about the Domain of One's Own, meet with a class of students to show them 3D printing. These are all awesome things and I have to pinch myself to think that I get to call this work. But it leaves me spending the weekend thinking about what's next. It's in those off hours that I can step back and really wonder what's possible. It usually starts when I'm browsing RSS feeds and come across something interesting. Maybe it's a piece of software I haven't heard of. Oh, it's open source? Cool, wonder how easy it is to install. I'll give it a shot. By the next day when I head into work I have something cool to show off and maybe it builds into something really interesting like Mediacore did for our media server. Maybe it doesn't lead to much of anything. But I think it's telling that most of the time this kind of innovation is happening in the early morning hours, the evenings, and the weekends. Not when I'm technically "on the clock" (whatever that means). What would our office look like if we attempted to build that kind of innovation into our workflow? What if we supported it and celebrated it? So here's what I'm imagining that support could look like (and I'm literally just thinking out loud here). Each person in DTLT is given an allowance of $500 and allowed to schedule a 3 week time period at any point during the year to take retreat from the office. Everyone knows in advance when this will happen so they can figure out how best to support the day to day stuff that person was doing. 3 weeks that person doesn't have to answer email, phone, or be responsible for any meetings. They can work from wherever they want, be it their home, a coffee shop, their brother's house in North Carolina. They have the small allowance to purchase whatever software or hardware they might need. And for 3 weeks they dream big. Maybe they don't know what they'll research going into it, maybe they have an idea they want to pursue. 3 weeks to build it. When they come back they do a presentation for the group and those ideas get built into the work we do every day. To me that sounds like an exciting way of driving innovation in our department and at our University. It's the freedom to explore broken out of the day to day office environment. It's the empowerment of the individual and the gift of freedom, time, and resources to explore. What could we do with something like this? Could one of us build the syndication framework we've dreamed of for so long? Could we find new ways for televising and broadcasting content in new and interesting ways? Could we discover things that the Horizon Report isn't even thinking about yet? It's an idea that could certainly fail, but one that I think has legs. If we want to be an incubator of innovation perhaps the best way to do that is to start setting ourselves free in some way where we're empowered to build amazing things.