1: Imagine it’s 9:30 am on a Wednesday morning. We are sitting at our desk. We receive an email from a colleague: “The waves are good!”

We stop what we are doing. We close our laptop. We stand up. We go change into our surfing gear. And we run to the beach.

This happens regularly at the outdoor retailer Patagonia, where the corporate headquarters sits on the Pacific Ocean, and much of the workforce are also outdoor athletes.  

This policy even has a name created by Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard: “Let my people go surfing.”

Patagonia is regularly named one of the best places to work in America. When we “drill down into the particulars,” writes Steven Kotler in The Art of Impossible: A Peak Performance Primer, “autonomy is one of the most frequently cited reasons.”

Yet, when we look further, we find that “Patagonia isn’t really giving their [team members] all that much autonomy. Instead, they’re giving them very particular types of autonomy,” Steven notes. Associates are allowed “to make their own schedules. [But] they still have to work full-time; they just get to decide when to work.”

Yesterday, we looked at the power of autonomy to drive performance. How much autonomy is required to drive peak performance? “If Patagonia’s example holds true,” Steven observes, “then the answer is very little autonomy, provided that very little is well deployed.”

2: Another prominent example of autonomy in the workplace is Google’s “twenty percent time.”  

Because of this policy, “Google engineers get to spend 20 percent of their time pursuing projects of their own creation, ones that align with their own core passion and purpose,” Steven writes.

This results? “Over 50 percent of Google’s largest revenue-generating products have come out of 20 percent time, including AdSense, Gmail, Google Maps, Google News, Google Earth, and Gmail Labs,” he notes.

Google did not invent this practice, however. “They actually borrowed it from 3M, whose own “15 Percent Rule” dates back to 1948,” Steven writes. “In the case of 3M, engineers get to spend 15 percent of their time pursuing projects of their own devising. For a company with a research budget of over $1 billion, allowing employees the freedom to experiment with 15 percent of that amounts to an annual $150 million bet on autonomy.”

The most famous result of 3M’s 15 Percent Rule was the creation of Post-it Notes back in 1974. This single product consistently generates over $1 billion in revenue annually for 3M.

Google taps into the autonomy driver “with 20 percent time, meaning they’re giving people eight hours a week to pursue an idea about which they’re passionate,” Steven observes. “Yet 3M gets amazing results from just 15 percent time, which is only about an afternoon a week.”

3: The examples of Patagonia, Google, and 3M also have implications for us individually: Once we identify a purpose, we are passionate about, “these living experiments” tell us we can get results by spending just four to five hours consistently each week focused in this area.  

More tomorrow!


Reflection: How might I build consistent time into my schedule to focus on activities about which I am passionate?

Action: Do it.

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