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Three tools you need to make your business as innovative as Google

30th August 2023

It’s hard to underestimate the power of human creativity – especially when coupled with a dose of healthy obsession.  

As an entrepreneur I know that there’s no better feeling than waking up in the morning energised to implement my vision and grow my business. 

We now understand that personal fulfilment is key to giving employees that same drive I have. It also ultimately leads to better retention of top talent – something we all know requires so much more than just hybrid working and generous perks. What’s needed is a culture of allowing employees to pursue their own interests within their jobs. 

Take Google’s famous ‘20% rule’, where employees are encouraged to spend what amounts to one full day per week working on side projects – that is, working on the areas of their business that truly interest them. This policy has led directly to the creation of truly game-changing products like Gmail, AdSense and Google News. 

This is what energises me. I love helping my team to innovate and watching them channel their enthusiasm and passion into their work lives. 

What Google’s founders, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, understood was a fundamental part of human nature – and a central tenet of Dan Pink’s book ‘Drive: the surprising truth about what motivates us’. Humans desire Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose

When these conditions are met, not only will you have a much more engaged team that wouldn’t dream of quitting – never mind ‘quiet quitting’ – but you’ll also get the best out of the enthusiastic and creative people that you hired in the first place.  

Let’s understand them in more detail: 


At its core, Autonomy is the right to have a say in your own destiny. 

Yes, you might have to roll up your sleeves and put in a shift but it’s important to feel as if you’re doing it on your own terms.  

As a leader, however, there are some pitfalls to avoid: 

From a management point of view, Autonomy should never mean ‘set and forget’. It doesn’t mean you ask your team to work without clarity or direction. Nor does it mean employees are left entirely to work on their own visions: goals need to be set for the benefit of the business, but they should be negotiated with employees – not set down from on-high.  

Set goals together, check in frequently, and ensure employees are able to work on their own terms. 


In this context, Mastery is the opportunity to get better at new skills 

No matter how free your team feels they are, human nature remains the same. Not only do we want to feel free, but we also want to get better at our hobbies and interests. 

Do you play golf? How about a musical instrument? Or maybe you like to cook? Either way, that feeling of progress and getting slightly better at something every day is an essential part of human nature – even if you’re not being paid to do it. 

The same thing is true even when we are getting paid to do it. We spend tens of hours a week working on our jobs, and we want to constantly develop skills and progress.  

The key takeaway here is to make sure your employees are continuously given the chance to develop their skills and learn. It’s that – more than salaries and promotions – that keeps talent sticking around longer. 


Purpose feels like a buzzword of the moment, but getting it right is crucial. 

In the context of this blog, it means being given the chance to work on something truly transformational. In a wider context it’s important for a business to have a positive impact on the world – but tackling that is beyond the scope of this blog post! 

For your employees, it doesn’t matter how much freedom they have or how much personal and professional growth they can achieve if they don’t also feel like there’s a broader reason for showing up to do their job they aren’t going to be truly fulfilled. 

Purpose doesn’t mean solving the big social issues of our day single-handedly. But it does mean addressing them in your own way and leaving the world a better place than you found it. We all want to feel like we’re doing that. 

What it looks like in practice 

Let’s go back to Google’s ‘20% rule’ to finish. 

Think about it one last time. Employees are given one full day a week to spend working on a side project related to their job. That includes the Autonomy to decide which project to pick – which in turn leads to Purpose, because you know the problem you’re trying to solve with this project. And that leads to the opportunity for Mastery, the chance to get better at a new skill developed throughout the project. 

The creativity that Google unleashed with this policy has directly led to outcomes which have changed the world. 

In my view, the results speak for themselves! 

Read more about creating a team of superheroes using the Clarity and Freedom matrix

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