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Google Friday


Google quite famously encourage their staff to set aside their day-to-day work every Friday to explore new ideas, new technologies. I’ve known this for years and always thought what a great way to develop new products it was. Talking to Craig Hanna the other day, what I came to realise was that the biggest plus for Google is not in the form of New Product Development (NPD) but in the learning that takes place. The interesting thing (maybe I’m wrong here – maybe I don’t know enough about Google Fridays yet) is that it seems to be the employees who choose what to learn i.e. it’s a bottom up approach not top down. To what extent does that happen currently in organisations?

More than we think maybe? If informal learning accounts for 70% of total learning and peer to peer 20% then that only leaves 10% for formal training and that’s quite often bottom up e.g. “I’d like to go to this event boss”. But I still can’t help feeling there’s an opportunity being missed here. Maybe Google’s approach is successful because employees get to work on real problems? Maybe it’s the level of empowerment, the fact that they get to choose the area in which they learn? Maybe it’s the level of collaboration it encourages?

Maybe the job of organisations is not to train their staff but to remove the barriers to learning. If 70% of learning takes place informally, who are we kidding if we think we can control what our employees learn? Our employees network includes pretty much anyone who has an internet connection, so maybe we should focus our effort on using that network to the full and not worrying about it?

As long as our vision, our values, our objectives etc are clear and we have staff that believe in them then surely we should trust them to identify their own learning needs and in an ideal world, share their experiences with their network. It might even save us a few quid in the process.

Author: rayrich

Father, husband, son, friend, leader, follower, sounding board, right-hand man, right-handed man, winner, loser, thinker, drinker, socialist, pragmatist, idleist, idealist, atheist and collaborator at

3 thoughts on “Google Friday

  1. I agree we need to trust people more with their own learning, Ray.

    It never ceases to amaze me that we trust employees to manage their personal finances, their careers, their relationships with friends and family, raise children, and otherwise feed, house and clothe themselves all their lives.

    Yet we have to “send” them off to be “trained” how to use a spreadsheet or word-processor.


    • Actually organisations have come a long way in the past 20 years. When I started my career in NatWest International bank – we were not allowed any bank accounts in any other banks and our NatWest accounts were monitored by HR. We weren’t allowed relationships with people in other banks without declaring it. As Graduate trainees we were generally locked in the tower and rarely saw clients – even then we weren’t even allowed to wear trousers – and really it wasn’t that long ago!

      So optimistically perhaps the next stage in organisational trust is for the organisation to trust us to manage our own learning.

  2. I suppose that there are some things that are important to have employees learn about if they are not motivated to do it on their own and that is the case purely because the education system of today is such that they can’t get everything they need in that arena. For instance, intuition. In what educational program (university, that is), do we teach people to learn what it is and how to use it?

    With Love and Gratitude,

    The Intentional Sage

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